Josef Newgarden was worried his day might come to an end during the opening lap of Saturday’s Sukup 100 Indy Lights race at Iowa Speedway.
He wasn’t the only one.
After two starts were waved off, the drivers achieved proper formation and took the green flag to open the 115-lap race around the 0.875-mile banked oval. Newgarden had a good jump at the start and tried to pass front-row starters Esteban Guerrieri and Gustavo Yacaman.
Initially, it looked like Newgarden might be able to make the pass stick on the outside of Turn 1, but he was forced to back out of the throttle as the front two closed the door. Guerrieri — who started from pole position — exited Turn 2 with the lead, but Yacaman had a good exit and tucked into Guerrieri’s draft down the back straight. As they entered Turn 3, Guerrieri protected the inside but Yacaman went low for the pass and the two made contact.
With Guerrieri and Yacaman both sliding up the banking, Newgarden was able to run cleanly through the melee, but a caution flag came out slotting the drivers back in order for a restart.
Miraculously, both Guerrieri and Yacaman were able to keep their cars off the white retaining wall guarding Turns 3 and 4. Following the restart Guerrieri began to pull away. Meanwhile, Newgarden began challenging for the second spot and ran a full lap wheel-to-wheel with Yacaman before emerging in second.
On Lap 26, Guerrieri began to fall back dramatically with a mechanical issue (radiator), which would eventually end his day. Newgarden took over the point and never looked back en route to a 5.4724-second margin of victory. His third of the season.
“When I heard about Guerrieri having mechanical issues, I felt really bad,” Newgarden said of his Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate’s misfortune. “You want to win, but you want to win straight up. Esteban [Guerrieri] is a very good driver, very consistent and a very good competitor so it’s a shame, but I know he’ll bounce back. [The team] really focused on what we were going to need for the traffic and how we were going to manage the race for 115 laps. The car was able to go anywhere, which made my job very easy. I had a phenomenal car.”
Yacaman was able to hold on for a career-best runner-up finish but seemed preoccupied with the first-lap incident during the press conference following the race.
“[Guerrieri] didn’t give me any space and I just stayed in there,” Yacaman recalled. “It was pretty close to being the end for both of us. I had it set in my mind I was either going to go for the lead or go for the wall. I told everyone on the team I wasn’t going to lift and I didn’t lift. I’m sure next time [Guerrieri] will give me a little more space. He knows I’m not afraid of taking us both out. That’s how it works, you have to earn your respect. We’re not here to make friends, we’re not here to be careful. This is racing and like they say, ‘rubbin’ is racing.'”
Midway through the race Newgarden was still facing pressure from both Yacaman and SSM teammate Bryan Clauson. A little farther back in the field, Victor Garcia was making his way through the pack after starting 12th. On Lap 78, Garcia worked his way around Duarte Ferreira for fourth place.
“My team [Team Moore] was telling me to relax and go faster and faster each lap,” Garcia said. “At the end I was catching people and overtaking.”
Garcia’s charge ended with a fourth-place finish moving him to third overall in the drivers’ championship. He credited the team for their hard-work preparing the car after a fuel-pump related set-back in qualifying.
By Lap 84, Bryan Clauson — who pulled triple duty over the weekend competing in the USAC Midget and Silver Crown races at Iowa Speedway — was all over the rear wing of Yacaman. He was getting faster as the race went on, continually setting a new mark. On Lap 85, he set the fastest lap of the event, touring the oval in just 20.0362 seconds. He continually worked to find a way past Yacaman, but in the end was unable to complete the pass. Still, he finished third (a career best finish) in just his third Indy Lights start.
“I threw everything I had at Gustavo [Yacaman],” Clauson said. “The car was just a little bit tight for most of the race. I maximized my tools and at the midway point the car was actually pretty good. I tried high, I tried low, I tried getting a big run through the draft. The car just wasn’t quite good enough pinned up underneath Yacaman to complete the pass. I was able to get right up along his sidepod but he would carry momentum off the corner and was strong enough to keep me behind him.
“It was a lot of fun,” he continued. “I love downforce. It’s just so different. The downforce racing has been something I’ve had to adjust to. [Gustavo] did a great job of moving around and taking the air off my car and using the air to his advantage. Figuring out the little nuances of downforce has been fun, but tough. I’ve learned a lot.”
Duarte Ferreira held on for a career-best fifth-place finish after running fourth for several laps. With the race win, Newgarden improved his championship lead from 13 points to 46 over Guerrieri heading into the July 10th race on the Streets of Toronto.
Full Results from the Indy Lights Sukup 100 at Iowa Speedway after the jump.
Iowa Speedway — Sukup 100
- Josef Newgarden
- Gustavo Yacaman
- Bryan Clauson
- Victor Garcia
- Jorge Goncalvez
- Victor Carbone
- Stefan Wilson
- David Ostella
- Chase Austin
- Anders Krohn
- Esteban Guerrieri
- Brandon Wagner
Read about the Star Mazda race from Iowa Speedway here.