James Hinchcliffe absolutely dominated at Iowa Speedway this past Sunday. The Andretti Autosport driver took the lead at the drop of the green and never looked back, leading 226 of 250 laps. When one driver takes over the field like Hinchcliffe did, the rest of the race can feel mundane, even irrelevant.
That was not the case at Iowa.
The speedway, located just outside the small town of Newton, is a short track that acts like a mile-and-a-half speedway. It’s wide, high banked, and fast—perfect for IndyCars.
Sure, it would have been great to see a few battles for the lead, but while Hinchcliffe was riding on rails, several other drivers were putting on a show.
Ryan Hunter-Reay turned a potentially bad day into a podium finish, coming back from an early incident to finish second behind his teammate. Just a few laps into the race, Hunter-Reay clipped the front wing of his car on the back of Graham Rahal’s machine, damaging the right side. His pit crew kept him on the lead lap as they made repairs, and after restarting in 21st, Hunter-Reay picked cars off one by one and made it to the top 10 by the halfway point of the race.
The reigning champ moved his way into second, and with 20 to go he was on par to catch Hinchcliffe, but he got caught in lapped traffic and had to settle for the runner up spot. Still, Hunter-Reay’s run was great to watch, and he proved again that he’s not going to let go of the IndyCar title without a fight.
Rahal also impressed at Iowa, where he had one of his best performances of the season, notching his first top 5 finish since Long Beach. Expectations were high for Rahal after he joined his father’s team this past off-season, but the results haven’t been stellar. He and Tony Kanaan put on a show at the end as they raced for third, and Kanaan prevailed to earn his fourth straight podium finish at Iowa.
Hinchcliffe, who is having a breakout year, also deserves well-earned accolades for his victory. The Toronto native currently leads all drivers with three wins and sits fourth in points, 66 behind frontrunner Helio Castroneves. Hunter-Reay is the only other driver with multiple wins this season. Bad finishes have plagued Hinchcliffe, but he has three straight top ten finishes, and if he can be more consistent, he’ll be in the thick of the championship battle come October.
The only thing that could have made Sunday’s race better is turning it back into a Saturday night race. IndyCars ran under the lights at Iowa for a few years, and aside from rainy weather, they were fantastic to watch, especially in person. Scheduling and television dictated the change for 2013, but it’s always possible for it to change again.
Night or day, the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway is one of the best events of the season. The two organizations are hoping to ink a new multi-year deal for 2014 and beyond, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen. The Iowa race should be an IndyCar mainstay for many years to come.