Ryan Hunter-Reay scored his second win in succession at the Iowa Corn 250 in a race of attrition, to vault himself into title contention, just three points adrift of Will Power.
“That was very challenging,” said a delighted Hunter-Reay. “We were sliding around a little bit more today. I have to thank Marco. They came here and tested. Marco put the setup on the car. When we came here, we tweaked it just a little. From there, we basically raced with what he tested.
“Marco and I raced really hard out there, really clean. It's great to have a teammate like that and we're just so happy to be in Victory Lane twice in a row.”
After an engine failure claimed pole-sitter Dario Franchitti on the warm-up lap, it was left to Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves to lead the field into the sunset. The Brazilian led in the early stages until he was baulked by battling tail-enders Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato, which allowed Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe to slide past. Sadly for the Canadian, his time at the front was short-lived, as the Go Daddy car span into the turn 4 wall while mired in traffic. Having come into the weekend second, 'Hinch' left Iowa down in fifth place: his failure to finish made more damaging to his championship aspirations by the knowledge that Power was already out of the race, having spun into the path of the blameless EJ Viso and eliminated them both.
“It’s a kick in the pants,” Hinchcliffe said. “Man, this late in the race and after the finishes we’ve been having, it really sucks.”
A furious Viso gesticulated to Power as they climbed from their cars, a move that an otherwise repentant Power took exception to.
“It’s a little rich coming from E.J,” the Australian said. “He’s hit everything but the pace car.”
After further incidents claimed JR Hildebrand and Ryan Briscoe, (who was leading at the time) 2008 champion Scott Dixon found himself in the lead, but Hunter-Reay ensured that Andretti Autosport honours were upheld with a pass for the lead on lap 238, Dixon's loss of momentum dropping him behind last year's winner Marco Andretti and KV Racing's Tony Kanaan, a winner at Iowa in 2010. A spin for the Dragon Racing #6 of Katherine Legge meant the race would finish under caution, with Andretti Autosport scoring their third win in as many years at Iowa.
“First of all, great team effort,” said Andretti, who has not won a race since this time last year. “It's definitely a credit to the team. It's definitely a statement as well that Andretti Autosport is now the one to beat.
“Obviously, I wanted the top spot. I’m still in that winning drought, which is killing me inside. Hopefully this will bump us up a little in points â€¦ but [this season has] been horrendous.”
Simon Pagenaud provided one of the highlights of the race as he charged from last on the grid to fifth. Still only his fourth oval race, the French rookie showed composure distinctly lacking in many of his competitors.
“I've never started last before!” a jubilant Pagenaud said. “We were already a lap down before I got confident with the car. Something just clicked, and everything unlocked and we started moving forward. I’m really starting to enjoy the ovals. It’s close racing and it’s fun.”
Behind Pagenaud, the Brazilians Castroneves and Rubens Barrichello were seventh and eighth, ahead of Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Texas winner Justin Wilson rounding out the top-10.