NEWTON, Iowa - James Hinchcliffe has been seeking a reboot to his Verizon IndyCar Series season after not qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in May. He found redemption with a victory Sunday at the Iowa Corn 300.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver led the final 45 laps on Iowa Speedway’s high-banked oval to collect his sixth career victory and first since Long Beach in April 2017, 26 races ago.
“This is such a good feeling after what happened in May,” Hinchcliffe admitted. “We knew we had it in us and to come here and do it like that.
“We didn’t qualify the best, but we had a good car. The first stint was great, the second stint we made a change and went a little too far. Went too far the other way on the next stop. After that last stop, the thing was a rocket ship.
“It’s so nice to be back up top after kind of the season that we’ve had.”
The race ended under caution, with Hinchcliffe crossing the finish line ahead of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who placed a career-best second. Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing finished third, his best result since winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500.
Starting 11th in the No. 5 Honda, Hinchcliffe stormed into the top five by lap 18 of 300 on the 0.894-mile oval and stayed there the rest of the race. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden led a race-high 229 laps until Hinchcliffe passed the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion on Lap 256 for the final lead change of the day.
The race established records for average speed (149.636 mph), fewest caution periods (two) and fewest caution laps (16). It also saw an astounding 955 on-track passes with the new universal aero kit used by all teams for the first time this year. Last year’s race had 378 passes.
The final yellow flag waved on lap 294, when Ed Carpenter spun in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet and made light contact with Sato in the No. 30 Honda. Both cars continued, but the caution flag waved so safety workers could clean debris from the track.
Anticipating a late restart, Newgarden and fellow lead-lap driver Robert Wickens – running second and third at the time, respectively – made pit stops for fresh tires on lap 297. The track clean-up and reordering of the field could not be completed in time for a restart, however, relegating Newgarden to finish in fourth place and Wickens in fifth.
“This is Indy car racing,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet who posted his fifth consecutive top-six finish at Iowa. “You have to expect the unexpected.
“For the first half of the race, we had the car to beat, and it just fell away from us. Sometimes you can’t predict exactly what you’re going to need at the end of these things.”
Wickens, the breakout rookie teammate of Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, earned his fifth top-five finish of the season but longed for more.
“In the end, it’s a great day for Honda, great day for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” the driver of the No. 6 Honda said. “Two cars in the top five. It should have been a double podium and there would have been nothing sweeter than to celebrate Hinch’s win than being on the podium with him.”
As it turned out, Pigot celebrated the first podium finish in his 33rd Verizon IndyCar Series start. His best previous result was seventh place at Mid-Ohio in 2016.
“Right from the get-go, I knew that we had a fast car the way we were able to pass some people through the beginning of the race,” said Pigot, who moved up 16 positions from the start to place second in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “Then as the (race) went on, I just thought we got kind of stronger and stronger and were really able to close down and pass people.
“We’ve had a season that I think we could have executed a little bit better at times, but today everything went right and we found ourselves on the podium. It’s definitely a great feeling.”
With third place, Sato picked up his first podium finish of 2018 and third top-five result in the last five races.
“I had great fun,” Sato said. “The Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda was super-fast. The team did a great job. We weren’t that good in the first practice (Saturday) after skipping the test here last week, but we came back strong.”
Championship leader Scott Dixon, who finished 12th and four laps off the pace, saw his points lead shrink to 33 points over Newgarden after 11 of 17 races. Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport finished ninth in the race and is third in the standings, 41 points behind Dixon.
“We kind of got stuck behind Rossi on the first stint and his pace kind of backed us up,” Dixon said, adding that a mistake on a late pit stop put the front tires on his No. 9 Ganassi Racing Honda incorrectly.
“That’s racing and it’s no one’s fault. The big problem for us was the tire issue toward the end, having the fronts on backward. That really put us in the hole and we should have finished better than we did.”
Poetically, the next Verizon IndyCar Series race takes place in Hinchcliffe’s hometown. The Honda Indy Toronto is set for Sunday, July 15.
“Going into Toronto like this,” Hinchcliffe said with a smile, “it really feels good.”
Verizon IndyCar Series
Iowa Speedway – Newton, Iowa
Iowa Corn 300 – July 8, 2018
1. (11) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 300, Running
2. (18) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 300, Running
3. (10) Takuma Sato, Honda, 300, Running
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 300, Running
5. (7) Robert Wickens, Honda, 300, Running
6. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 299, Running
7. (12) Graham Rahal, Honda, 299, Running
8. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 299, Running
9. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 298, Running
10. (9) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 298, Running
11. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 297, Running
12. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 296, Running
13. (8) Ed Jones, Honda, 295, Running
14. (17) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 295, Running
15. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 294, Running
16. (19) Marco Andretti, Honda, 293, Running
17. (13) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 292, Running
18. (20) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 291, Running
19. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 283, Mechanical
20. (14) Zach Veach, Honda, 279, Running
21. (16) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 99, Handling
22. (22) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 40, Mechanical
Winner’s average speed: 149.636 mph
Time of Race: 1:47:32.4666
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 2 for 17 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power, Will 1-23, Newgarden, Josef 24-223, Sato, Takuma 224-226, Newgarden, Josef 227-255, Hinchcliffe, James 256-300
Point Standings: Dixon 411, Newgarden 378, Rossi 370, Hunter-Reay 359, Power 358, Wickens 304, Rahal 304, Hinchcliffe 280, Pagenaud 279, Bourdais 254.