Andretti passed Dixon as well to come home second, by far his best result of 2012, with Tony Kanaan also passing Dixon in the dying laps just before Katherine Legge crashed and brought out a caution with three laps to go. Dixon was able to finish fourth, while Simon Pagenaud put on one of the finest drives of the night to finish fifth.
The action at Iowa Speedway began even before the green flag flew, with a pair of incidents forcing a green-caution start. During the parade laps, Alex Tagliani spun and stalled, losing two laps in the process, while pole sitter Dario Franchitti suffered an engine failure before the race ever began. For Franchitti, it his his third consecutive finish of 14th or worse.
"I'd actually just come on the radio to say 'Is this thing making an odd noise?'' he explained. "And then it let go. Really disappointed. I believe this was our Indy winner engine. A real shame that it let go. One of those things."
The green flag finally came out on lap 10, after a lap eight attempt was waved off, with Helio Castroneves leading the way in the wake of Franchitti's misfortune. Marco Andretti ran second, while Josef Newgarden began passing cars on the outside and ran as high as fourth before dropping back. Hinchcliffe was also moving up, eventually passing Andretti for second.
Behind them, J.R. Hildebrand tried passing Hunter-Reay in a battle for fifth, but bumped the left-rear wheel guard of Hunter-Reay, damaging Hildebrand's front wing. The sophomore driver was forced to pit and lost three laps to the leaders. Hildebrand discussed the incident afterward, "With (Ryan) Hunter-Reay I just washed up into this wake and had a huge run on him, and when you’re that close the car doesn’t turn as much as you want it to and I missed not hitting him by a couple inches."
Up front, Helio Castroneves looked dominant, leading much of the first stint before Hinchcliffe passed him on lap 52 to take the lead. Justin Wilson was also flexing his muscle, climbing up to fourth after starting 13th. He would fade, though, in the second half of the race and finish tenth.
On lap 68, just before a cycle of green flag pit stops was to begin, E.J. Viso tried to pass Will Power entering turn one. Power never saw him, though, and came down across Viso's front wing. They made contact and spun into the wall, their days over on the spot. A visibly upset Viso vented post-accident. "Will was definitely on the pace, he just doesn't use his mirror," said the KV Racing driver. "I had a run at him, I was into corner one and he just blocked me, blocked me, and I couldn't get lower, I already had my front left tire inside the apron and the yellow line. He just kept going lower and I had nowhere to go. This is not the usual Will that we used to know by being clean, this is the second race that he affects somebody on my team and it's very disappointing."
Power accepted the blame and acknowledged he never saw Viso coming. "I feel bad for E.J. because I took him with me, he said to me in the car that I was down low on him or something and I didn't understand, but oh yeah, now I see. I didn't get the call that he was underneath me, so I feel, man I didn't even know he was there, I feel bad for him."
Pit stops under caution saw Castroeneves beat Hinchcliffe out, with Hunter-Reay, Dixon, and Andretti completing the top five after the stops. Racing resumed on lap 85, after a small drizzle delayed a restart, with Castroneves again holding the lead from Hinchcliffe, while Andretti and Kanaan passed Dixon for fourth and fifth, shoving Dixon back to sixth.
Lap 98 saw Hildebrand, who made up one lap and was trying make up another, push up into the turn four wall, ending what started out as a promising run. "After (the contact with Hunter-Reay) we were a few laps down, but man, we were hauling the mail and the National Guard Chevy was so fast," exclaimed a disheartened Hildebrand. "We’ve had a lot of bum luck this year, and the Panther guys have been doing great in the pits, but just haven’t been catching breaks, and to throw one away with a silly mistake on my part is really a bummer for the guys.”
Under the yellow, Dixon and Briscoe chose to pit, going somewhat off strategy to hopefully make it to the end of race having to make only one more stop. Castroneves held serve once again on a lap 111 restart. Behind him, Pagenaud began asserting his name near the top of the charts, climbing up to sixth. In front of the Frenchman, a great battle between the Andretti Autosport teammates saw Hunter-Reay storm passed Andretti and Hinchcliffe to run second.
Lap 153 saw Andretti begin around of green flag stops, with leaders Castroneves, Hinchcliffe, and Hunter-Reay following suit. Dixon then assumed the lead ahead of Briscoe and Alex Tagliani, none of whom had stopped yet under green, while Andretti was running first amongst those who had just stopped, beating out Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, and Hinchcliffe.
Dixon pitted on lap 176, briefly giving the lead to Briscoe.
However, the Australian's strong run would end two laps later. Josef Newgarden, running much faster on fresh tires, trying a late move inside of Briscoe entering turn one. The two made contact and spun, with Briscoe contacting the turn two wall and Newgarden suffered damaged suspension. Briscoe alluded afterward that Newgarden needed to exercise more patience. "It's disappointing, my spotter didn't have time to tell me that that's where he was going, I don't think anyone saw that coming," the Penske driver. "It's tough, then he tried going low, and he's coming from way too far back there, it's too late to make a pass like that. So, it's disappointing, but he's a rookie and he'll learn from it, and it's a shame because I think on fuel we were in position to win the thing."
Newgarden, though, mentioned that Briscoe's line-choice confused him. "I decided that we were going to low and (Briscoe) had such a difference in speed really, you know I went low on the entry and then he kinda slowed down and started coming low as well," said last year's Indy Lights champion. "I actually tried to get out of it because he started coming low and I mean I couldn't even get out of it in time. I tried to go below the yellow to avoid it and even brake, there was just not enough there really. Really caught me off guard too, I was not trying to do anything silly or rushed, I think the race was really coming to us and was trying to be real methodical about what we were doing."
Dixon would stay out under the caution, having just made his final stop, while everyone else behind him came in, with Andretti leading Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Hinchcliffe, Pagenaud, Wilson, Barrichello, and Rahal.
A restart with 55 laps to go saw Dixon hold the lead, though the green flag would only stay out briefly, with Hinchcliffe spinning by himself in turn four and clouting the outside retaining wall.
Dixon again held the lead when racing resumed with 46 laps left while Andretti and Hunter-Reay began chasing him. Dixon's lead was up above two seconds for a time, but lapped traffic allowed the Andretti Autosport duo to close in rapidly, with all three cars running under a blanket by the 20 to go mark as Kanaan and Pagenaud began a dice of their own for fourth.
Hunter-Reay battled back and forth with Andretti for a couple of laps before clearing the third generation driving, and then set his sights on Dixon. Still in traffic, Hunter-Reay made his move on the insider entering turn one, storming around Dixon and into the lead, which he held for good.
Andretti quickly followed Hunter-Reay through, passing Dixon in turns three and four, while Tony Kanaan would clear a battle with Simon Pagenaud and pass Dixon for third.
The victory for Hunter-Reay was sealed when Katherine Legge crashed with three laps to go, with Andretti unable to close within a second of his counterpart.
However, he did play role in the victory in that he helped Hunter-Reay secure the proper setup during a test here last week, something for which Hunter-Reay thanked him in victory lane. "I have to thank Marco (Andretti). They came here and tested. Marco put the set up on the car. When we came here, we tweaked it just a little. From there, we basically raced with what he tested with. We got another win for Chevy, DHL and Sun Drop. Marco and I raced really hard out there, really clean. It's great to have a teammate like that and we're just so happy to be in Victory Lane twice in a row."
Andretti would have liked to win, but couldn't complain about finishing second. "It was a lot of fun, the car came alive in the second stint," he declared. "I think we in hindsight could have taken another turn of the front wing and been really hard to beat at the end, but we kept the car how it is and I kind of ran out of tools at the end and had a lot of understeer. Great team effort, definitely a statement from Andretti Autosport and congrats to Ryan."
Tony Kanaan's charge to third after starting 19th was somewhat quiet, but nonetheless an impressive run for the 2004 IndyCar champion. "It was a great day for us. I wished we had started further up the field, but the GEICO | MOUSER guys gave me a great car," he said. "We don't take the podium finish for granted, but I think we had a car that could have won the race. There were lots of dodgy moves out there. People were driving kind of crazy. I hope the fans liked the race. Now we have to capitalize on what we have done so far, the championship is getting tight. Hopefully we can get a win soon."
On the contrary, Dixon was very disappointed to finish fourth after coming close to a win. He pinned his late-race fade on persistent understeer, which never went away. "Toward the end I could only go to the bottom and when I got high it just had too much understeer," he explained. "We gave it the best we could and got stuck behind two slower Honda cars at the end who we had trouble getting around. I was a bit confused over that but I'm not sure we were going to hang on and win either. Tough night for the Target team."
However, the drive of the night may have belonged to Pagenaud, who passed 20 cars and may have shot at the podium for falling back to fifth in the final laps. He dedicated the result to his girlfriend's father, who passed away earlier in the week. "I was sitting in the car before the race and thinking about my girlfriend's father who passed away this week," said an emotionally drained Pagenaud. "We were very close. He watched every race of mine, and I felt like he was watching me still tonight. My thought process starting the race was 'just to move forward.' It was really difficult at the beginning. We were already a lap down before I got confident with the car. Something just clicked, and everything unlocked and we started moving forward. I'm really starting to enjoy the ovals. It's close racing and it's fun."
Power retained his point lead despite crashing, but Hunter-Reay's second consecutive win moved up to second, three points behind Power. Dixon and Castroneves moved passed Hinchcliffe into third and fourth, with "Hinch" slipping back to fifth. Pagenaud and Kanaan sit sixth and seventh, with 51 points separating the top seven as the series moves into the second half of the season. Franchitti sits in eighth, 70 points out of the lead.
The Izod IndyCar Series now takes a much needed week off, after five straight race weekends, before heading to Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto.
Full results of the race on Iowa Speedway
Written 06-24-2012, 12:27 am
Updated 06-24-2012, 11:26 am
Photography Courtesy of IZOD IndyCar Series / LAT USA
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