James Hinchcliffe scores first oval win in Iowa romp

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One could argue that Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 turned out to be simply “Hinch-tacular.”

James Hinchcliffe took the lead on the opening lap of the race and went on to dominate and score his first career IZOD IndyCar Series win on an oval. The Canadian, who now has three wins in 2013, led 226 of 250 laps en route to a 1.5-second triumph over Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in the team’s fourth consecutive victory at the 7/8-mile bullring.

“It all goes to the team – we have a great track record here,” Hinchcliffe told ESPN in Victory Lane. “But this year with so many things and this being a day race, everything was different. We took a bit of a risk. We wanted to make sure the car wasn’t going to understeer because that kills you in traffic.

“I can’t believe we led that whole thing…I’m a little bit nervous because my family’s not here and my girlfriend’s not here, and I feel like I’m gonna get in trouble [because] I won without them here.”

If not for Hinchcliffe’s tour-de-force performance, Hunter-Reay may have been considered for “drive of the day” honors. After a sub-par run in qualifying, the reigning IndyCar champion fell back to 21st – the last car on the lead lap – after making early contact with Graham Rahal that forced him into the pits for a new nosecone on his car.

But with plenty of time to make up for it, the American pilot steadily rose through the field and was actually closing in on Hinchcliffe until he hit a cluster of lapped traffic with eight laps to go. Still, his runner-up result could eventually prove massive in his battle to defend the IndyCar crown.

“I worked so hard to catch back up to James and then lapped traffic – it’s one thing if you’re a lap down but if you’re five or six laps down, you’re just making it tough on the leaders,” Hunter-Reay told ESPN. “We definitely had the car to win today, just made a mistake there trying to get by Graham. I kept my foot in it, but the front [end] had no grip on it when I turned to pop out and pass him. Easy mistake.

“We had a tough weekend, so to come second in this thing, I’m pretty pleased with that.”

Tony Kanaan, who started Andretti’s current four-race win streak at Iowa back in 2010, finished third for KV Racing Technology ahead of Ed Carpenter in fourth and Rahal in fifth.

Pole sitter Helio Castroneves had a steady day, finishing eighth after having to start 11th following an engine penalty. He managed to keep the championship lead over Hunter-Reay, but saw his edge drop to nine points as the series prepares for Pocono on July 7.

Castroneves won nine points on Saturday for earning the pole position in the final heat race that determined today’s starting grid; Hunter-Reay failed to advance out of his preliminary heat.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”