The second half of the 2022 INDYCAR championship is already in full swing. All the madness is focused on the likes of Alex Palou’s racing future in 2023 or the competition chasing down Marcus Ericsson.
There is also the battle for Rookie of the Year honors that is spicing up a bit with David Malukas hoping to build on his current momentum.
Sitting 18th in points after 10 races, the Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports racer has dealt with the ups and downs the series provides to a competitor.
Aside from two retirements early in the season, Malukas has remained fairly consistent, a key advantage he’s had throughout the season despite rookies Kyle Kirkwood and Callum Ilott being quicker throughout the championship trail.
The 21-year-old has a single top-10 to his name, happening at Mid-Ohio two races ago. Perhaps whitewashing the drama that was this year’s Indianapolis 500 where many, including himself, felt ROTY for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” should’ve been his over Jimmie Johnson. Since then, things began clicking for the No. 18 Honda organization.
“We started off the season with a bang and then from there just made a lot of rookie mistakes. But I’d say since kind of the month of May started, we’ve kind of finally been starting to figure out,” said Malukas. “I’ve figured out what I want from the car and building the chemistry with the team and the team knows what I want and I know what they need, and together we’ve kind of been building this momentum, and from race after race, it seems that we’re getting the hang of it, and every time it just keeps getting better.”
Due to this, Malukas sits second in the rookie standings, trailing Christian Lundgaard by 20 points entering the Hy-Vee Iowa Doubleheader. The 7/8-mile oval will be a new experience for Malukas. But, with Indy Lights victories at Gateway, a similar track, there’s excitement in the air.
“We did have the test day there, which let’s just say Iowa is definitely special and there was a big learning curve to it,” Malukas said. “Thankfully I did have Takuma to help me along the way, but yeah, I’m very excited to get to a short oval, the first one of the season, so I’m very excited.
“I think Iowa is going to be very well. The team did very well there. Unfortunately, from our end, we had a bit of issues so we got short track time, but I’m feeling very confident going into it.”
Certainly, having a teammate that’s one of the top oval racers in the sport is a perk to have. Throughout his rookie campaign, Malukas has leaned on Takuma Sato, a two-time Indy 500 champion.
“He’s so talented. He has so many little tips and tricks, which I’m still trying to get to get everything out of him but I can tell he’s keeping some things to himself, which I understand,” Malukas said on Sato. “He’s definitely one of the best teammates I could have asked for, especially in my rookie season, and with Iowa being very successful and Takuma loving Iowa and always being successful there, it’s definitely a good combination for me.”
Malukas doesn’t have just Sato to rely on information; he has the ever truthful spotter Pancho Carter helping him out. When improvement is necessary, Carter lets him know. This led to Malukas learning how title contender Will Power navigates around the track that Team Penske has won in five out of the last six races.
“Information is power,” Malukas said. “At the Iowa test, Pancho always tells me properly straight away if I’m doing something stupid like turning in too early. He tells me, ‘You’ve got to stop doing that, you’re turning too early, losing time.’
“Like Power, for example, he was doing that wide line, and I learned that just because of Pancho. He told me about it and told me to try it, and obviously, we ended up finding time through that. It definitely is very helpful, and the more information you can get, especially me being a rookie, I take all of it.”
Having key people by his side could lead to a solid weekend, but they’ll be tested. Iowa is the only track on the calendar that’s a doubleheader. To add more pressure, there’ll be just a single practice and qualifying session.
For qualifying, the opening lap will determine the lineup for Saturday’s HyVeeDeals.com 250. The second lap will set up Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300.
As Malukas said during Wednesday’s virtual press conference, any track time he can have will pay dividends. No matter the different variants a track schedule has in a 17-round odyssey.
“Any sort of time I can get in practice is super helpful. Even at the test, we ended up having some engine issues so we couldn’t do almost the entire afternoon at the test, so we already lost some time there,” Malukas on having track time this weekend.
“But, it’s going to be trying to get as much information as possible and working with Takuma’s crew, as well, to try to get some information from him while we’re on track and practice.
“It’s been helpful, especially with these new changes on the street courses and road courses that they’ve changed with these 75-minute sessions, all the veterans, they don’t get this extra set, so they kind of just have to sit and watch me just learn the track, which I’ve really been enjoying. Going into I think it’s one practice, definitely going to be using all the time I can get there.”
No matter how successful a driver can be in Indy Lights, it’s a different animal when piloting an IndyCar. One of the takeaways Malukas had from testing at Iowa that may impose a challenge is the different lines the oval provides to a competitor.
For a rookie that’s trying to hunt down Lundgaard for top rookie honors, it’ll be key but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver will also have to learn the circuit.
“There was many different lines people were taking,” said Malukas. “Power was just entering wide, leaving wide and making it work while other people were going down tight. It’s going to be just getting information about different lines at that he’s tried and seeing which one to use for the qualifying and for the race.”
Additionally, Iowa isn’t the smoothest track. After last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto, a notoriously bumpy course, the toll on a racer’s body will be further tested. To ready himself, Malukas prepped at the shop to get himself prepared for a demanding combined total of 550 laps (250 on Saturday and 300 on Sunday).
“I’m expecting to be dizzy with such a short oval and that many laps, let alone it’s also bumpy,” Malukas commented. “I was actually just at the Dale Coyne shop today getting all the elbow pads and hip pads and everything just to make sure that I can survive not just one race but two races for this double-header weekend.”
Coverage begins for Saturday’s 250-lap event at 4:00 p.m. on NBC. On Sunday, the same network will air the 300-lap event at 3:00 p.m. ET. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden each won a race in the 2020 doubleheader.