Tuesday, August 8, 2023

INDYCAR: Engine fire leads to rare wing failure for David Malukas at Nashville

PHOTO: Jamie Kosofsky / Speed Sport

by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

David Malukas picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix on the Streets of Nashville when his #18 HMD Trucking Honda experienced an engine fire and rear wing failure after completing 11 of the race’s 80 laps.

The finish came in Malukas’ 30th career start and was his first since Road America earlier this season, five races ago. Across series history, it was the 25th for the #18, the 43rd due to engine problems and the 222nd for Honda.

Since his engine failure at Road America, life has picked up considerably for David Malukas. At Toronto, he informed the paddock he would not be returning to Dale Coyne Racing next year for a third season. His name has been most closely associated with openings at Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport for the upcoming season. But, as with most IndyCar free agents, every team in the field besides Penske and Foyt are viable options. He's also improved his on-track performance. In the four races between Road America and Nashville, Malukas registered three finishes of 12th or better, with only a crash at Toronto preventing a streak of four. This lifted him from 19th to 17th in the point standings.

There was yet another entry list change for the streets of Nashville. IndyCar’s medical team has yet to clear Simon Pagenaud to return to competition, and Meyer Shank Racing was left with another sub decision. Team IMSA ace Tom Blomqvist was busy at Road America that weekend, so in his place, the team tapped 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist. Hampered by a paltry advancement prize compared to previous years, Lundqvist failed to obtain a ride for the 2023 IndyCar season - not even in an Indy 500 one-off entry. However, he has tested with Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at various points throughout this season. With no drivers under contract for 2024, Meyer Shank decided to bring in a driver that could very well fill one of those seats.

Friday’s practice was held in dry conditions. There, Malukas showed up in seventh place, only about seven-tenths off of the fast time set by Will Power. This was 19 positions better than teammate Sting Ray Robb, who was just ahead of slowest runner Santino Ferrucci. The A.J. Foyt Racing driver ran a lap of 1 minute, 19.45 seconds, which was about three seconds Power’s pace.

Second practice, run in the wet, saw Marcus Ericsson lead with a time of 1 minute, 31.8 seconds - fifteen seconds off the pace set in the dry. Malukas ranked 20th with a 1:38.7, and two cars did not take time: Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean. 

Qualifying was delayed to late Saturday because of rain. Benjamin Pedersen spun during Group 1 and did not put down a time, but since Group 1 only had 13 cars, he secured the 26th starting spot. The final starter was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was noticeably off the pace from everyone else in Group 2. Malukas made a nice charge, placing third in Group 1, sixth in the Fast 12 and fifth in the Fast Six.

There was last-place drama before the race even started on Sunday. When the command to fire engines was given, 26 of the 27 cars fired up. Power’s car did not, threatening to derail a weekend that started with the fastest speed in opening practice. The culprit was quickly revealed as missing earbuds, as Power was not even in his car yet. The earbuds were delivered to him a couple minutes after cars started circulating, and Power was able to take the start of the race with the rest of the field.

This was not a green-flag start, however - race control was not happy with how the field bunched up for the initial start, with only the front six or so rows getting into double-file formation. Hunter-Reay remained at the tail end of the field for the actual green flag, which was displayed for the start of Lap 2.

At the end of the first green-flag lap, Hunter-Reay was still in last, 9.4 seconds back of leader Scott McLaughlin. However, in anticipation of many cautions, pit strategy came into play and affected the last-place battle. Hunter-Reay’s Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Rinus VeeKay pitted on Lap 3 and was about 30 seconds in arrears after his stop. Hunter-Reay pitted the next lap along with Callum Ilott and Graham Rahal. After the stop, RHR was about 42 seconds back of the lead. Agustin Canapino pitted on Lap 8 from the 18th spot and came out in last, about 52 seconds back of the lead. That gap grew to a full minute on Lap 10.

On Lap 11, while heading down the front straightaway, the rear wing on Malukas’ car suddenly collapsed as he approached the braking zone. One of the pillars could be seen flying off the wing, and there was a fire in the rear of the car that had to be extinguished under the wing. The wing stayed attached to the car, but only because the rear wing tether did not fail like the pillars did. This derailed another promising day, as Malukas qualified fifth and ran as high as fourth before the incident occurred.

The rear wing failure was definitely unexpected, as multiple members of the broadcast booth said that they had never seen something like that before. Dale Coyne Racing later clarified the situation in a team release, noting that Malukas was forced to retire “due to an engine fire that created so much [heat] it delaminated the rear wing pillar.”

Aside from Malukas’ misfortune, the first half of the Nashville race was clean. The second half turned into more of a typical Nashville affair, with Devlin DeFrancesco, Lundqvist, Jack Harvey and Pedersen rounding out the Bottom Five, all out due to accidents.

*Four of DCR’s five last-place finishes this season have come in back-to-back occurrences – Sting Ray Robb at Barber and the Indy GP in April-May and now Robb and Malukas at the second Iowa race and Nashville.
*Malukas is the first last-place finisher on the streets of Nashville who did not retire from crash damage.
*Nashville’s last three last-place finishers have been #14 (Sebastien Bourdais), #16 (Simona de Silvestro), and now #18.

27) #18-David Malukas / 11 laps / engine
26) #29-Devlin DeFrancesco / 65 laps / contact
25) #60-Linus Lundqvist / 69 laps / crash
24) #30-Jack Harvey / 71 laps / crash
23) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 73 laps / crash

1st) Honda (10)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)

1st) Dale Coyne Racing (5)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing (3)
3rd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2)
4th) Juncos Hollinger Racing (1)


No comments: