Teams gamble with pit strategy in final Iowa laps

Image by IMS Photo

Teams gamble with pit strategy in final Iowa laps


Teams gamble with pit strategy in final Iowa laps


To pit or not to pit?

When Ed Carpenter’s spin brought out the yellow with seven laps remaining Sunday at Iowa, several teams were under the impression the race would go green with a lap or two remaining, causing a frenzy as teams weighed whether to risk track position.

It seemed reminiscent of the April Phoenix race, where race leader Robert Wickens and teammate James Hinchcliffe chose not to pit when caution came out with 21 to go. Josef Newgarden did – and his fresh tires propelled him to the win.

This time, Newgarden and Wickens gave up second and third behind James Hinchcliffe to pit — but time ran out. IndyCar never threw the green, and the race ended under caution. The result wasn’t too costly on paper — fourth and fifth — but it was of little consolation to the pair.

Hinchcliffe – who hadn’t won since Long Beach last year — said his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew knew there wouldn’t be enough time to get track position back.

“It was like worst-case scenario, right? You’re leading the race by a couple seconds, everything is good, like 10 laps to go, and you see a yellow come out,” he said. “Based on what we’ve seen before, we saw it at Phoenix, we’ve seen it at Iowa in the past, and actually I think both times Josef benefited greatly from doing it, so we weren’t totally shocked that people took it.

“But when we were doing the math in our head, I mean, there was still only a couple laps to go. We still had to get the lapped cars back through pit lane, and we’re kind just doing the math, thinking, I don’t even know if we have time to go green, and if we do, it might be like a green-white-checkered kind of deal, and I don’t hate my odds if it’s a lap, if it’s two laps.

“It was a tough call. It really was, because we’ve seen it go the other way so many times, but ultimately the right call was made, and man, if we had pitted from the lead and it didn’t go green again, I wouldn’t have slept for a week.”

Wickens, who lost what looked like a sure podium and finished fifth, exited the car frustrated with another lost opportunity.

“It was the team’s [call to come in for tires],” said Wickens, who was looking for his third podium finish of his rookie season after several near-misses. “We threw away a podium, we threw away good points.

“Those 50-50 things, I guess the series said they were going to go green-white-checkered and then they just threw the checkered flag, so we figured we would go new tires, because why not, we knew Josef was going to do it, so we figured we would still be third and see what happened there, and then they just threw the checkered flag so we fell back to fifth.”

The call benefited Spencer Pigot, whose second place was his best-ever IndyCar finish.

“I was talking with the guys seeing if they wanted me to pit or not, and they said stay out, and obviously it was the right decision,” said Pigot, who was running fourth when the caution came out. “If it had gone green again, it would have been really tricky to hang on at that point because I think we probably pitted on the early end on the last stop to try and jump Takuma and James, but yeah, it would have been tough. I’m glad it didn’t go green again.”

Given the dwindling laps, Pigot assumed that drivers who had fresh rubber would charge ahead under green — but was there time for it?

“It was just a small piece of debris, so there was every possibility that the race was going to get restarted,” he said, “and I was asking the guys how many people behind me pitted and what the situation is with lapped cars because I knew I was running second at that point, and if guys are on new tires, it’s going to be really, really hard to hold them off, especially with how many laps we had on them. Yeah, you just kind of count, see what you have on your dash and listen to what they’re saying and just kind of hope that it works out for you.

“I didn’t really think anyone was going to pit. I thought we were pretty close to the end, and I figured we’d all just kind of stay out, and when I saw them pit, I was a little surprised.”