The Firestone Indy Lights drivers served up a thrilling side-by-side contest for their series’ 100th race – only to see the ending spoiled by a completely unnecessary caution flag that forced them to cross the line in single file.
James Hinchcliffe, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra, James Davison and eventual winner Wade Cunningham spent the whole race trading places at the front, all bar Davison leading at different times, until lap 65 of 67 when Hinchcliffe briefly spun.
He collected the car immediately and only dropped to seventh but, despite this, race control still called a full-course caution that deprived fans of the finish the race deserved.
Cunningham won under the yellow caution flags, ahead of Saavedra, Beatriz, Davison, Andrew Prendeville and Daniel Herrington.
“I’m very pleased with the result,” said Cunningham. “It was definitely an exciting race – I was much happier being out front. Even when I was in the lead those last 25-28 laps, it was very, very close between Sebastian and myself. I’m sure he got me at the stripe a few laps when we ran side-by-side for about 10 or 12 laps.”
Saavedra cut the gap in the championship to 40 points behind team-mate JR Hildebrand, who failed to complete a lap because of a mysterious mechanical problem. “We scored some very important points,” said Saavedra. “The car was great – the whole AGR/AFS Racing team did an incredible job. We were just doing as planned, trying to be side-by-side with Wade at the start-finish, but that yellow flag just made everything impossible.”
Martin Plowman had the best day of the British contingent, setting the fastest lap on his way to ninth place despite starting 14th in a grid set by points standings following the cancellation of qualifying because of water seeping from the track.
He said: “To start the race by points was a bit challenging, but we had a good start and picked a bunch of spots. The balance on my car was pretty good, I only think that we lacked a bit of speed on the straights.
“I got stuck behind Romancini for a while and when I finally got around him the group in front had pulled away. Although we were running the same lap times that the leaders, I just couldn’t close the gap. The yellow came out too late and the field never got back together.”
His team-mate Pippa Mann was only cleared to race at the last moment following an emergency trip to hospital earlier in the week with severe abdominal pains. Arie Luyendyk Jr was on stand-by to take over the drive, but Mann was deemed fit to compete.
Like Plowman, she set fast times in the race – but to little effect as she had spun on the parade lap and lost two laps on the rest of the field while her tyres were replaced.
She said: “The cars in front of me checked up before the start, and I had to go for the brakes pretty hard. With all the stagger that’s in a car for the oval, it swapped ends on me, and I had to come in for a fresh set of Firestones.
“When I returned to the track I was able to post some competitive lap times, so it’s unfortunate that we had to pit in the beginning of the race, and that we lost as much time as we did.”
Andersen Racing’s Ali Jackson started eighth but slipped back to finish 14th. Despite this, he was pleased with the outing: “I was happy to finish. This is my third oval race and the first one I finished, so I got some good experience today.
“The balance of the car wasn’t too bad. I think all of us in the team were just lacking speed today. The track was good considering all the rain we had. I didn’t have any close calls, except when I was on cold tyres and drafting at 190 miles per hour.”