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Hildebrand maintains Lights lead

JR Hildebrand needed some luck to maintain the point lead in the chase for the Firestone Firehawk Cup after being penalised for blocking while running in second position at Iowa Speedway.

The fortune came as the #26 AFS/AGR entry was able to stay on the lead lap as the caution flag flew as he was heading to pit lane to serve a drive-through penalty and, after restarting as the final car on the lead lap, the polesitter passed several cars to finish sixth overall. That was enough to maintain a 16-point lead at the head of the standings in a close-fought start to the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights campaign.

"[The] race was definitely frustrating for us," Hildebrand admitted, "We started on the pole, so we knew we had a good car, but we also knew we were fighting a bit of understeer in qualifying. With such big condition changes before the race, it made it really tough to get the car set up, and the understeer continued to get worse throughout the race.

"After the drive-through penalty, we lost position and had to fight our way back up. It's difficult to pass here, and the understeer wouldn't allow us to get close enough to other cars."

The man hot on Hildebrand's tail as the season nears its midway point is not one of the expected pre-season favourites, and isn't even American, as former World Series by Renault midfielder Mario Romancini's recent charge took him to second in the points.

It wasn't the charge to the podium finish he recorded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the domination he displayed at the Milwaukee Mile, but the way in which RLR/Andersen Racing's Brazilian rose from 13th to fourth in the Miller Lite 100 at Iowa Speedway was almost as impressive.

The 21-year old drove the final portion of the race with a broken weightjacker, which prevented him from making in-cockpit adjustments to the #5 car during the last 25 laps of the scheduled 115.

"It was a good race for the championship," he said, "I had a problem with my weightjacker, which made it very, very difficult. The car had a lot of push, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I was up to third, but then I got blocked by [Daniel] Herrington, and then [James] Hinchcliffe and [eventual winner Ana] Beatriz passed me. There wasn't anything I could do about it, so it was a very, very good result for us."

Despite missing the podium on an oval for the first time this season. Romancini once again won the $1000 Force For Earth Hard Charger award.

"It is very difficult to pass here," he said, echoing Hildebrand, "so I was just trying to take advantage of other people's mistakes. I was able to pass both on the inside of turn one and to the outside of turn three, so that proves I had a good car and we did a good job."

Romancini trails Hildebrand 227-211 heading into the weekend off that precedes the Corning 100 at Watkins Glen International on 4 July, with former champion Wade Cunningham a further six adrift in third. Sebastian Saavedra and Hinchcliffe both took advantage of Jonathan Summerton's absence to move ahead of the second RLR/Andersen driver after Iowa.



Related Pictures

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Jr Hildebrand celebrates Long Beach Indy Lights pole   [pic credit: IRL/Jones]
Sebastien Bourdais with his son after winning Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto. (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
The red flag is waived halting attempts to start Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto on Saturday. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway and Team Owner Ed Carpenter celebrate victory in Race 2 of the Honda Indy Toronto (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Sebastien Bourdais gets a congratulatory hug from team co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven after winning Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Chevrolet sweeps the podium with winner Mike Conway (center), driver of the #20 Fuzzy`s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrating his victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the second of two IndyCar Series races through the streets of Exhibition Place, in Toronto, Canada. Tony Kanaan (left), driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet celebrates his second-place finish. Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet celebrates his third-place finish. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Mike Conway, driver of the #20 Fuzzy`s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates his victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the second of two IndyCar Series races through the streets of Exhibition Place, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Mike Conway, driver of the #20 Fuzzy`s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, takes the chequered flag while racing to victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the second of two IndyCar Series races through the streets of Exhibition Place, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Mike Conway, driver of the #20 Fuzzy`s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the second of two IndyCar Series races through the streets of Exhibition Place, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Mike Conway on his way to victory in the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway jumps for joy after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway with the winner`s flag after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway, Tony Kanaan and Will Power celebrate on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway receives the winner`s trophy after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway, Tony Kanaan and Will Power pose for a selfie on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan and Will Power pose for a selfie on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway celebrates with the Ed Carpenter Racing team after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway celebrates after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)

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