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The summertime run to the IndyCar Series championship is in full swing.
One week after the visiting the longest track on the schedule, the circus moved south to the shortest, the 7/8ths of a mile Iowa Speedway bullring, where laps click off in the blink of an eye – less than 20 seconds a lap under green. Here’s all you need to know from a weekend of IndyCar racing in Corn Country.
This is undoubtedly one of the great motorsports stories of the year. After the pain of failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, the popular Canadian came from the clouds at Iowa on Sunday afternoon to steal a race that had been Josef Newgarden’s to lose. In fact the defending IndyCar Series champion led 229 of the 300 laps and looked set for a dominating victory.
Except that Hinchliffe found incredible speed late in the race and took the lead from Newgarden, who was negotiating his way around Australian Will Power, who was trying to stay on the lead lap, on lap 256 and wasn’t headed from there. In all, Hinchcliffe led just 45 laps for what’s certainly the most popular victory of the season.
American Spencer Pigot came home in second place, his best IndyCar Series finish, and 2017 Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato finished third in a frenetic race that saw more than 900 passes throughout the field.
A late-race caution hobbled Newgarden and Wickens
As if being passed for the lead late wasn’t bad enough for Newgarden, his Team Penske group elected to bring the Tennessean in for a pit stop when a late yellow was thrown for debris with six laps to go. Wickens followed suit, both teams working under the assumption that the race might be red-flagged to ensure a green-flag finish.
Ultimately the race ended under yellows, with Hinchcliffe coasting home, the caution flying after the cut-off lap where series officials would red-flag proceedings. Which meant the disappearance of podium finishes for Newgarden and Wickens, who ended up fourth and fifth respectively.
The problem is that you never know for sure, and if there’d been even just a three-lap shootout under green after a red flag period, Newgarden and Wickens would’ve had an incredible advantage on fresh rubber. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and Iowa 2018 is probably a race that Josef Newgarden is glad to see the back of.
Championship runners have problems
It largely wasn’t a good day for drivers who are in the hunt for the 2018 IndyCar Series championship. It looked like a race of great opportunity for Will Power after his run to pole on Saturday, but he faded to sixth. Elsewhere Alexander Rossi had throttle issues. Scott Dixon, aside from a startling lack of pace in his Ganassi Honda, had gearbox problems and saw his team put tires on the wrong side of his car, and Ryan Hunter-Reay had mechanical dramas too.
Dixon now holds a narrow 33-point lead over Newgarden, with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Power rounding out the top five. Theoretically all five of those drivers are a chance of winning the championship, but Power is going to need a couple of wins to help things along. Also, it’s important not to forget the double-points on offer for the series finale at Sonoma.
Back to Saturday night next year?
Iowa has been a difficult one in terms of scheduling. The 2018 season represented something of a bounce back, with the race early on Sunday afternoon, allowing fans to be home at a reasonable hour before work on Monday as opposed to the ridiculous 4:00pm Sunday afternoon start last year that resulted in the lowest crowds we’ve ever seen.
The track president suggested that his facility loses up to a third of their possible audience by having a day race rather than a Saturday night event under lights and that he’s pushing hard to go back to Saturday night next year. That could necessitate a date change away from the 4th of July Weekend as broadcaster NBC won’t want anything on their cable channel going up against the traditional Saturday night NASCAR race from Daytona that always goes live on NBC.
Will Power wins another pole
It’s the 52nd career pole and third of the season for the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion – fittingly his first came in 2006 on the streets of Surfers Paradise in Queensland – who moves to within one pole of the legendary AJ Foyt, who sits second on the all-time IndyCar Series pole list. For the record, Mario Andretti leads the pack with 67, and there’s every chance that Power eclipses that mark before he’s done driving.
After a strong test, Andretti Autosport were non-factors
Considering Michael Andretti’s team had won seven of the previous eight races at Iowa Speedway coming into the weekend – Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay have all won at Iowa driving for Andretti – and were exceptional at the recent test session, where their fours cars topped the overall time sheet, imagine everyone’s surprise on Sunday afternoon when the fleet of Andretti Hondas were way off the pace.
Alexander Rossi was the best of the bunch in ninth, with Marco in 16th, Hunter-Reay 19th and Zach Veach, who endured another pit-stop fire, one position further back in 20th. It was, frankly, shocking to see a team who’s previously been so dominant mired down the back of the field.
Next race: Toronto
IndyCar heads north of the border to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for the annual street race around BMO Field and Exhibition Place. As far as street circuits go, this is a good one, and with Canada’s favourite IndyCar son James Hinchcliffe winning at Iowa, expect a big and raucous crowd. And expect me to once again write in my Toronto talking points that Canada deserves at least two more IndyCar races each season.