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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.