RHR’s Iowa comeback continues his hot streak

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He isn’t leading the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings yet, but defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is riding a crest of momentum heading into the series’ deserved off weekend.

Hunter-Reay is now a perfect four-for-four in podium finishes on ovals this year, with the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB probably his hardest earned this season.

After contact cost him his front wing right endplate, Hunter-Reay dropped to 21st in the field. But he charged back from there. He was closing on Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe in the final 30 laps of the race but a stretch where he got proverbially boxed in behind Simona de Silvestro, who was several laps down, and rookie Tristan Vautier cost him his momentum and a chance at a repeat Iowa win.

“It was so hard to catch back up to James (Hinchcliffe) and then lapped traffic. It’s one thing if you’re a lap down, but if you’re five laps down or six laps down, just making it tough on the leaders was uncalled for,” Hunter-Reay admitted.

“But hey, we came back from 22nd or whatever we were to finish second. We definitely had the car to win today but just made a mistake there trying to get by Graham (Rahal), keeping my foot in it. The front just had no grip on it when I turned to pop out and pass him. Easy mistake. We had a tough weekend… to come second out of this thing, I’m pretty pleased with that. Good job to James (Hinchcliffe). It was a good day in the points for the No. 1 DHL Chevy – definitely have to be happy about that.”

About those points: Hunter-Reay trails Helio Castroneves by nine, the difference in Castroneves winning the points-paying Iowa heat race and Hunter-Reay failing to advance out of his.

Hunter-Reay has scored 185 points in the last five races to lead the series, has scored the most oval points thus far with 176, and has advanced from fourth to second in the championship standings since the end of the Indianapolis 500.

In brief, the champion is driving even better than he was last year, with a team that is firing on all cylinders.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “