I balanced my time between the hot pit, the paddock, and the grand stands in an effort to take in all aspects of the event. I have quite a few pictures from the infield that I will post below.
The biggest problem of the weekend came from a "weeping" track surface. Due to the heavy rainfall leading up to the weekend's races in Iowa, water began to seep through the cracks in the track surface on the back straightaway and in Turn 4. The Iowa Speedway crew did an excellent job of attending to the situation and didn't quit until the racing surface proved safe. The actual start time of the Indy Lights race was delayed about one hour.
The race itself proved quite exciting and didn't disappoint those in attendance. The results were quite historical in several ways.... (read on). Due to the "weeping" track conditions, the series decided to abandon their traditional start and begin the race under a mandatory caution. After the cars began to roll, 3rd place qualifier, Sebastian Saavedra pulled his entry back onto pit lane due to a suspension issue. After the team replaced the faulty hardware, Saavedra returned to the race several laps down.
Wade Cunningham had been the driver to beat all weekend, despite losing the pole at the last possible second to J.R. Hildebrand in qualifying. The two ran several laps side-by-side until Cunningham stole the spot. Cunningham appeared to have things under control after getting past Hildebrand in the opening laps. He led 103 laps of the 115 lap event, despite being reeled in by caution flags. The race featured 4 caution flags for 24 laps, making up nearly 21% of the race.
In the back of the field, the driver to watch was Mario Romancini. Romancini earned the hard charger title by improving 9 positions. The Sao Paulo, Brazil native finished the race in 4th place after starting back in 13th. It looked as if he would finish even higher as he closed a huge gap on the leaders under green flag conditions. Unfortunately, a broken weight jacker on Lap-90 would ruin his ability to make in-car handling adjustments and his pace seemed to fall off slightly. Regardless, it was an impressive drive to say the least.
Before I go any further with this race report, it should be noted that Sebastian Saavedra's suspension was successfully repaired by the AFS/AGR team and he was sent out mid pack despite being several laps down. He was extremely quick, turning the fastest lap of the race with a 20.0883 on Lap-15. It wasn't long before Saavedra was battling (literally) with the race leaders despite being several laps behind. It was really disappointing to see Sebastian fighting so hard for position with race leaders. I admire his aggression and desire to race, but, you would think the team would have come over the radio and told him to back down when putting himself and others into dangerous situations. He had already set the fastest lap of the race and proven his speed. I will say, his aggression added a lot of excitement to the race. It's just unfortunate that a few of the leaders were forced to back down and let him pass rather than the other way around. I think Wade Cunningham would agree with me... (read on).
In the final laps, the leaders were all running very close together... which is no surprise, for anyone that's been watching Indy Lights races this year. Saturday's race featured another exciting conclusion. With about 10-laps remaining, Cunningham had a sizable lead and looked poised to take his second win of the year. After battling with Saavedra for several laps, Wade decided to let Sebastian pass rather than risk a race-ending collision with a driver off the lead lap. Once Sebastian was out front he developed a slight gap only to dramatically slow on Lap-106 heading down the back straight. The reduction in speed caused Cunningham to lift which allowed Ana Beatriz to close the gap and make a pass for the lead. Ana had been running a very solid race and was able to take advantage of the situation in a near perfect manner. Once in the lead, Ana never looked back and claimed her second career Indy Lights victory. This was a huge race for Beatriz who started back in 6th. After a huge crash at Indianapolis in the Freedom 100, Ana had to sit out at Milwaukee due to funding issues. Fortunately, she was able to put everything together and return to the United States from Brazil and win Saturday's race in Iowa. She is a true talent and it would be unfortunate to see her season end prematurely. Wade Cunningham finished the race in second place and was clearly not happy about the race craft of Saavedra. This is the second time that Wade has finished runner-up at Iowa Speedway. James Hinchcliffe, who I've yet to mention, drove a very solid race... crossing the stripe in third place after several hard fought battles for position. Hinchcliffe was very impressive in only his fourth career oval race.
Ana's victory was historic in that she became the first female driver to win a race at Iowa Speedway. It was also historic in the fact, that Sam Schmidt Motorsports claimed all three spots on the podium. This was the first time that the team had filled the podium with their own entries. In 2006, at Nashville, the team ran two cars for AGR and had Jay Howard (SSM) finish on top, with the two AGR cars (being run by SSM) filling the remaining podium spots (Jaime Camara-2nd, Jonathan Klein-3rd).
Miller Lite 100
For a semi-live recap of things, including the fear of race cancellation, you can view my Tweets from the event. (editor's note: just scroll down on the Twitter page to view live updates).
James Davison had a tremendous qualifying effort that saw him set the fastest first lap--- only to lose the rear of the car exiting Turn-4 on his second lap. He had an incredible save and kept the car off the wall but lost enough speed to drop him to the rear of the field for the start of the event. Heading into the event, Davison was the only Lights driver to finish all of the 2009 races. His streak ended one-lap short when he made contact with the lap car of Pippa Mann. Pippa's car ended up flipping upside down, which led to a caution flag that ended the race. Fortunately, she walked away unscathed.
Daniel Herrington was very impressive this weekend. He was able to run at the front of the pack for nearly the entire race until contact with a lapped car caused him to drop back. He was still able to bring the car home in ninth place. It was just an unfortunate end to a very impressive drive.
J.R. Hildebrand was quick the entire weekend and claimed the pole position. Unfortunately, during the race he blocked Herrington who was challenging for the second spot. The move wasn't looked upon kindly and Hildebrand was forced to make a drive-through penalty. He still brought the car home in 6th place.
Iowa Speedway Miller Lite 100 in Pictures...
(All photos by Ryan at Junior Open Wheel Talent)
(All photos by Ryan at Junior Open Wheel Talent)