NEWTON, IA — Linus Lundqvist thought that he cruised to his 8th career Indy Lights victory, 5 of which coming this season on a hot Saturday afternoon in Central Iowa. He crossed the finish line first at the Iowa Speedway to score his 1st win in the last 3 starts on the season. It would have extended his points lead to 105 with 5 races remaining.
However, that celebrates was quickly subdued. The victory champagne never occurred for the Swedish driver. In a wild turn of events, Lundqvist was shortly dropped from 1st to 4th in the finishing order for his role in the Lap 71 incident with Matthew Brabham. That move in turn handed the win back to pole sitter Hunter McElrea to net him his 2nd win of the year and 4th straight podium.
“Not the way I want to get it, obviously,” McElrea said. “I think, to be honest, Matt deserved that. But I’ll take it. Back to back. You’ll take what you can get in this game.”
McElrea’s victory in the first oval race of the Indy Lights season was the 250th across all series for Andretti Autosport.
McElrea led the 1st 49 laps but Lundqvist was stalking him as the run went on. By Lap 11, the lead was already over 1 second. By Lap 15, it was nearing 2 seconds (1.9539-seconds). However, his tires were wearing down to where Lundqvist by taking it easy, was coming. Lundqvist cut nearly a second out of McElrea’s lead in 6 laps from 1.9539-seconds down to 1.0009-seconds between Laps 15 and 21. By Lap 25, it was down to .7591-seconds. By Lap 30, it was down to .3346-seconds. He was coming.
Lap traffic was there too.
Lundqvist was down by .2666-seconds on Lap 40 before James Roe crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 41. We’d restart on Lap 50 but Lundqvist took over the lead at the timing line. Brabham came from 8th to 2nd after.
On Lap 55, Lundqvist held onto a .4600-second lead over Brabham. He extended the lead to .6496-seconds 5 laps later. But how Lundqvist did to McElrea, Brabham was doing back. He was waiting his time. He charged hard but now cooling his tires for a run at the win.
On Lap 65, it went from .64-seconds down to .30-seconds. 5 laps later Brabham cut the deficit to .2154-seconds. He made a move for the lead on Lap 71, going high exiting Turn 2 but Lundqvist moved to block which put Brabham’s No. 83 entry into the wall.
Lundqvist said he was told by his spotter he was clear. Brabham said he should still use his mirrors. Nevertheless, Lundqvist pulled away to cross the finish line 1st. Brabham held onto 2nd with a badly damaged front wing for the final 3 laps before his teammates of McElrea and Christian Rasmussen got him on the final lap for 2nd and 3rd respectively. Brabham went from challenging for the win to 4th.
Race control noted it and sent Lundqvist back to 4th and 2nd, 3rd and 4th moved up a spot as a result.
It was a close fight,” Lundqvist said. “I got a little bit loose through (Turn) 1, and I saw that he was behind me. But I got a ‘clear’ from my spotter, so I switched my lane, and unfortunately I think my rear just touched his front nose. It’s inch-perfect on ovals, and I put my trust in the spotter. Sorry to Matt for the incident.”
Said Brabham: “My perspective is that I got drove into the wall. It looked like he was struggling coming off that corner, and I took the high line and he took the low line. It looked like he just committed to going low and trying to block for the next corner. I said, ‘If you’re going to give me the top, I’ll take the top.’ There was overlap, and we’re still side by side, and I felt like he figured out, ‘Oh, maybe he doesn’t want to give me the top,’ and came over.
“He said his spotter cleared him. But we still have mirrors, at the end of the day. He knew I was there because he was giving me the lane at first.”
That handed the win to McElrea who’s the hottest driver in the series now. He went from 5th in points two races ago to 2nd (-77) with 6 top 6’s, 5 of which on the podium, in the last 7 events.
Sting Ray Robb finished 5th for the 2nd straight race and as a result fell from 2nd to 3rd (-90) in points. He has 9 top 5 finishes in 10 starts this season.
Brabham’s 3rd place run was his 8th career podium. 4 of those 8 came this year as he had 4 podiums in his 17 starts prior. He’s 94 points out. Rasmussen was 2nd for his 2nd top 2 finish in the last 3 races and moves from 6th to 5th in the standings.
Andretti Autosport swept the podium and put 4 cars in the top 5 at Iowa and now has 4 cars in the top 5 in points heading to Nashville in a couple of weeks.