NEWTON — The “Mayor of Hinchtown” ruled the day in small-town Iowa.
James Hinchcliffe did it in impressive fashion, so you might see a link to Iowa Speedway on the Hinchtown website.
The 26-year-old Andretti Autosport race car driver ran out front most of the day and claimed his third victory of the season, winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on Sunday. The win continued Andretti Autosports dominance at the 0.875-mile oval, capturing its fourth straight victory here and fifth overall.
Hinchcliffe started in the outside of Row 1, wasting little time to take the lead. He grabbed the lead on Turn 4 of the first lap and never looked back, benefiting from adjustments made after qualifying.
“When we needed the car was awesome,” Hinchcliffe said. “We were fast up front by ourselves. We were good in traffic. We didn’t have a whole lot of yellow (flags) to contend with, which I thought was really good for us.”
He led all but a couple of the first 133 laps and led 226 of the 250 total laps. Only Ed Carpenter (18), Justin Wilson (5) and Graham Rahal (1) held the lead.
Hinchcliffe had led less than 100 laps in his IndyCar Series career before this weekend. He hasn’t experienced a performance like this one.
“I can’t think of a race,” Hinchcliffe said. “I watched guys win races like that on TV.”
The leader’s dominance was very apparent at the time Alex Tagliani spun out in turn 2 on lap 138, bringing out the race’s second caution. Only 12 cars were on the lead lap when the race was approaching the midway point. Among those a lap back of Hinchcliffe was Will Power, who started on the pole to Hinchcliffe’s inside.
Debris on the front stretch brought another yellow flag at lap 155. It produced an interesting battle between Hinchcliffe and Rahal after the restart. The two preferred different lines on the track with Hinchcliffe running low and Rahal high. The two were neck-and-neck, nearly rubbing tires before Hinchcliffe claimed an advantage and pulled back in front.
“It was the biggest heart-in-throat moment of the race,” Hinchcliffe said. “I had fun racing with him there.”
Hinchcliffe dropped after an issue during a green-flag pit stop with about 50 laps to go. Less than 20 laps later, Hinchcliffe regained the lead when Ed Carpenter and Justin Wilson had to pit late. At that point, Hinchcliffe was so far out in front that second-running Ryan Hunter-Reay couldn’t see him on the track.
Hinchcliffe said he waited 16 years for his first IndyCar Series win, which came at the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe led 20 laps of that contest, admitting he kept imagining ways to lose it. When an understeering problem surfaced with 10 laps left, he said he thought he was losing a tire. He also worried about approaching traffic and his lead over Hunter-Reay.
“It was even worse, because I had that much longer in the lead,” Hinchcliffe said. “I had more time to think of things that were going to go wrong.”
He methodically kept his distance from traffic late to avoid problems and cruised to the win. It is his third victory in 10 starts, and apparently the biggest hurdle was the first.
“It’s probably one of those deals,” Team owner Michael Andretti said. “You get that first one and it seems like the next one comes a little bit easier, because you have that confidence you know you can do it. I think that’s where James is right now.”
Almost as impressive as Hinchcliffe’s run was Hunter-Reays ascension through the ranks. He started 12th, but fell to as far back as 22nd. Hunter-Reay maneuvered through the field, making a run at his teammate late. It helped turn around a challenging weekend for his team.
“It was a good day for points, finishing second after being dead last,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 overall points champion who moved within nine points of 2013 leader Helio Castroneves. “I was really happy we were able to bring the DHL Chevy home in second. A little bit bummed we didn’t get the repeat.
Hunter-Reay’s chances at a second straight win here diminished when he got boxed in by lapped traffic with eight laps remaining. He was frustrated by the costly turn of events.
”It was so hard to catch back up to James (Hinchcliffe) and then lapped traffic,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 overall points champion who moved within nine points of 2013 leader Helio Castroneves. “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.”
Andretti Autosport notched its second straight 1-2 finish here and boasted a fifth different driver to win the event. With the victory, Hinchcliffe jumps to fourth in the points standings and Andretti Autosport drivers occupies 2-3-4 in overall points. Marco Andretti, who placed ninth, is third.
The teams appear to be united to make a run at another points title. Communication has been essential this season.
“This has been a great year,” Michael Andretti said. “We’ve worked really hard. That hard work is paying off. We’re working great as a team.”
Tony Kanaan posted an Iowa Corn 250 win for Andretti Autosport in 2010. He earned his fourth straight podium finish, coming in third. Kanaan, who moved up to fifth in points for HV Racing Technology, received a boost by a late pit for new tires.
“Because of the nature of the track and the downforce that we have the new tires are always going to help,” Kanaan said. “We went out of sequence and that’s what helped us at the end of the race.”
“I’m excited,” Kanaan said. “It was a great race for us.”Team Penske struggled Sunday. Its driver’s, Castroneves and Power, were the top two finishers in the qualifying heat. Castroneves started 11th, after earning the pole and receiving a 10-spot grid penalty for changing his engine, finished eighth, but clings to the points lead after heading into the July 7 race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Power finished 17th.