By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Despite having two cautions for minor incidents, neither resulted in retirements, but Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway saw three drivers calling it a day due to car issues. Each retirement resulted significant implications to not only each team, but for one driver, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
Among the three retirements, A.J. Foyt Racing rookie and 2017 Iowa Indy Lights winner Matheus Leist’s was a cultivation of a sour weekend, beginning in Saturday’s opening practice, when his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet had a shunt at the exit of Turn 1, damaging the left-rear of his car.
Leist was checked and released from the infield hospital, as his crew made rapid repairs to get the car ready for qualifying, which they were able to do so.
However, the repairs carried the frustration as Leist was the slowest in qualifying at 168.724 mph, starting in 22nd. The 300-lap contest itself fared no better, unable to find solid pace to stay on the lead lap early on, and remained in 22nd.
Finally, after completing 40 laps, the 19-year-old Brazilian brought his car into the pits for the only time of the afternoon. Leist got out of his ill-car, and became the first retirement at Iowa, finishing last due to mechanical issues.
The Foyt camp cited that the No. 4 Chevrolet was uncomfortable to drive, which led to Leist’s third retirement this season, and his second in the last three rounds. In just 11 IndyCar starts, Leist was the first retiree on all three instances, and the only driver on the tour to have multiple last-place finishes.
Just 59 laps later, Harding Racing’s Gabby Chaves became the second retirement at Iowa after qualifying 16th. Like Leist, Chaves struggled the moment the green flag waved, dropping back to 21st early on.
Chaves was able to gain a spot, but eventually the No. 88 Harding Group/Valvoline Chevrolet became too much of an ill-handling car to remain on the track, and in the interest of safety, the Colombian’s race was over and wound up in 21st.
“Obviously today we had a very disappointing race as we didn’t see the checkered flag for the first time, it’s hard to accept that,” said Chaves. “Sometimes you have those days and you have to make the right choice to avoid making it even worse, so, for now, we’ll just concentrate on taking a look at the car and figuring out if anything was broken or if there were issues that we missed overnight that would identify why we struggled so much during the race and go from there.”
The team’s 21st-place result marked the end of two streaks. It’s Chaves’ first IndyCar retirement since the ill-fated 2015 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, where he was three laps shy of finishing the race before an engine let go. Sunday also marked Chaves’ second career retirement in 37 starts.
Since making their IndyCar debut in last year’s Indianapolis 500, Harding Racing has never had a retirement in 13 previous starts until Sunday, and the team’s worst finish as they’ve finished no worse than 19th on three occasions.
With 12 laps to go, the final retirement commenced as three-time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was 45 markers behind points leader Scott Dixon, struggled in the second half of the race with rear handling issues.
The third-place starter pitted on Lap 226 to find a diagnosis on his No. 28 DHL Honda. It turned out that a toe link on the left rear was the main issue, but continued the fight.
Unfortunately, his shot of gaining ground on Dixon became out of reach, and after bing five laps down, the Andretti Autosport driver couldn’t continue, and had to settle for 19th.
In addition to those issues, Hunter-Reay said he had ongoing radio communication issues, and battled keeping his car from getting loose when he’s off the throttle.
“We started strong from P3, but then the car started going loose anytime I came off the throttle,” said Hunter-Reay. “We came in a few times to try and find the problem and in the end, we had a rear suspension failure – but it was too late, and I had already lost so much ground driving through a half stint with the issue.
“On top of that, we had radio issues and while I could hear the pit stand and spotter, I couldn’t communicate back to them outside of some radio signals. It was really frustrating and not the day the DHL team was looking for.
“I think we had a car good enough for the P5-7 range and are a bit disappointed with that to start with. We had higher hopes for Iowa but will move onto Toronto and keep focusing on points.”
It’s Hunter-Reay’s first retirement of the season, ending a 12-race streak dating back to the final two rounds of the 2017 campaign.
After 11 rounds, both Chaves and Liest remained 18th and 19th in points respectively, with no shot of fighting for the series championship, but still have a handful of races left to redeem their seasons with stellar runs.
For Hunter-Reay, he dropped from being tied with Alexander Rossi in second to fourth in points. He’s now 52 points behind Dixon in the championship race with six rounds to go.
All three are hoping to rebound from frustrating retirements in the Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place in Canada July 15.
Neither Leist and Chaves ran last year’s 1.755-mile street course, but Chaves has one previous start in 2015, where he finished 15th for Bryan Herta Autosport. Hunter-Reay has a win at Toronto dating back to 2012, and finished sixth last year.