James Hinchcliffe has taken victory in today’s 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver took the lead away from the seemingly dominant Josef Newgarden in the later stages of the race en-route to taking his first win of the year.
After a great lap in Saturday’s qualifying session, Team Penske‘s Will Power led the way early on at the drop of the green flag, but after losing time caught up in lapped traffic, his team-mate Josef Newgarden found a way through to take the lead.
From there, it looked like the rest of the field would be hard-pushed to beat Newgarden. The reigning series champion built up a strong race lead through the opening half of the race. Such was the pace of Newgarden, he was beginning to put drivers who were running inside the top ten a lap down.
Newgarden maintained his lead for a vast majority of the race, but his gap to the cars behind was slashed just shy of the halfway mark when Zach Veach hit the wall and brought out a caution. At that point, only the top four drivers were still on the lead lap. Luckily, the remaining six drivers in the top ten were able to get their lap back during the caution period.
When the race got back underway, Newgarden resumed his run at the front. This time, however, he had to worry about the fast cars of James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot, who had been running well in the first half of the race but had lost ground of Newgarden after having started further back on the grid. Now, the pair had Newgarden in their sights.
Pigot briefly passed Hinchcliffe to take second place, but Hinchcliffe soon re-passed him and then set about chasing down Newgarden. James stalked Newgarden for much of the middle stint of the race, but it was not until the final pit-stops had been completed that Hinchcliffe had his chance to pass the Penske driver.
During the final pit-stops, Hinchcliffe found himself rejoining the race in third place, once again behind the impressive Pigot. However, Hinchcliffe looked to have much greater speed. With fifty laps remaining, Hinchcliffe swooped past Pigot to take second. Five laps later, Newgarden’s lead had been decimated by lapped traffic, soon allowing Hinchcliffe to capitalize and take the lead of the race; much to the surprise of Newgarden who was witnessing his previously dominant performance being unravelled before him.
For the first few laps after the lead exchanged hands, Newgarden stayed within a second of the new race-leader Hinchcliffe. However, after a few laps, Hinchcliffe began to pull away. It looked as though he was set to take an easy victory, boasting a near-ten second lead as he entered the final ten laps of the race.
However, a potential curve-ball was thrown with seven laps to go, when Ed Carpenter hit the wall on the exit of turn two, pitching himself into a near-spin. Takuma Sato, who had been running inside the top five, clipped the front-wing of Carpenter, with the incident necessitating a very late caution period.
With so little laps remaining, it looked as though the race could potentially be restarted with just one or two laps left on the board. This gave Hinchcliffe a dilemma. If he did not pit for fresh tyres, the cars on the lead lap could potentially take tyres themselves and restart the race right on his tail. If he did pit for tyres, he could find himself stuck behind a number of cars that chose to gamble and stay out on track. Either way, his victory was now at risk.
Hinchcliffe’s team told him not to pit, whilst second-placed Newgarden and third-placed Robert Wickens took the gamble and came in; with Wickens stating after the race that they had been told the race would be restarted. However, this turned out to not be the case.
The pace car remained on track for the final few laps until the end of the race, meaning that Hinchcliffe would coast home to take the victory. It was, perhaps, a confusing end to the race, but nevertheless, Hinchcliffe was elated with the outcome of the day.
The victory was his first of the 2018 season and his first since the 2017 Grand Prix of Long Beach. After Hinchcliffe’s heartbreaking failure to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 back in May, today’s win goes a long way to heal those wounds for both himself and his team.
The late caution and subsequent pit-stop confusion saw Ed Carpenter Racing leave Spencer Pigot out on the track, thus securing him his career-best finish of second place. It was an astounding performance by the young American. He had practised well on Saturday but had struggled in qualifying, taking a lowly grid spot of eighteenth place as a result. He sythed his way through the order in the race, however, en-route to taking his well-deserved runner-up finish.
It was a similarly impressive performance by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato, who also stayed out on track during the final caution to lift himself into third place despite having made contact with Carpenter a few laps previously. The result is the Japanese driver’s best result of the season so far. He will be hoping that this race marks the start of a turnaround in form for himself and the team, who has struggled to impress for much of the 2018 season.
The late pit-stop gambles for Newgarden and Wickens would see the pair fall behind Pigot and Sato at the finish. Newgarden would finish in fourth. He was left encouraged by the pace that they had early on but disappointed to have not sealed the win in the closing stages. Wickens was left similarly disappointed after losing a podium spot, however, he should leave Iowa pleased after having put in a fantastic drive on only his first visit to the speedway.
Pole-sitter Power did not seem to have the race pace he needed to challenge for the victory. He would come home sixth, which is still a great turnaround in fortunes after failing to finish the previous two races at Road America and Texas Motor Speedway. Graham Rahal finished just behind Power in seventh place, with Penske’s Simon Pagenaud dropped from third on the grid to eighth place when the chequered flag was waved.
Despite his late incident, Ed Carpenter crossed the line under caution to take ninth place, with Alexander Rossi rallying back from being three laps down to take the final position inside the top ten. Rossi had been running higher when a throttle issue on a pit-stop lost him a large amount of time.
Further back, it was a disappointing day for the championship leader Scott Dixon. It looked as though the New Zealander’s #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was way off the pace. He would finish four laps down in twelfth place, just ahead of team-mate Ed Jones.
It was a dramatic day for rookie Zach Veach. The young American had shown great pace early on in the race, but his race came undone when he caused the first of two cautions on lap 139. He suffered understeer on the run into turn three and got out onto the dirty side of the track, pitching him into the wall. The contact was minor and he was able to keep racing, only to suffer a second fuel fire of the season during a pit-stop later on. He would ultimately finish twenty-one laps down.
It was a similarly disappointing finish for his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. The championship contender suffered handling issues throughout the race, which were compounding by a radio failure which rendered him unable to communicate with the team. He would eventually retire from the race, with the poor result costing him valuable points in the championship.
Heading into next week’s race in Toronto, Scott Dixon continues to hold the lead of the championship by a – now reduced – margin of thirty-three points to second-placed Josef Newgarden. The 2018 Honda Indy Toronto will take place on Sunday, June 15.
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Iowa Corn 300 – Race results:
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