Sometimes it’s a wonder why qualifying is ever run at Chicagoland. Such is the rate of overtaking at the circuit, that a driver can concentrate on perfecting the race set-up and work through the field from there. At the finale of the 2008 IndyCar season, Helio Castroneves climbed from 27th position to win by 0.0033 of-a-second in a stunning battle with Scott Dixon. Today it was James Hinchcliffe’s turn to run through the field.
Hinchcliffe suffered a fuel injection failure in qualifying, leaving the Canadian driver in 13th spot, but it was not to deter him – however before he could win, he still had to fight his way to the front.
As the green flag dropped, poleman Martin Plowman surged into the lead with fellow front row starter Pippa Mann pressing hard, while behind the feisty duo Philip Major battled hard with Sebastian Saavedra. Hinchcliffe got the good start he needed and had broken into the top 6 in the early laps, when the first yellow came out.
Indeed, it was a scary incident that brought out the yellows on lap 6. On the backstretch, Charlie Kimball lost control of his AFS / Andretti-Autosport machine, collecting Gustavo Yacaman as the collected the wall. In the collision, Kimball’s car was lifted and flipped up skyward and overturned. The car turned all the way over, landing on its roll bar, sliding a couple of hundred yards down the track.
Despite the severity of the accident, Kimball climbed out of the car with no injuries. After a few moments surveying the damage, the red flag was waved on lap 8.
Cars returned to the track ten minutes later, running under the safety car until the beginning of the 10th lap with Plowman ahead of Mann. With the drop of the green flag, Hinchcliffe stole 5th from JK Vernay and closed in on 3rd place Major and Saavedra in 4th spot.
Saavedra could not hold the top four though – as the one-third mark approached, his Bryan Herta Autosport run machine started lose power and the Colombian fell toward the pack; however Saavedra was momentarily saved by another caution.
As Mann challenged Plowman for the lead on the 30th lap, she glanced his right rear with her front wing left endplate, puncturing Plowman’s tyre in the process. The polesitter slowly began to lose balance in the rear of the car, as his wheel scraped off the tarmac – another full course yellow. Mann now had the lead ahead of Vernay, Major, Hinchcliffe, Arie Luyendyk Jr and Dan Clarke, while Plowman lost a lap in the pits getting repairs.
Saavedra pitted at this time as well, also losing a number of laps as his engine struggled to produce power. He would return to the track, but was never a factor again. Nearer the back of the field, Stefan Wilson surprised all by managing to spin under the safety car in turn 3 – it would not cost him much as the Englishman fell from 10th to 11th.
Hinchliffe laid down a challenge to Major for a top 3 position the moment the greens re-emerged on lap 39, finally claiming it two laps later. It was not long before the Canadian pulled himself up to the rear of 2nd place Vernay as the Frenchman followed Pippa Mann in the lead of the race.
Not far behind the leader trio, series returnee Brandon Wagner made his way up to 6th after starting 8th, but on lap 51 it all went awry. Exiting turn 2, Wagner let the rear end step out and the American spun off the circuit and onto the grass patch – yellow flags and another caution. It was a silly spin and one which would lose him two laps, as he pitted to check for damage.
Mann still led Vernay and Hinchcliffe at the green, but as soon as the racing was back under way Hinchcliffe grabbed 2nd from Vernay and left in pursuit of Mann. The Canadian pushed Mann hard around the outside lap after lap, but there simply wasn’t enough extra power to force the issue.
The fight was quickly halted on lap 59 – Plowman trying to get back on the lead lap, brushed the wall as he went wide at turn 2. There was little damage, but it was enough for another safety car period. A moment of confusion followed – Mann and Hinchcliffe side-by-side as the yellows emerged, but the restart lead was eventually awarded to Mann.
Five laps remained as racing got back under way, with Hinchcliffe constantly trying his luck around the outside of Mann. He finally nailed it on the penultimate lap and come the chequered flag, Hinchcliffe would claim his first oval victory in style by a mere 0.0159 of-a-second ahead of Mann – the third closest finish in Indy Lights history. A great shame for Mann who loses out on her first Indy Lights victory by approximately three feet.
Behind them Major passed both Vernay (4th) and Clarke (5th) for a career best 3rd spot in the final few tours, while Wilson, Luyendyk Jr and Adrian Campos Jr filled the 6th to 8th positions. Dillon Battistini had a solid run to 9th, finishing just ahead of Rodrigo Barbosa. Saavedra (11th) and Wagner (12th) both finished three laps down.
While the race had a fantastic finish, it took quite a while for it to get started; however another good sign (bar the finish) is this evening displayed perfectly the strength of the modern Indy Lights car, when Charlie Kimball emerged unscathed from what was a scary incident.
It’s a vital win for Hinchcliffe and one that helps his title chances a somewhat, but a good run by Vernay means that the Canadian has taken precious little from Vernay’s lead.
Race Rating: 3 out of 5
2010 Firestone Indy Lights Standings (Round 11)
|1||7||J.K. Vernay||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||444|
|2||2||James Hinchcliffe||Team Moore Racing||391|
|3||26||Charlie Kimball||AFS / Andretti Autosport||343|
|4||27||Martin Plowman||AFS / Andretti Autosport||338|
|5||29||Sebastian Saavedra||Bryan Herta Autosport||303
|6||40||Dan Clarke||Walker Racing||271|