Hunter McElrea earned his second straight Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires win on Saturday, elevated to first place at Iowa Speedway after a post-race penalty was awarded to Linus Lundqvist.
Series points leader Lundqvist took the checkered flag first in the #26 HMD Motorsports car with Dale Coyne Racing, 3.4258 seconds ahead of McElrea in the #27 Andretti Autosport car on the oval of 0.894 miles, but IndyCar officials determined Lundqvist made avoidable contact. with Matthew Brabham in a duel for the lead with five laps to go, damaging Brabham’s front wing.
Lundqvist was penalized three points, dropping to fourth in the final results. That penalty gave Andretti Autosport a sweep of the top three spots with pole-sitter McElrea the winner, fellow rookie Christian Rasmussen second in the #28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht car and Brabham third in the #83 car.
“That’s not the way I want to get it, obviously,” McElrea said. “I think, to be honest, Matt deserved it, 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 of all series for Andretti Autosport.
The flashpoint of the 75-lap race came on lap 71. Leader Lundqvist lost momentum in Turn 1 and Brabham pounced on his way to the outside lane, looking to pass as they rode almost side by side in Turn 2. Lundqvist moved to the front high line until he was clear of Brabham, coming into contact with and damaging Brabham’s front wing. Brabham also made right-side contact with the SAFER barrier on the exit of Turn 2 while trying to avoid contact with Lundqvist.
“It was a close fight,” Lundqvist said. “I got a little loose through [Turn] 1, and I saw he was behind me, but I got a “clear” from my spotter, so I changed lanes, and unfortunately I think my rear just hit his front nose. It’s perfect on ovals, and I trust the spotter. Sorry to Matt for the incident.
Said Brabham: “My view is that I was pushed into the wall. It looked like he was struggling out of that corner, and I took the high line and he took the low line. It looked like he had just committed to descending and trying to block for the next turn. I said, ‘If you give me the top, I’ll take the top.’ There was an overlap, and we’re still side by side, and I felt like he was like, “Oh, maybe he doesn’t want to give me the upper hand,” and he has come.
“He said his lookout cleared him. But we always have mirrors at the end of the day. He knew I was there because he was giving me the lead at the start.
Brabham clung to second place on the track in his damaged car until the final lap, when teammates McElrea and Rasmussen passed him.
McElrea led the first 50 laps from pole, resisting a move by Lundqvist for the lead on lap 35. Lundqvist passed McElrea for the lead on the only restart of the race, on lap 50. McElrea’s car drifted towards the SAFER barrier in Turn 4 as the field headed for the green flag on the restart, giving Lundqvist a huge opening to exploit.
“That reboot – I don’t know what I did,” McElrea said. “I’m going to have to look back, look at the footage and everything. Really not good enough to get up in the marbles like that.
Despite losing what would have been his fifth penalty win of 2022, Lundqvist still maintains a sizable lead in the series standings with five races remaining this season. He is 77 points clear of McElrea, who edged teammates Sting Ray Robb and Brabham to move from fourth to second in the Championship.
Indy Lights drivers and crews return on Sunday, August 7 at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.