James Hinchcliffe earned his first career victory on an oval today at the Chicagoland 100 after beating race leader Pippa Mann to the stripe by 0.0159 seconds on the final lap. It was the third closest finish in Firestone Indy Lights history. Philip Major finished third – his best career finish.
Points leader J.K. Vernay finished fourth with Dan Clarke crossing the stripe in fifth just two-tenths of a second behind race winner Hinchcliffe. If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is.
The race was incredibly close and action packed. The grandstands remained relatively empty which is such a shame. If race fans only knew what they were missing.
The action got underway at the bumpy 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway with Martin Plowman leading the field toward the green flag. The first caution of the race occurred early in the event when Charlie Kimball lost the rear of his car coming off Turn 2 — when somebody in front of him checked up — causing him to slide into Gustavo Yacaman who was running on the outside. The contact sent Kimball’s car into the air with the front nose lifting off the ground. After doing a half-backflip Kimball slid to a halt, fortunately neither driver was injured in the incident.
“There’s some guys making crazy moves out there,” said Kimball after the crash. “But, I think it should be a great race for the remaining 60-laps.”
A red flag was flown following the incident for clean-up and debris, lasting 14 minutes, eight-seconds. The drivers went back to green flag racing on Lap 11-of-67.
By Lap 14, eventual race winner, James Hinchcliffe entered the top-five with the top-six running side-by-side and nose-to-tail in a 2x2x2 formation. Over the next few laps, Vernay and Hinchcliffe repeatedly traded fifth position.
Meanwhile, Plowman continued to lead despite repeated attempts by Mann to sneak by on the high side. Unfortunately, contact occurred when Mann’s front wing cut into Plowman’s right rear tire on Lap 30. The incident sent the race leader into the pits before coming back on track one lap down.
“Everyone knew it was going to happen,” said Gary Peterson, owner of Plowman’s No. 27 AFS/Andretti Autosport car, referring to Pippa cutting Martin’s tire down. “It was so obvious, we all knew it.”
The incident didn’t affect Mann’s car as she was able to continue on and lead the field back to green flag racing, marking her first-ever laps lead. The next caution came when Sebastian Saavedra slowed and pulled off-track. During the same caution, Stefan Wilson spun but was able to continue.
As the laps began to wind down, the field began to bunch up even closer. Hinchcliffe and Vernay battled for second spot in the closing laps before another caution came out organizing the field. Following a Lap 63 restart, Hinchcliffe began to test his car against race leader Mann. On the final lap, Hinch was able to run the high line and drive down off Turn 4 to sneak past Mann for his first career oval victory.
“The car was great,” said Hinchcliffe, who started 13th. “We were really good on the restarts and that put us in a position to challenge Pippa at the end.”
The final tally also marked a career best finish for Pippa Mann. Just last weekend at Infineon, she scored her first top-five finish.
The Indy Lights drivers are scheduled to return to action next weekend, September 4, at Kentucky Speedway
Complete results after the jump.