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.