Oliver Askew relishing in Rolex 24 Hours win, IndyCar test with Andretti Autosport at Sebring
Oliver Askew never saw himself as a “watch guy”, but sometimes life presents gifts that you can’t help but accept as the strangest times.
Three months ago, the 24-year-old driver fresh off the disappointment of losing his IndyCar ride might never have dreamed of the weekend he’d just undertaken. The 24 Hours of Daytona? Try the 48 Hour Tour of Central Florida, on seven hours of sleep and, while racing/testing two separate cars, some of the widest car variance you could imagine.
And just from the sound of Askew’s voice as he took it all in during his two-hour drive back to Jupiter, Florida., Monday night, it couldn’t have gone much better. In his maiden sportscar racing voyage, the Florida-native took home the LMP3 class victory in the Rolex 24 in the car’s introduction to the now five-class race, followed by a return to familiarity, testing with Andretti Autosport at Sebring in James Hinchcliffe’s No. 29 Genesys Honda.
It’s unclear how the test came together, whether out of familiarity and Askew’s proximity (a three-hour drive from Daytona to Sebring) or with future racing plans in mind. Of course, the best racing minds never do anything without reason. Hinchcliffe had a conflict and Askew was asked to fill in. The 2019 Indy Lights champion was hesitant to fill in too many details – even on how much lead-time he’d been given to prepare for the endeavor.
“They’re like family to me,” Askew told IndyStar on Monday night following the test. “I had a great season running for them in Indy Lights, and I was ecstatic to get the call to go do this for them, and I just tried to get the most out of it.”
With 14 of the 24 planned full-season entries for the 2021 IndyCar season in attendance, Askew came away with the fifth-fastest unofficial best-lap of the day (52.24 seconds), nearly two-tenths off Andretti Autosport driver Colton Herta (52.06) and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who tied for third and made up the tail-end of the lead pack that included Askew’s former Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward (51.79) and Alexander Rossi (51.93). Askew’s replacement at AMSP, Felix Rosenqvist, finished just behind the Andretti driver-for-a-day in 52.26.
Askew said he wasn’t there to throw down a lap that might win him a job as much to pay back the opportunity and loyalty Michael Andretti and Company had shown him in Indy Lights two years ago. But he couldn’t deny that every little bit helps – and he hasn’t given up hope of a 2021 comeback just yet.
“It was like playing the guitar; it’s all just muscle memory, and it came back and just feels like home,” he said. “It took a lap or two, and then it was, ‘I remember how this thing works.’
“But I’m a pretty selfless guy when it comes to these kinds of opportunities. It was a chance to help out a team that I owe a lot to. They definitely helped propel my career forward, and I was just there to help James’ program and help them get ready for the season.”
In December, Askew told IndyStar he’d all but thrown in the towel on his 2021 IndyCar hopes, low on sponsorship backing, with a crowded free-agent market, he was looking toward a 2022 return. Six weeks later, he’s a bit more hopeful.
“We’re still working all the angles possible. At this point, to do a full season it would be tough, but it’s not off the table,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s off the table up until a couple weeks before the first race. But I feel like I’m ready to get back in and show what I can do.”
Any suitors he may have on the open-wheel side, though, may have to court the young driver from a smattering of sportscar opportunities Askew may field throughout the season. The 24-year-old was part of the first team ever to win in an LMP3 car in a 24-hour race, along with IndyCar veteran and new teammate Spencer Pigot, and Gar Robinson and Scott Andrews with Riley Motorsports.
Askew grew up in Florida a sportscar fan, long before he followed IndyCar with any seriousness, making it almost an unofficial holiday to go and watch the 12 Hours of Sebring every year. His two triple-stints between late Saturday and early Sunday were a realization of a long-held dream. He now hopes for the overall race win in the DPi class – like first-time winners Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves.
And those sportscar goals come through with honesty. Talking to Askew, there was excitement that his window of opportunity may have gotten that much wider with his performance this past weekend.
Decision makers in the IndyCar world know what Askew can do. His Road to Indy pedigree, run into the Fast Six at the GMR Grand Prix, leading last year’s Indy 500 and podium finish at Iowa proved all that. That future will, in all likelihood come down to his ability to secure sponsorship, or a team’s willingness to support him with their own work.
But for a professional driver, it’s always better not to have to rely on team owners, who often love one-year driver deals. Askew could very well make a career out of his raw skill driving the car in IMSA. Like a Rolex watch, when the offer’s right there in front of you, it’s awful hard to turn down.
“It was really cool to finally be in that paddock, to call myself a sportscar driver,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the hardest track to drive, but once you get 50 cars out there with everyone running at different speeds, it’s like taking the entire Road to Indy and running with the Indy cars. But to experience that, it’s just incredible.
“It’s just still very old-school. The multi-class racing takes the cake. There’s just action every lap. It’s not super quick – maybe like driving a USF 2000 car, but that’s kinda the fun of it as well. It’s almost relaxing.”
Nathan Brown: Indianapolis Star