Martin Plowman earned his best finish to date in the Firestone Indy Lights series with a second place in Iowa that leaves him in a tight four-way battle for second in the championship.
The 22-year-old from Staffordshire missed qualifying on pole by 0.003sec, starting second beside Bryan Herta Autosports driver Sebastian Saavedra, and spent the race dogging the Colombian’s footsteps as he led from lights to flag.
The pair opened up a lead on the chasing pack in the early stages of the race, which finished under floodlights and was billed as the AvoidTheStork.com 100 after its sponsor.
But after 67 of the planned 115 laps debris on the track forced a safety car and the pursuers, led by championship front-runner JK Vernay, were able to close up again. Saavedra and Plowman retained their advantage on the restart, the gap between them increasing as the Englishman faded slightly.
With 15 laps left the advantage was 2.29secs but Plowman’s tyres were in better condition and he fought back strongly, closing to less than a quarter of a second with two laps remaining – until lapped traffic prevented a final push for the win, and he finished 0.482sec behind Saavedra.
He said: “It was one of the most intense races I have had in my life. For the first 30 or 40 laps it was just between me and Sebastian. We were pulling away from the field.
“Then the yellow flag came out and that was a very unfortunate time because that was when I was going to start putting the pressure on him to get the lead.
“Sebastian got in traffic and I thought it may be my day, but at the end I just couldn’t catch him. It was a great day for us and great for the points.”
Saavedra, a 20-year-old who competed in this year’s Indianapolis 500 for his Bryan Herta Autosports team, said: “Those last 10 laps were crazy. I wanted to make the right decisions and not risk crashing. I saw the guys were coming fast, but we pulled through and I’m very happy – this victory tastes even sweeter after those last 10 laps.”
Saavedra’s team-mate Stefan Wilson finished seventh, leading home fellow Brits Pippa Mann in eighth and the lapped Dan Clarke in ninth.
Vernay now holds a 23-point championship lead over Plowman’s Andretti Autosports team-mate Charlie Kimball, who started at the back of the field and hit the wall on the first lap. James Hinchcliffe is five points behind Kimball, with Plowman and Saavedra tied four points further back.