By Tony DiZinno
While the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires record books will show Andretti Autosport rookie Hunter McElrea delivered a pole-to-win result at Iowa Speedway in 2022 and in his Indy Lights oval debut, the way it occurred was not straightforward at all.
McElrea inherited the victory in his No. 27 Smart Motors-supported entry following a post-race decision assessed to championship leader Linus Lundqvist, who won on the road but was penalized three spots by Race Control for avoidable contact with Matthew Brabham.
The decision moved Lundqvist from first to fourth, behind a a trio of Andretti entries with McElrea the new provisional race winner, Christian Rasmussen up to second and Brabham holding onto third despite a damaged race car.
Conditions were already significantly hotter than the morning qualifying session. It was 84F and 94F ambient and track at the 0.894-mile speedway while the race started at 11:15 a.m. CT at 92F and 116F, respectively, with track temps surpassing 120F as the race progressed.
From pole, McElrea led the opening 40 laps, stretching his lead to nearly 2 seconds in clear air but losing most of the gap once he encountered the tail end of traffic in the 13-car field. McElrea had one moment where Lundqvist charged at him but was unable to fully complete the pass. Lundqvist’s lost momentum exiting Turn 4 briefly sent him back into the clutches of Brabham and Sting Ray Robb, who were battling for third.
The race complexion changed upon the first and only full-course caution of the race, with James Roe’s No. 12 TJ Speed Motorsports entry veering right into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier with what appeared to be a cut right front tire. Roe emerged unscathed from the car but the same couldn’t be said for the lone remaining TJ Speed entry in the Indy Lights field, which sustained heavy right side damage.
McElrea led Lundqvist, Brabham, who’d advanced from eighth on the grid up to third, Robb and Rasmussen
HMD Motorsports team manager A.J. Smith told Georgia Henneberry on the Peacock broadcast about Lundqvist’s hopes against McElrea, “As his tires fall off, we should be able to get around him.”
The pass came sooner than anticipated. McElrea’s car washed up the road exiting Turn 4 just at the restart on Lap 50, and Lundqvist darted through to the inside to take the lead. Brabham scythed through just behind and put himself in a good position to save the day for Andretti Autosport as McElrea’s race, in theory, went away.
With 10 laps to go on Lap 65, Lundqvist held off Brabham by just about three tenths of a second with McElrea third, Rasmussen fourth and Robb fifth, with Jacob Abel having done well to move into sixth ahead of Danial Frost, Ernie Francis Jr., Benjamin Pedersen and Christian Bogle in the top 10. Pedersen had had a fraught race up to that point, including a lurid slide through Turns 1 and 2 where he caught his No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD entry while commencing a drift at full opposite lock.
The defining moment of the race occurred on Lap 71 on the back straight, with less than 5 laps to go. Lundqvist held the low line through Turns 1 and 2 with Brabham seeing another opportunity to get by on the high line. He’d tried a couple laps earlier and went for the lead in Turns 3 and 4 but washed up and lost two tenths.
On this instance, Brabham had the momentum and worked to position his car alongside. Lundqvist ran up the road and pinched Brabham’s front wing, knocking it out of alignment and costing Brabham any hopes at victory. From there, he was just hoping to run the final few laps without a visit to the pits.
Lundqvist won on the road by 3.4258 seconds from McElrea, Rasmussen and Brabham – he’d dropped from second to fourth on the final lap with a 130.9 mph lap compared to 145 mph plus for the top three – and Robb in fifth.
Immediately after the checkered flag, Race Control flashed a “results are pending” message with an indication a decision was imminent.
Peacock cameras caught Lundqvist and Brabham talking to each other in pit lane after stopping their cars, explaining their views of the contact. Both then talked to Henneberry in the moment before Race Control issued their decision.
“It was a close fight. We were both fast and fighting through for the win,” said Lundqvist, driver of the Jula-backed No. 26 car for HMD with Dale Coyne Racing. “I got loose, I got a clear from my spotter, and unfortunately my rear touched his front nose. It’s inch perfect on ovals. I put my trust in the spotter. Sorry to them for the incident. But we got a win.”
Brabham offered his perspective: “Obviously my perspective is I got drove in the wall. I deserved to win. I was biding my time. We were catching traffic. I was best in traffic. He was struggling. I took the high line, he took the low line, he committed to going low, then tried to block for the next corner. I took the top lane. He figured out, ‘Oh maybe I don’t want to get the top.’ His spotter cleared him. But you still have mirrors end of the day. Just a disappointing end to the race. The way it goes sometimes. I was the car to beat today. Qual car was terrible, but we made up for it.”
McElrea was second on the road and initially beating himself up over losing the lead on the restart before the mood changed upon being told he won the race.
“I loved it. Great weekend. Pretty disappointed right now. Matty drove through the field. He kinda got screwed at the end. That restart. Man I don’t know what I did. Not good enough to get in the marbles.”
Once told he’d won the race, he replied, “It’s not how I want to get it obviously. I’ll take it! I definitely needed to prove it. I’ll take that.”
The series is off next week before resuming at Nashville in two weeks’ time for its debut at that track. There are four races remaining in the 2022 season, with events at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and then the West Coast run at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to come.
Lundqvist’s drop to fourth place in the race results made a small but not insignificant impact on the points standings.
With the win, he would have led McElrea by 105, Robb by 108 and Brabham by 115. After the drop, those gaps are 77, 90 and 94 points, respectively.
McElrea’s second straight win propels him to second points, as he climbed two spots this weekend.
Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway – Unofficial Results
|1||27||Hunter McElrea||Andretti Autosport||75|
|2||28||Christian Rasmussen||Andretti Autosport||75||1.2171|
|3||83||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||75||1.6030|
|4||26||Linus Lundqvist||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||75||2.5742|
|5||2||Sting Ray Robb||Andretti Autosport||75||4.0216|
|6||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||75||7.7754|
|7||68||Danial Frost||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||75||8.5442|
|8||99||Ernie Francis Jr.||Force Indy||75||14.1510|
|9||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group with HMD||75||16.1584|
|10||7||Christian Bogle||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||75||17.4177|
|11||21||Kyffin Simpson||HMD Motorsports||75||18.2995|
|12||11||Antonio Serravalle||HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing||73||Running|
|13||12||James Roe||TJ Speed Motorsports||40||Contact|