JR Hildebrand won a final-lap shoot-out in the Indy Lights Corning 100 at Watkins Glen after Wade Cunningham became the third championship front-runner to crash out of the race, bringing out a safety car.
Initially it seemed that Hildebrand and AFS/AGR team-mate Sebastian Saavedra would hold the top two places in the title race, despite the Columbian dropping from third to fifth on the final lap, as Mario Romancini and James Hinchcliffe preceded Cunningham in retiring.
But Saavedra was hit by a post-race penalty of 30 seconds for clashing wheels with Charlie Kimball as he tried to prevent the American overtaking him on the final lap, which dropped him to 18th and last among the finishers and stalled his championship charge.
Vision’s James Davison had qualified on pole but was unable to hold fourth-place qualifier Hildebrand off, was overtaken on lap 14 of 30, and ended up second. A1GP Team Brazil driver Felipe Guimaraes, making his Indy Lights debut for Bryan Herta Autosport, took third.
Panther Racing’s English duo Pippa Mann and Martin Plowman were joined on the grid by Ali Jackson and Stefan Wilson, who were both returning to the series after absences. Jackson missed the last race because he couldn’t get his travel documents from the UK sorted in time, while Wilson is only competing at the road courses following his switch to Walker Racing.
None of the four made much of an impact on the race, Plowman suffering from a broken roll bar with 15 laps to go. His 11th place across the line became 10th following Saavedra’s penalty – the best result among them.
Prior to the penalty, he said: “It was quite an eventful race. It was looking like our first top 10 road course result but unfortunately we got bolted on the last restart and I lost my position to Ana [Beatriz].
“I have to say I’m very disappointed with the standard of blocking by some drivers out there. The officials made it very clear during the drivers’ meeting that blocking would be penalised, but that’s not what happened out there on more than one occasion.
“Now we want to focus our efforts in getting into the top five next race in Toronto.”
Wilson, Mann and Jackson had all started near the back and finished 12th, 14th and 15th. Wilson qualified 20th of 21, and Jackson’s flight from Belfast was delayed, so he missed qualifying and was due to start last – until Mann was sent to the back because of an engine change.
He said: “I like the track; I just needed more time on it. I’m tired from jet lag and my wrists are killing me because I haven’t driven in two months. The car was pretty good. I had a constant battle the whole race with the Russian kid [Sergey Mokshantsev].
“This is my first race on a road course with Andersen Racing. We need to do a few minor things to get me more comfortable in the car, like we need to change the seat a little; just minor things. I’m looking forward to Toronto, where we hope to get all the circumstances right and finish in the top five.”
Writing on Twitter ahead of the race, Mann said: “Just been told I have to start from the back due to an engine change for a cracked sump last night. Does anyone have a phone number for Miss Luck? I know she’s on holiday, but I could kind of do with getting hold of her.”
She was joined there by Ana Beatriz, penalised five places from her qualifying position for failing to slow down as she passed Mann’s upturned car under a yellow flag on the final lap of the previous race in Iowa.
After the race the Panther driver said: “We made a lot of progress this morning comparing to yesterday’s time and the car felt a lot better. In the race I believe that if I had my original starting position I could have stayed a little bit higher and finished in the group that was in front of me, but starting from the back was quite difficult to keep up.”