NEWTON, Iowa – In a series that seemingly features a new winner every week James Hinchcliffe is attempting to break away from the pack with his third victory this season.
The Andretti Autosport driver dominated Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway, leading 226 of the 250-lap race. Before Sunday’s race, Hinchcliffe had led 99 laps for the season. He blew that away in Sunday’s race.
“We got Will Power on lap one and never really looked back,” Hinchcliffe said. “We put an aggressive setup on it. When we needed it the car was awesome. We were fast up front by ourselves and good in traffic. We didn’t have a lot of yellows to contend with and that helped us. It’s nice to keep our season on track.”
The driver from Toronto finished 1.5 seconds ahead of teammate and previous Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was second and is the only other driver with more than one win this season. Hunter-Reay’s win at Milwaukee was his second this season. Tony Kanaan, the winner of the 97th Indianapolis 500, continued his Iowa success with a third-place finish acing out Ed Carpenter.
Graham Rahal rounded out the top-five and was the highest-finishing Honda driver after Chevrolet swept the top four. IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves finished eighth and was never a factor in the contest.
It was the fourth-straight win at Iowa Speedway for Andretti Autosport. Since IndyCar began racing here in 2007 Andretti Autosport has won all but two races at the .875-mile short oval.
“We have just figured out the short oval package,” Hunter-Reay said after finishing second. “This track everybody is very evenly matched on new tires and when everybody starts sliding around at the end that is when the Andretti cars go to the front.”
Hunter-Reay’s drive to second place was even more improbable considering he had to drop all the way to last place after making contact with the rear of Rahal’s car on lap 38. The contact damaged the front wing on Hunter-Reay’s Dallara/Chevrolet but his crew was quick to replace it under caution.
“It was so hard to catch back up to James (Hinchcliffe) and then lapped traffic,” Hunter-Reay explained. “It’s one thing if you’re a lap down but if you’re five laps down or six laps down just making it tough on the leaders was uncalled for. But hey, we can back from 22nd or whatever we were to finish second. I definitely had the car to win today but just made a mistake there trying to get by Graham (Rahal), keeping my foot in it. The front just had no grip on it when I turned to pop out and pass him. Easy mistake. We had a tough weekend.
“To come second out of this thing, I’m pretty please with that. Good job to James (Hinchcliffe).”
Kanaan started fifth and raced his way to a third place finish including one excited side-by-side battle with Rahal’s Dallara/Honda in the closing third of the race.
“It was intense,” Kanaan said of his battle with Rahal. “He hasn’t had a great year so he was fighting for a podium position. He fought a little too hard in my opinion but I’ll take it. He made his car extremely wide so it was a good battle.”
The bigger picture is the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship. With the victory Hinchcliffe moved to fourth in the standings and is 66 points behind the leader, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves. Hunter-Reay remains second in the standings nine points behind Castroneves and another Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti is third, 55 points behind the leader which means positions 2-4 are all from the same team.
“Hopefully all three of those drivers will still be fighting for the championship but there is still that one pain in the butt up there in front,” Andretti said referring to Helio Castroneves. “It’s always nice to have more than one bullet in the gun and right now we have three legitimate shots at the championship.”
Hinchcliffe realizes he is in the thick of a championship battle as the season hits its halfway point.
“That is going to be a more complicated question in five or six races,” Hinchcliffe said. “There are still nine races to go and there is a lot left to play for. When you are coming to the homestretch of the season and you have teammates running together I would like to think we are all going to run each other fair. We have to remember it’s not just us in the championship. If we do that then other drivers on other teams will pass us in the championship run. We have to make sure we are able to achieve that. The team is bigger than one guy and we have to remember that.”
The first round of pit stops were under yellow during the caution period for Hunter-Reay’s front wing damage but the next round of pit stops were under green beginning at lap 116. Hinchcliffe was the leader at the time and entered the pits after completing 117 laps. By the time the cycle was complete Hinchcliffe was back in the lead with Rahal second followed by Andretti on lap 122.