James Hinchcliffe secured an emphatic win in the Iowa Corn 250 IZOD IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway.
The Canadian crossed the line 1.5 seconds ahead of Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay after having led virtually the entire race, with Tony Kanaan making a late-race pass on Graham Rahal to secure third.
Hinchcliffe claimed the lead from polesitter Will Power right at the start, and while the gap to his pursuers fluctuated as the leaders navigated lapped traffic, his claim to the top spot never really looked under threat.
"It's Andretti Autosport, baby. These guys have such a great track record here," Hinchcliffe said. "We knew it was going to be different coming here and racing during the day. We took a couple gambles with the setup and really wanted to be sure it was going to be good in traffic and the turns, man that car was hooked up from the get-go. We pulled away from everybody, had a good race with Graham (Rahal) there in one of those restarts. I lost one of my head pads halfway through the race and thought it was either going to get stuck in the pedal box or fly out and get in the air box, and those last 20 laps were really long just trying to hold on to it."
Rahal came closest of anyone, running side-by-side with Hinchcliffe for a couple of laps on a restart before falling back behind the Andretti car.
If Hinchcliffe's race was straightforward, Hunter-Reay's was anything but. The reigning series champion damaged his front wing when he made contact with Rahal early on, and after stopping for repairs he rejoined in 19th as the last car on the lead lap. But he picked his way back through the field and was back with the lead group with 90 of the 250 laps still to run.
KV's Tony Kanaan recovered from an overheating problem to make a late move on Rahal and pinch the final podium spot, and Rahal lost another place to Ed Carpenter on the final lap.
"I didn't quite have James' (Hinchcliffe) speed today but we were close," said Rahal. "And as you know, coming from where we have been over the past few weeks, this feels pretty good. But obviously I'm disappointed to not finish higher; we wanted a podium today if not better.
"The guys have really worked hard to get this Midas / Big O Tires car back to the front and we're getting closer. We struggled a bit at the start of the race. On the second set (of tires) the car came on for me and felt really, really magical. That's when we went from 10th to second. I don't know what it was at the end of the race, we just lost a little bit of overall grip and struggled a little bit. The last couple of laps when Ed (Carpenter) got me, I just couldn't keep the thing turning. Earlier in that stint, I was chasing Hinchcliffe down but at the end of the race I was losing a little bit of everything in the car.
"I'm proud of these guys because as I've said too many people, the last few weeks hasn't been easy for us. I'm really proud of the engineering staff and everyone. For everybody to keep coming back week after week with their chins up means a lot to me. I felt like I could have won the race today."
Carpenter had rolled the dice on strategy and delayed his final visit to the pits in the hope of a late yellow, but a slow stop meant that any advantage would have been neutralized anyway.
Helio Castroneves was disappointed to settle for eighth, although it was enough to keep him in the points lead.
"We drove as hard as we could today. When they told me I came in eighth, I was like 'What?'" related the Penske driver. "I certainly felt we had a better car than that. I guess in traffic we got held up coming in and out of the pits which cost us some positions."
It was a long afternoon for many of the traditional big guns. Power spent the race going steadily backward though the field and finished three laps down in 17th, while Dario Franchitti was never able to get his car hooked up in the first place and was a further lap in arrears in 20th.
Results - 250 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Engine Time/Gap
1. James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Chevy 1h30m16.0266s
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Chevy +1.5009s
3. Tony Kanaan KV/Chevy +1.6891s
4. Ed Carpenter Carpenter/Chevy +2.7605s
5. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda +3.0201s
6. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda +6.6654s
7. Oriol Servia Panther/Chevy +9.7006s
8. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy +10.6855s
9. Marco Andretti Andretti/Chevy +12.7133s
10. EJ Viso Andretti/Chevy +17.6157s
11. Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda +1 lap
12. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Honda +1 lap
13. Tristan Vautier Schmidt/Honda +2 laps
14. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon/Chevy +2 laps
15. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda +2 laps
16. Scott Dixon Ganassi/Honda +3 laps
17. Will Power Penske/Chevy +3 laps
18. James Jakes Rahal/Honda +3 laps
19. Sebastian Saavedra Dragon/Chevy +3 laps
20. Dario Franchitti Ganassi/Honda +4 laps
21. Simona de Silvestro KV/Chevy +7 laps
Ana Beatriz Coyne/Honda 183 laps
Takuma Sato Foyt/Honda 162 laps
Alex Tagliani Herta/Honda 139 laps