TWO IN A ROW FOR HOBSON
By: Max Davies
Auto Club 200
Auto Club Speedway
Wednesday October 7th
Winner: AJ Hobson
2nd Place: Jeff Brooks
3rd Place: Charles Teed
If the University of Racing Excellence was not only real, but handed out PhDs for tenacity, chance taking and fuel management, then AJ Hobson would have scored top marks in the Auto Club 200 – Season 2’s opening round of the Dark horse IndyCar Series at the famed Auto Club Speedway.
Eventually finishing without a single yellow flag caution, drivers and spectators alike spent the entire 100 lap race wondering exactly who had the right strategy to take the win and who would roll the dice and come up just short. Alongside Hobson, second place Jeff Brooks in the #76 car and the #27 of Charles Teed each managed to make their tire and fuel strategies work - despite barely having any grip or fuel at the end. It was a hectic final 25 laps that saw many wondering if the top three would be able to run to the end or if a caution was going to appear and give the likes of Nicholas Wnuk, AJ Musselman, Eric Shaus and Eric Peterson who were pushing hard in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th place. With Max Davies, Craig Forsythe and Benjamin Combs rounding out the top ten, this was a heart-thumping, rollercoaster of a race that demanded smooth lines and being gentle on the tires.
Some however, were not so fortunate as the grip levels began to waver dramatically from driver to driver as each stint was playing out. What to do? Push the tires to maintain position and speed? Or make them last and take the gamble on no caution coming out? With low grip, the exit of turn two was particularly hazardous when drivers were on their final runs before needing to pit and it saw plenty of drafting/side by side passing as drivers fought to keep their machines on the road if the rear stepped out. Perhaps the most intense section of the track though, was between the exit of turn four and the pits – with many drivers either almost loosing it or fully spinning into the pits as they fought to keep position without scrubbing speed from the banking to the apron.
All this merely added to the excitement of the race as complete with new tires and enough fuel, pole sitter Peterson, Davies and Forsythe gambled on the appearance of a caution in the final stages, while the first six drivers were hoping for the opposite.
In the end, the first fully green flag race in Dark Horse IndyCar history played out and for eventual race winner Hobson, it was confirmation that on occasion, gambling can indeed be very good for your health…
“Going into the race I was a little hesitant,” Hobson confirmed, “because I was starting 15th and the set up was pretty loose after a couple laps so I wasn’t sure how it was going to handle in traffic so at the beginning of the race I was just being kind of patient and letting the track come to me.”
Playing the patience game, Hobson mastered tire management and declared that this was paramount to his eventual victory.
“I noticed that I went way farther than everybody else on my first stint,” he said. “So I just kind of ran my own race on my own strategy and it ended up working out in the end.”
Second place finisher Jim Brooks was quoted after the race saying, “Green flag all the way...that doesn't happen a lot in my experience. That set up was super quirky but made you work for it. I missed my opportunity for the win by spinning and hitting the pit entry wall before the first pit stop...but still ended up having a shot at AJ...he was just too good late in the run. I look forward to the next one.”
Despite finishing behind the #76 of Brooks, for defending champion Teed, it was business as usual making the most of his opportunities and playing the consistency card around the 230mph roulette wheel on his way to yet another podium finish.
“It was more of a thinking man's race, vs the usual aggression wins type,” he confirmed. “Tire saving and managing fuel runs was critical to be at the front in the end. I was fortunate that the race fell right into our strategy. I didn’t have the pace for Hobson or Brooks on used tires and so I am happy with podium.”
Complete with the vocals of IndyCar famed announcer Paul Page, the pre-race promo assured fans of wheel to wheel action for lap after lap, and to put not too fine a point on it, the Auto Club 200 delivered that by the bucket load. It was manic, enthralling, exciting, and next stop is the 1.5 mile Homestead Miami Speedway and for Hobson, a chance to make it three wins in a row after winning the final race of last season.
Going forward, can Brooks, Teed, Musselman, et al stem the Hobson flow or will we see a first-time winner? Find out next week as we gear up for round two of the Dark Horse IndyCar Series.