Malukas “trying hard not to get nervous” in pursuit of Penskes

IndyCar rookie David Malukas, who scored the first podium of his career at World Wide Technology Raceway on Saturday night, said he was anxious not to do anything stupid as he hunted down the Penske drivers.

Malukas “trying hard not to get nervous” in pursuit of Penskes
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The Dale Coyne Racing with HMD-Honda driver had just pitted from the lead on Lap 211, so when rain halted the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 three laps later, this appeared to be a cruel stroke of misfortune. However, it meant that when the race restarted some 2hr15mins later, on Lap 224 of 260, he was in fifth and had much fresher tires and no fuel worries compared with Will Power and Pato O’Ward ahead.

He jumped Power on the restart, then fell back behind before passing him for good on Lap 230. Fourteen more laps of the 1.25-mile oval saw him pass O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy as they cleared some backmarkers.

Malukas, who won at Gateway’s WWTRaceway in Indy Lights, then hunted down Penske duo Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, passing the latter on the last lap and coming within half a second of winner Newgarden.

Malukas explained that the much denser night air meant the cars were carrying more speed through the turns which meant that he was hitting the rev-limiter in sixth gear on the straights, so he couldn’t draft past McLaughlin but instead had to make the move in a turn. At the start of the final lap, McLaughlin blocked the inside line approaching Turn 1, so Malukas flicked to the outside and carried enough momentum through T1 and T2 so that he emerged ahead onto the back straight.

“It worked very well,” said Malukas. “I had that bit of clean air on the front right wing, I was able to get a run.

“Because the track was so much quicker with it being so much later, I hit the limiter in sixth gear. I couldn't get a tow or suck on him. We had to go two-wide in T1 and T2. Scary going wide there. Definitely getting some loose ends…

“Through the race I was doing the high line… I didn't do it in the last stint till two [laps] to go… The tires were getting old, that's when I wasn't doing the high line because I didn't think it would be able to hold. That was my mistake because the Dale Coyne Racing car was very good and handled it like a breeze…

“It was a bit unfortunate I did it so late. But I guess rookie season, rookie stuff. I'm going to put it in the back of my brain and remember it for next time.”

Asked if he could have passed Newgarden with one more lap, Malukas replied: “Maybe, maybe not, I don't know. It's tough: he had lapped traffic. That's the only reason why I could get to McLaughlin and Newgarden.

“Yeah, maybe a bit of a chance. Definitely would have done some stupid thing to get really close to him. It's not like they were slow, they were really quick. It would have been interesting.”

Malukas admitted he felt some awe at getting to fight with Penske cars.

He said: “Ross [Bunnell], my engineer, said, ‘You see the leaders, go get 'em.’ I saw them go through T1 and 2 – ‘Oh, my God, they're Penskes! I'm going behind Penskes right now. This is crazy!’

“To me, as a kid, I used to always watch. I could only dream of it. Every time through practice, every time they passed me, I always let them by. It's definitely special to me.

“I was trying so hard to not get nervous. I mean, I was nervous, but I was trying so hard not to get overexcited and do something stupid. Yeah, it's definitely intimidating when there's two Penskes in front of you.”

Malukas also gave a lot of credit to his spotter, former Indy car star Pancho Carter.

“It's really good having Pancho,” he said. “It started off a bit rough because he's very aggressive. I would do something stupid, and he'd be like, ‘That was really stupid, don't do it again.’ [I’d think] ‘Oh, that's not nice.’ I realized that is who Pancho is and he really cares.

“We were having a good time today. Mid race ended up being a little bit like follow the leader with everybody fuel saving. I actually started singing in the car. Pancho was like, ‘Your singing is great, but can we go do something? This is boring.

“Once we put the new [tire] set on, we had a good strategy. Me and Pancho were having a lot of fun. He was telling me, ‘Go outside, go inside, cut across.’ It went really well. We were having a good time. Thank you, Pancho. It was a lot of fun.”

Malukas said that the rain and lightning hold was mentally taxing but was also a source of encouragement.

“I wanted to get going so badly,” he remarked. “You just sit and you dwell on it, you overthink, do different simulations in your head of how the start is going to go, what's going to happen. At the same time I knew the longer we waited, the better our car was going to be in the cooler temperatures, going off the information we had at practice.

“I knew the engineers were getting excited because they knew the situation as well. They're giving me little tips. I could tell they were a little bit nervous. OK, I kind of just needed to get away from them. I could feel their nervousness… I wanted to go out and focus.

“Yeah, it was a lot longer than whatever the delay was. To me it felt like it was a day! I just wanted to get back out.”

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