Jean-Karl Vernay may well have been declared the 2010 Indy Lights Champion when he fired up on Saturday evening, but the final race of the year belonged to Davey Hamilton Racing’s Brandon Wagner in only his fifth race of the season, although not without some tight competition from all sides.
Starting from 3rd in the pack, Wagner instantly jumped ahead of Wade Cunningham and polesitter Pippa Mann to claim the lead, before Cunningham himself took 2nd spot from the London-born racer. James Hinchcliffe also had a fabulous start – the Canadian jumped from 6th to 4th by lap 3 as he found ways passed both Philip Major and Charlie Kimball. By the eighth lap, Hinchcliffe swept passed Mann and three laps later, he progressed to 2nd as he moved beyond Cunningham.
Kimball had an awful beginning to the race and it was only going to get worse – a slow getaway from the outside of row one saw the American fall down the order; a digression that continued throughout the running.
By lap 14, Mann forced her way back into the top-three with a pass on Cunningham, but almost as soon as the move had been completed, the first yellows of the day had been signalled.
Colombian driver Gustavo Yacaman had been running in the mid-pack when he lost the rear of his Dallara exiting turn 2 in front of Dan Clarke. Some quick reactions from Clarke meant he missed Yacaman – just – but the former Champ Car driver could not avoid the wall. With a thud, Clarke’s race (and season) was over. Yacaman would soon find himself lapped as he pitted twice under caution.
Green conditions returned on lap 24, but whereas Wagner and Hinchcliffe pulled away, Mann fell towards the clutches of Cunningham and Martin Plowman, eventually dropping to 5th place. Cunningham joined the battle for the lead with Wagner and Hinchcliffe on lap 29, although the pace proved too much for Plowman. It did not take long for Mann to pull back up to the tail of Plowman and get by the Englishman for 4th.
One driver that certainly wasn’t struggling was Adrian Campos Jr. The Spaniard had a difficult run in qualifying, he eventually placed his Team Moore Racing car in 10th position, but had made his way into the top-six by lap 40. Passes on Plowman (lap 54) and Mann (lap 64) would take Campos Jr. to 4th position, albeit too far behind Cunningham to take a podium.
With the gap between the leading trio less than 0.3-of-a-second apart, both Hinchcliffe and Cunningham charged Wagner for the lead, but the Davey Hamilton Racer had an answer for each attack. By the 47th lap around, the front-running trio became a pair as Cunningham began to fall away – Wagner, however, maintained control while they lapped backmarkers. It seemed that Hinchcliffe might use the lapped cars as an opportunity to get a run on Wagner, yet still nothing came his way.
One of those backmarkers happened to be the newly crowned Champion, JK Vernay – the Frenchman qualified a lowly 13th, but spent the race running around 15th place while he struggled around the Miami circuit.
Vernay’s Miami woes mattered little to Wagner. As the chequered flag approached, the race leader pulled away from Hinchcliffe, building an unassailable gap out front. With just over 40 minutes on the clock, Brendan Wagner completed the 67-lap run to take his first Indy Lights victory in front of Hinchcliffe by 0.7 of-a-second. Although, the gap shrunk somewhat on the final tour, the American looked in control having driven a fantastic race, laying down a marker for next season in the process.
Hinchcliffe’s 2nd in the race simply solidified his runner-up position in the standings, some 23 points shy of Vernay, while Wade Cunningham propped up his season end with a podium in only his second 2010 event.
Adrian Campos Jr’s late race charge to 4th also propelled him in the final standing; in the end he finished sixth in points only six points adrift of Pippa Mann who claimed 5th in both the race and series. It was a good end of year run for the Londoner – following her return injury at Sonoma, Mann collected four consecutive top-5’s (including a win at Kentucky). Considering she was tenth in the Championship with four races left, fifth is indeed a stellar achievement.
Martin Plowman eventually rode home 6th on the road, but it was enough to lift him above Charlie Kimball in the Championship; despite starting on the front row, the American had a dire race and he simply fell backwards, finally crossing the line in 13th.
Daniel Herrington took 7th ahead of regular Philip Major, with returnee Dillon Battistini taking 9th position. Sean Guthrie had something of an invisible race on his to 10th and lapped, but still several seconds ahead of series débutante (and USAC runner) Henry Clarke (11th).
Arie Luyendyk Jr had an embarrassing weekend – the son of the twice Indy 500 winner was off the pace in qualifying and even managed to spin on the parade lap – he came home 12th, only 1.6 seconds ahead of Kimball. Rodrigo Barbosa struggled at Miami with finish of 14th spot – the Brazilian secured twelfth in the Championship with only part-time runners.
JK Vernay and Gustavo Yacaman (16th) were the only other runners, with Dan Clarke being the sole retirement of the race.
Although there was not huge amounts of passing up front, the battle between Wagner and Hinchcliffe remained tense and exciting throughout. What a shame that there was barely a crowd around to see it.
Race Rating: 4 out of 5
Firestone Indy Lights Homestead 100 (Round 13, October 2nd)
Pos Car Driver Team Laps Gap Ave Speed Status
1 32 Brandon Wagner Davey Hamilton Racing 67 0.0000 146.898 Running
2 2 James Hinchcliffe Team Moore Racing 67 0.7006 146.856 Running
3 77 Wade Cunningham Sam Schmidt Motorsports 67 9.0836 146.353 Running
4 22 Adrian Campos Jr (R) Team Moore Racing 67 10.1335 146.290 Running
5 11 Pippa Mann Sam Schmidt Motorsports 67 10.9261 146.243 Running
6 27 Martin Plowman AFS / Andretti-Autosport 67 16.7705 145.895 Running
7 36 Daniel Herrington O2 Racing Technology 67 17.9919 145.822 Running
8 49 Philip Major (R) Sam Schmidt Motorsports 67 27.5436 145.257 Running
9 29 Dillon Battistini Bryan Herta Autosport 67 29.1602 145.162 Running
10 4 Sean Guthrie Andersen Racing 66 2.7679 144.541 Running
11 34 Henry Clarke (R) Davey Hamilton Racing 66 10.8308 144.066 Running
12 24 Arie Luyendyk Jr Alliance Motorsports 66 13.3672 143.917 Running
13 26 Charlie Kimball AFS / Andretti-Autosport 66 14.9748 143.822 Running
14 18 Rodrigo Barbosa PDM Racing 66 19.7898 143.541 Running
15 7 JK Vernay (R) Sam Schmidt Motorsports 66 28.9129 143.010 Running
16 10 Gustavo Yacaman Wayne Taylor Racing 65 6.8165 142.116 Running
17 40 Dan Clarke (R) Walker Racing 14 -.—- 179.768 Contact
|2010 Indy Lights Championship (Round 13)|
|6||Adrian Campos Jr||307|