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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.