NEWTON, Iowa — While Ryan Hunter-Reay’s victory in Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 was big in terms of his championship chase as he moved to second in the standings just three points behind the leader it was a bad night for three of the IZOD IndyCar Series biggest names.
Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti finished last in the 25-car field when his engine blew up on before the green flag even waved to start the race. Later in the race, IndyCar points leader Will Power was involved in a crash in Turn 2 with E.J. Viso which sent him out of the contest.
It was just another element of a strange night at Iowa Speedway as heavy rain showers earlier in the evening delayed the start of the already late race to 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The start of the race was delayed by Alex Tagliani stopping on the track in turn three. When the initial start was waved off the laps were being counted as caution laps and that is when heavy smoke billowed out of Franchitti’s car before he came to a stop in turn three.
“It was making a very strange noise,” Franchitti said after he returned to the pits. “I had actually just come on the radio to say ‘Is this thing making an odd noise?’ and then it let go. I’m really disappointed. I believe this was our Indy winner engine. It’s a real shame that it let go. It’s one of those things. We’ll move on.”
On lap 68, Power and Viso were racing each other in turn two before the two cars crashed into the SAFER Barrier.
“I just lost it,” Power said. “I feel bad for E.J. because I took him with me, he said to me in the car that I was down low on him or something and I didn’t understand. I didn’t get the call that he was underneath me so I feel … man, I didn’t even know he was there. I feel bad for him.”
Viso was also out of the contest at the .894-mile short oval.
“Will was definitely on the pace, he just didn’t use his mirror,” Viso explained. “I had a run at him, I was into corner one and he just blocked me, blocked me, blocked me and I couldn’t get any lower. I already had my front left tire inside the apron and the yellow line. He just kept going lower and I had nowhere to go. This is not the usual Will that we used to know by being clean. This is the second race that he affects somebody on my team and it’s very disappointing.
“We had a great car and I think we could have won this race. It’s just a shame. The car was a rocket.”
Yet another points contender would finish in the wall after James Hinchcliffe, who entered the race second in points, spun and crashed in the fourth-turn wall on lap 197.
“We had understeer all night, we put a little bit of wing in it and it was one of those things – the car was running better on the bottom all night,” Hinchcliffe said. “It snapped once, snapped twice and I almost caught it. It’s a kick in the pants. I thought we had a good chance of winning this thing tonight.”
After Helio Castroneves led a long stretch of the race a green flag pit stop sequence had Ryan Briscoe in the lead with 72 laps to go when he was racing side-by-side with Josef Newgarden, who was running one-lap down. The two cars touched and both cars crashed in the first turn putting both out of the contest for another caution period.
“We were pitting that lap and coming in for tires and he was on stickers going about 2 seconds a lap quicker and when we got there he never lifted and came barreling in,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think anyone saw it coming. It’s disappointing; he’s a rookie and he will learn from that. We were in position to win the thing and had the strategy to finish. We were spot on and Roger was making a gutsy call. It’s really disappointing. I love racing in Iowa and it’s disappointing to finish this way.”
That put Dixon in the lead and that combined with Power’s crash put the 2003 IndyCar Series champion in the points lead. The green flag waved on Lap 195 with Dixon being chased by last year’s winner Andretti.
But further back in the field Hinchcliffe, who had earlier led the race, spun around and crashed in the fourth turn.
Dixon and Andretti led the field on the restart on Lap 203 with Castroneves lurking back in third place. Ryan Hunter-Reay was able to pass Castroneves for fourth-place but Andretti was catching up to Dixon and closed the gap with 20 laps to go.
Andretti’s biggest competition, however, came from teammate Hunter-Reay and the two Andretti Autosport teammates swapped second place. That allowed Dixon to increase his advantage. But with 11 laps to go Hunter-Reay was able to drive past Dixon to take the lead as Dixon’s Dallara/Honda dropped back to third after Andretti passed him for second. Dixon’s tires were beginning to lose grip over the wear cycle as the two Andretti drivers were able to get their fast setup when it matter the most.
But with three laps to go Katherine Legge’s car spun out and crashed to finish the race under the yellow flag.
That sealed the victory for Hunter-Reay, his second IZOD IndyCar Series win in a row. He also won at the Milwaukee Mile last week. It was Hunter-Reay’s seventh career IndyCar victory and he drove to the checkered flag ahead of Andretti.
“That was very challenging because we were sliding around a lot today,” Hunter-Reay said. “Marco tested here and gave us the setup on the car. We tweaked it a little bit. Marco and I raced really hard out there but I’m so happy to be able to race like that twice in a row. Marco did an excellent job on the track today and in testing.
“I wish we had some more one-mile ovals coming up. That was fun. This is a difference maker for sure.”
Despite the hard racing among teammates, Andretti accepted him second place finish and had a prediction for the rest of the season.
“This is a statement race,” Marco Andretti said. “It says that Andretti Autosport is the team to beat for the championship.”
Tony Kanaan of KV Racing was third as the top three finishers were in a Dallara/Chevrolet combination. Dixon finished fourth in a Dallara/Honda and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top-five in a Dallara/Honda.
Castroneves finished sixth in a Dallara/Chevrolet ahead of fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in a Dallara/Chevrolet. Ed Carpenter was eighth in Dallara/Chevrolet while Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson rounded out the top 10 in Dallara/Hondas.
Because Dixon finished fourth, when it was all over Power remained in the points lead despite his early exit. He leads Hunter-Reay by just three points as the series takes a weekend off before resuming on the streets of Toronto in two weeks.
“We earned OK points tonight, but we could have been better off,” Dixon said. “I’m looking forward to moving out of Toronto and having a go in the points but we are now only 15 points back.”
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