As far as dominance goes, this was straight from the textbook. James Hinchcliffe showed not only his championship credentials, but just how much of a complete racer he is as he strode away from the field with remarkable ease on more than one occasion to take a commanding victory in the IZOD IndyCar Iowa Corn 250 at Iowa Speedway yesterday.
Held back only by polesitter Will Power on the first lap only, ‘Hinch’ got past the Aussie as the field crossed the painted white line to begin lap two, barely 18 seconds into the race and from there, was only kept from the lead by the cycle associated by his own pitstops.
Elsewhere through the field, Graham Rahal, starting seventh and considerably higher than he has for most of the season, zoomed toward the front and was dicing furiously with Simon Pagenaud for many laps early on. At one point, Rahal and Pagenaud ran side-by-side for some three laps, neither able to make the pass stick on the other. Up front, by the time the first caution period came out (caused by Ryan Hunter-Reay clipping his right front with Graham Rahal attempting a pass) on Lap 39, Hinch had built a lead of 4.6 seconds.
While the safety crew cleaned up a little bit of debris from Hunter-Reay’s little skirmish with Rahal, which didn’t caused damage only to the reigning champion’s machine, the whole field took the opportunity to make a pit stop.
Most of the frontrunners gained or lost one or two spots as often happens in a hasty pit session, however Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan was the biggest loser and not in the right way – dropping six places with a stuck weight jacker holding his car up (quite literally in this instance). Hunter-Reay dropped back to 22nd position and last of the leap-lap runners while his team checked over his car. Inside his helmet, Hunter-Reay was plotting what would become one of the best comebacks of the season so far.
The restart finally came on Lap 53, delayed a bit longer than originally intended as more debris was found just before the green flag was to be re-thrown for the first time. Once full speed was again reached, Hinch resumed where he left off, powering away from the field once again.
Will Power was shown struggling in Turn 2 for a number of laps, coming within a hair of scraping the wall on the outside and falling back through the field. His team-mate Helio Castroneves was moving in the other direction, making gains on those in front. Slightly further back, Rahal and Marco Andretti were going at it hammer and tongs for position – a major throwback to the iconic duals enjoyed by their respective fathers Bobby and Michael in years gone by.
On a track as short as Iowa, lapped cars come into the fray much sooner than at other circuits, and some were more capable than others at moving over for the leaders. Two cars not used to being lapped were the Ganassi boys. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were never hooked up properly from the start, clearly evident in a side-by-side screen shot shown by broadcaster ABC, who showed Dario needing to lift off the throttle by quite some margin in the corners. Franchitti was sponsored by kitchenware product GLAD – a tad ironic as there was no way the four-time series champion exhibited that adhesive attribute on this particular day.
The next pit stops started on Lap 117, with Hinch and other frontrunners coming in for service on Lap 118. A standard green flag pit stop at Iowa, from the time the car slows to the pit lane speed limit, comes to a stop for four tyres and a standard refill of the Sonoco corn-powered ethanol fuel (appropriate considering the race was taking place in America’s cornfield heartland of Iowa), and gains speed again on the exit, can cost up to two laps.
Not long after the pit stops cycled through and Hinch resumed at the front, Alex Tagliani caused the next caution period, running wide on the exit of Turn 2, grazing the wall lightly and spinning back into the infield – amazingly not hitting anybody coming through at the time. The safety crew got him going again and Tags pitted to check if there was any major damage. At the same time, Will Power went one lap down, lapped by Hinch.
Shortly after the restart, Tagliani was shown travelling extremely slowly right on the low line on the racetrack – well below the minimum speed. Before race steward Beaux Barfield saw it fit to bring the #98 Barracuda Racing entry into the pits for being little more than a mobile chicane, Tags did it himself, with the problem proving terminal and putting the Canadian out of the race.
Another caution came out soon after for more debris on the circuit, but this was quickly cleaned up and the race resumed. From this point, Rahal was well and truly in the fight for victory and took the challenge directly to Hinch. Although unable to get past, he certainly made Hinch work to maintain his spot at the front.
Hunter-Reay proved the power of the Andretti machines at Iowa, even coming close to unseating Hinch up front, but kept from potential victory by two duelling backmarkers.
Finishing a strong second from what was 22nd at the end of the first pit stops, Hunter-Reay closed the gap in the championship points to a mere nine – the same number Helio Castroneves won by winning the third Heat Race in qualifying one day earlier. Had that not happened, the points would have been dead-even. Helio faded late in the race to eventually finish eighth. Further down, Chip Ganassi Racing must be wondering what went wrong, with Scott Dixon down three laps and Dario Franchitti a staggering four laps behind Hinch.
Prior to Iowa, Hinch’s total tally of laps led stood at 40. Today, he added 226 more to that tally, with the affectionately known ‘Mayor of Hinchtown’ declaring a public holiday in his mythical town and holding strong at the front to take victory – his first on an oval. Upon extricating himself from the car in Victory Lane, Hinch said “I don’t think I’ve ever led that many laps in any kind of race”. Hinch’s victory saw him climb to fourth in the championship standings.
Next stop in the 2013 championship is a return to the much longer, much faster, tri oval known as Pocono in two weeks time.
2013 IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 250 Final Classification (250 laps):
|Driver||Entry / Team||Laps||Result|
|1.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||250||1:30:16.0266|
|2.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||250||+ 1.5009|
|3.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology||250||+ 1.6891|
|4.||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing||250||+ 2.7605|
|5.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||250||+ 3.0201|
|6.||Simon Pagenaud||SPH Racing||250||+ 6.6654|
|7.||Oriol Servià||Panther Racing||250||+ 9.7006|
|8.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||250||+ 10.6855|
|9.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||250||+ 12.7133|
|10.||E.J. Viso||Team Venzuela / Andretti||250||+ 17.6157|
|11.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing||249||1 lap behind|
|12.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||249||1 lap behind|
|13.||Tristan Vautier||SPH Racing||248||2 laps behind|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dragon Racing||248||2 laps behind|
|15.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing||248||2 laps behind|
|16.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||247||3 laps behind|
|17.||Will Power||Team Penske||247||3 laps behind|
|18.||James Jakes||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||247||3 laps behind|
|19.||Sebastián Saavedra||Dragon Racing||247||3 laps behind|
|20.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi Racing||246||4 laps behind|
|21.||Simona de Silvestro||KV Racing Technology||243||7 laps behind|
|DNF.||Ana Beatriz||Dale Coyne Racing||183||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||AJ Foyt Enterprises||162||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Alex Tagliani||Barracuda Racing||139||Contact|