Photo from indycar.com
In a baffling though entertaining affair at Iowa Speedway, SPM‘s James Hinchcliffe somehow overcame everyone who stood in the way of his first win of the season. It was the second of the Canuck’s career on the diminutive oval, his sixth overall. Taking the lead with less than fifty to go to the surprise of many – not least of which Josef Newgarden – it was a confusing, pro-Canadian conclusion under a Carpenter-induced caution. As usual, everything was the villainous Will Power‘s fault.
Newkid’s teammate was nearly a lap down and not surprisingly acted more like a spoiled schoolchild than a teammate, holding up the defending champ as “lap traffic” with only thirty odd laps to go, handing Hinch the lead and eventual victory. Immediately after being passed for position, an astonished Newgarden asked his crew incredulously over the radio, “How is Hinch ahead?!” Simultaneously, we wondered the exact same thing.
Photo from indycar.com
NBCSN’s pre-race included Townsend Bell telling us day is night and Kevin Lee calling RHR – well over 37 – “young.” On the upside, the until recently MIA Katie Hargitt returned to air. Unfortunately, it was primarily whilst eating during the cooking segment, although she did reappear afterward in victory lane, standing nearly as tall as the fortunate victor.
Soon after the green flag flew, PT also referred to the race being “tonight,” even though it was a full eight hours before sunset. Happily and perhaps in an explanatory manner, Robin Miller mentioned the track owner wanting “a night race next year,” which is great news on both accounts. Meanwhile, rookie Zach Veach fought and got around Fast Eddy Carpenter, who quickly gained the spot back – only to soon lose it again. Classic – and characteristic – Iowa action abounded.
It’d eventually wind up a terrible day for both drivers however, as Veach’s car again caught fire leaving the pits ala Indy while Eddy got loose and nearly lost it late, being saved by Takuma Sato who contacted him lightly and paradoxically kept him off the wall, thus saving the series’ only owner/driver further repair bills. Unfortunately, as far as the racing was concerned, the timing was dreadful.
More passing had taken place by lap ten than in the entire race at Road America, with nearly a thousand in total. That’s precisely why we love Iowa – and all oval tracks – so much. By this time Hinch had begun his mystifying, unstoppable march to the front, gaining ten spots – the most positions of the day. Or night, if you’re in NBCSN’s rather airy booth.
In fairness, traffic gave Newgarden the lead to begin with, as Power worked to get around a tortoise like Kimball, getting high and wide in the process and allowing Newgarden past for the lead. He’d been strong all weekend and soon was leading by over three seconds. Hinch, already up seven spots, made it eight as he got around RHR, then passed Power in quick succession. Just like that, the crazy-legged Canuck was threatening the lead.
As Hinch trailed the champ by six seconds, Power, RHR and Pags rounded out the top five. Canada’s dry driver got alarmingly loose at one point in the seemingly unending turns at Iowa, nearly hitting the wall and eliciting another annoying “WHOO!” from TBell. It was one of many astounding moments that made up Hinchcliffe’s storied day.
Green flag stops began from mid pack, as Newkid continued to dominate, not pitting until lap 80 and leading comfortably. ECR’s Spencer Pigot went high around RHR for fourth in his first big league race at Iowa and what would be his best ever finish of second. Sato, too, refused to surrender and fought Pigot to the bitter end, trailing him by a spot for the 500 winner‘s top showing of the season.
In a bit of foreshadowing, Newgarden tried to pass Power to put him a lap down, going low but failing, forced to drop back. This is when things began to get confusing, with battles breaking out all over the track on lap 113 and Pigot passing Pags on camera for third. Power faded to ninth as Newkid fought to get around Sato, incredibly having lapped all but four cars. He extended his lead to over four seconds as the green flag laps piled up.
On lap 139 Veach smacked the wall after a “huge moment!” according to TBell, getting loose in the turn between Robbie Wickens and Dixon. It was the first of only two cautions on the day. Following the second stops, the race started to get really strange. The restart came at precisely the midway point and saw Pigot pass Hinch for second as their ongoing knife fight continued, with Hinch darting low and back around.
Contests abounded all over the glorious oval track, though Newkid had led 133 out of 156 laps to that point. All the while, Hinch and his Honda steadily gained on the leader. The leaders encountered ubiquitous lapped traffic, adding to the vast complexity and wonderment of the show. There was no mid-race lull at Iowa, like many road courses, thank you very much.
On his radio, Newgarden pointedly asked “What’s Hinch doing?” as the two thirds mark approached and his lead dwindled to just over a second. Within a few laps, nearly losing it into the wall yet again was what Hinch was doing. A perfectly timed nose-cam shot from his car showed the Arrow machine snapping loose and sliding precariously up the track as Sato raced past on the inside. Hinch saved the car (obviously), though not the position. But that was only temporary – and made forgettable by his mysterious pass for the win.
After green flag stops, Newgarden led Pigot, Hinch, Wickens and Sato. Hinch hounded Pigot for second, going low and around him with fifty to go. At this point Power needlessly and selfishly held up Josef, costing him the race and handing Hinch the win. With teammates like him, Newkid doesn’t need enemies.
Following that muddled yet crucial pass in traffic on lap 256, Newkid asked over his radio the now infamous question we all were wondering. Penske President Tim Cindric replied cryptically, “He’s the man.” There was four wide scintillation right to the end, with Wickens battling Pigot for position and countless other fights breaking out all over the track. Hinch was leading by five seconds with laps ticking by when Carpenter’s car grew extremely loose exiting turn 2, leading to the aforementioned contact with Sato and what became, regrettably, a lasting slow down to the proceedings.
Even though the wreck came with six laps to go, IndyCar couldn’t manage to pull off much of a conclusion other than an unfulfilling one under yellow. Newgarden and Wickens even pitted for tires in anticipation of a promised restart – one that never materialized. It was a disappointing ending to an otherwise exciting race, another oval wasted through sheer mismanagement by the series.
Photo from indycar.com
Post Race Quote of the Race –
Robert Wickens: “The series said there was gonna be green, white checkered, then they just threw the checkered [and yellow] flag . . . so we fell back to fifth.”