With only two races to go, the title battle in Indy Lights is going down to the wire. Speaking exclusively to F1 Feeder Series, HMD Motorsports driver David Malukas opens up on a tough weekend in Laguna Seca, his expectations for the season finale and his bright prospects for an IndyCar seat in 2022.
It was a sobering experience for David Malukas and HMD Motorsports at Laguna Seca two weeks ago. Coming into the weekend as the Indy Lights championship leader, the 20-year-old from Illinois realised quickly that his main rival Kyle Kirkwood would have the upper hand in sunny California.
“Going in we thought we would have the upper hand at Laguna, and we knew we needed it going into Mid-Ohio,” says Malukas, speaking exclusively with F1 Feeder Series. “Because the last time when we left Mid-Ohio, even though we were really close, they still had a bit on us. So we were like: it would be good to get all the points that we can get going into Mid-Ohio. And then we showed up at Laguna, they were insanely quick, and we knew it wasn’t going to be so good for us.”
The key to success for Kirkwood and Andretti Autosport was their ability to manage tire degradation, says Malukas. “We tried our best to gain time and we did on new tires, but I don’t know what it is with their car: the way they had it set up, it was just much easier on the tires.” That became most apparent during Race 2, when Malukas was forced to start on older tires.
“Going into Race 2 we were just crossing our fingers because we knew it was going to be rough. And it showed: in the first lap he pulled away – for some reason, his tires just glued straightaway. For us, we were sliding all over the place, our times went up and he was just gone. I think from lap 2 to 6, I was like: okay, I’m not too far off. But then after lap 6, he was just gone.”
Slimmed up chances
As a result, Malukas heads into the final weekend at Mid-Ohio trailing Kirkwood by 15 points. That also means that even if he wins both races, he needs Kirkwood to drop extra points in both rounds. Malukas is philosophical, when asked about his chances to clinch the title.
“They definitely slimmed up a bit,” he says, pointing out that a few incidents during the Portland race weekend hurt his chances. For example, Kirkwood got a few free passes in Race 1 thanks to small slip-ups for Manuel Sulaiman and Benjamin Pedersen, while an ambitious move for the lead by Linus Lundqvist in Race 2 allowed Kirkwood to pass both the Swede and Malukas and win the race.
“Portland was the most unfortunate if I were to look at the whole season,” reflects Malukas. “If we would’ve gotten a double win there and Kyle maybe getting a third and a fourth, then I think going into Mid-Ohio we would be much more in control. It would have been very close between us again and we would have a better chance.”
“But now the whole story has changed. So yeah, it’s going to be tough,” he adds. “We know they’re going to be quick. So I’m just hoping that we put everything together and we just have to be on our A-game. Even if we don’t win it, as long as we do our best and can show that we’ve worked hard, I’m happy to come through with whatever happens.”
Asked what the decisive factor might be this weekend, Malukas is adamant that qualifying will be crucial. “Last time, I think we could’ve put it on pole there,” he offers. “We just made the wrong change mid-run in Q2 and ended up losing a lot of time. And the race pace was always there, it’s just very hard to pass at Mid-Ohio. So if we can get that qualifying done and make it through the first two corners, it will be good. I think it will be very, very close this time!”
Deserving of an IndyCar ride
Looking ahead to next year, Malukas naturally has his eyes firmly set on a drive in IndyCar. Thanks to the support he has through his father’s HMD trucking firm and business contacts, winning the Lights title and the almost USD 1.3 million scholarship is not an absolute necessity to move up.
“For me it definitely decreases the pressure, knowing that there is always a Plan B or C in the background if we don’t get the scholarship,” he says. “It’s not like I need to do everything to get this championship done. It would just be a nice 1.2-million-dollar bonus! But I think people have seen enough from both Kyle and me, that we deserve a ride in IndyCar to show what we can do.”
While he can understandably not say too much yet, Malukas is very confident of being in IndyCar in 2022. No wonder: his name has circulated prominently with several teams in recent weeks. Back in July, he told F1 Feeder Series there was about a 65–70 per cent chance that he’d land an IndyCar seat. That percentage has increased significantly since then, he reveals.
“Right now, it’s around 85–90 per cent. We’ve also been given percentages from other people at teams, and those are also quite high. So yeah, everything is looking good. We just have to finish the season on a high note and see what next year brings,” he says, adding: “I also think Kyle has helped me quite a bit. Everyone knows Kyle is a great talent, so me being so competitive with him, I think that also shows people: hey, this kid seems pretty good too, competing with all-star Kyle, haha!”
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