Ana Beatriz earned her second career Firestone Indy Lights victory after passing Sam Schmidt Motorsports team-mate Wade Cunningham with nine laps to go in the Miller Lite 100, run under lights at Iowa Speedway.
Cunningham, who also finished second at Iowa in 2007 after leading 105 of 115 laps, had passed polesitter JR Hildebrand for the lead on lap four and led the next 103 laps but, as he and Beatriz caught up to Hildebrand's AFS/AGR team-mate Sebastian Saavedra on the backstretch, the Brazilian was able to get past on the high side while Cunningham was forced to slow. Cunningham's chances of fighting back were then dented when the race ended under caution as James Davison and Pippa Mann crashed on lap 114.
"I was thinking and wanting to finish the race today," Beatriz admitted, "We qualified sixth, but it was great at the start of the race and it was very competitive. I was fortunate to find the right time to pass Wade, as there was a lot of lapped cars out there when that happened. It was all about momentum."
Beatriz's previous victory came at Nashville in 2008, and she remains the only female driver to win in the Firestone Indy Lights series. Her fourth top five finish of the 2009 season also keeps her in touch with the points leaders.
"At the finish, I was thinking it was just unbelievable," she continued, reflecting on the accident in the Firestone Freedom 100 that, combined with a shortage of backing, forced her to sit out the Milwaukee round, "The last couple of weeks have been tough, missing out on sponsorship and then finding a way to come back. I nearly crashed around the flipped car at the end right there, but this team deserves it. I really want to celebrate with them tonight."
Cunningham, however, cut a frustrated figure after seeing a second Iowa race go begging after being the dominant force on track.
"Saavedra is 25 laps down, but running flat out because he has good tyres," he fumed, "The team said 'hey, just let him go, he's just going to keep driving forward'. I was just saving my tyres, so I let him go but, the minute he got in front of me, he slowed down half-a-second a lap because he knows I'm fighting him for the championship and he was out of the race. It's probably the most unsportsmanlike thing I've ever seen on the racetrack, apart from shunting someone into a wall. I hope the stewards do something - because if they don't, I will."
Despite the Kiwi's anger, the night was a bigger success for team owner Sam Schmidt as James Hinchcliffe ensured that his driver recorded the first 1-2-3 finish by team-mates in series history. The result tied Canadian Hinchcliffe's Lights career best following similar finishes in both St Petersburg and Long Beach, but was his best on an oval.
"What a night," he enthused, "First of all, with the delays it was tough - everyone was in the wrong frame of mind heading into tonight and it was tough to stay focused - but we had a pretty good car at the start, It was okay running fourth there behind Daniel [Herrington], but then just sort of started losing it when I got side-by-side in traffic. I did a lot of work in the cockpit with the weightjacker and front bars trying to get it back and, slowly, the car started coming back to us.Then it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It's tough to stay out of trouble at a short track like Iowa. I had contact with Daniel at one point and nearly took out both of my team-mates too, but there was some great wheel-to-wheel racing."