Oliver Askew doesn’t race like an NTT IndyCar Series rookie. His current 12th place in the championship standings isn’t representative of the fact that Askew has been a key player in almost all of the races, except for a few where he’s been knocked out by contact.
And while 2020 is fielding a strong rookie class in the Indy 500, he is going to be the driver to beat for Rookie of the Year honors.
Askew’s best performances this year so far have been on ovals. At Texas Motor Speedway, the first race of the season, he took home an impressive ninth place. He secured his first podium position (third) at the first Iowa IndyCar 250 and came home sixth the following night.
It’s even better that Askew feels that he’s right at home with his Arrow McLaren SP team.
“It’s such a good environment right now,” Askew said of the team after his impressive third place, ‘Pato [O’Ward] and I get along really, really well and we have a lot of experienced personnel on the team. We have Robert Wickens who has recent experience with this car, who I’ve been able to lean on quite a bit over the past couple races.
“The more seat time I get in this car, the more I understand the ins and outs of IndyCar, the better I seem to be and the more confidence I have in the car.”
— Oliver Askew (@Oliver_Askew) August 6, 2020
A welcoming atmosphere is always a bonus, especially when it comes to a race as important as the Indy 500. And while Askew’s teammates are also new—one-off Fernando Alonso is the only one to have actually started the race before—Arrow McLaren SP will be building on an almost twenty-year history of competing in the 500. There will be a steep learning curve without the full Month of May practice sessions, but a close working relationship does ease the strain.
Also working in his favor is the fact that Oliver Askew won last year’s Freedom 100 in Indy Lights. While it will be different piloting an actual Indy car and not an Indy Lights machine, and while the 500 mile race is a lot longer, Askew has already shown that he can take home a victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“My experience last year at the Freedom 100 is enabling me to go into this next couple weeks having somewhat of an understanding of the track,” Askew said in a press conference on Tuesday. “Obviously we’re going to be going a lot quicker. It seems to have helped me so far this year at a lot of the track.
“Being a rookie here can definitely be daunting. With the extra boost this year, I think it’s an extra 50 horsepower, we’re going to be quite a lot quicker than the past. We’re expecting the corners to be a little bit more difficult. I’m sure we’re going to have to run a little more downforce in qualifying than years past.
“I’m glad that this year we’re able to run a couple more ovals before the Indy 500. Traditionally the Indy 500 would be the first oval of the year. I think that’s definitely helped the rookies. Texas and Iowa in their own ways are a little more difficult than this track. This track brings its own challenges.”
The other rookies in the Indy 500 field have been having a more difficult time with their 2020 season, which might also shake out to give Askew the edge.
While Alex Palou is just a single point back from Askew, he’s had a more difficult time adjusting to oval circuits. The Iowa doubleheader was a definite improvement when compared to his disastrous start at Texas Motor Speedway, but Palou will have a long way to go if he wants to be competitive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It’s a similar story with both Rinus Veekay and part-time Dalton Kellett. Veekay had a best finish of fifth place at the IMS road course circuit, but just hasn’t had any luck on ovals. Kellett has only contested road courses this year, making it difficult to evaluate what he can make of an oval. But the collective inexperience here means it’s likely that we won’t see these drivers finishing in the top 10.
All these factors considered, Oliver Askew has the best shot at taking home Rookie of the Year accolades, and he’ll be a tough one to beat at the Indy 500.
The 2020 IndyCar season continues Aug. 23 with the 104th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will air at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBC.