Hampton holds the Key; Gateway belongs to him all weekend in Infiniti Pro Series action. MADISON, Ill., Aug. 25 - During most of Sunday's 80-lap/100-mile Gateway 100 Infiniti Pro Series race at Gateway International Raceway, Ryan Hampton was the...
Hampton holds the Key; Gateway belongs to him all weekend in Infiniti Pro Series action.
MADISON, Ill., Aug. 25 - During most of Sunday's 80-lap/100-mile Gateway 100 Infiniti Pro Series race at Gateway International Raceway, Ryan Hampton was the rabbit.
On the event's four restarts, however, he became a sitting duck.
The popular young driver from Phoenix was up to all challenges, however, and led wire-to-wire enroute to the victory, establishing several records in the process with his Conti-Genoa-Frost Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone #34.
It was the first time in Indy Racing League history in either the IRL Indy car series or the Infiniti Pro series that one driver has led every lap of a race.
It was the series' first visit to this tight 1.25-mile oval, so Hampton established other records in winning the pole at an average speed of 143.727 mph. That was 0.7563 of a second faster than Cory Witherill ran to earn the second starting spot, so it was the largest margin for a pole winner in the series' history.
Hampton also set the fastest lap of the race when he circled the track two laps before the checkered at an average speed of 142.877 mph.
Hampton's domination was so complete that he topped all three practice sessions too, despite the fact that this was only his third Infiniti Pro Series race ever.
Hampton's best previous start was tenth and his best finish was seventh.
At one point in the race Hampton had a six-second lead, but due to some cautions his official margin of victory over Arie Luyendyk Jr. was 1.9352 seconds.
"You're always worried on a restart. That's just the nature of the beast," Hampton said in the post-race press conference. "I missed a shift I think when he [Luyendyk] was behind me. It's like 'On no; we're in trouble; he's definitely going to try to go on the inside.' I just had to take the defensive line. Hope we didn't scare him too much."
Luyendyk wasn't scared, but he wasn't able to take advantage of that opportunity because he was too busy trying to hold off Ed Carpenter, who finished third.
"It was a fun race," Hampton added. "When you lead the whole time, it's fun.
"This is probably up there with one of my most enjoyable victories, by far," he added. "The bigger an event gets, the more fun it gets. At least it's been that way so far. It's definitely more fun when you lead the entire race.
"Another thing that made it fun was this is definitely a driver's track," Hampton noted. "It takes some skill to get around here quick. Sometimes it's who is the bravest and sometimes it's a matter of setup. Everything kind of came together this weekend for us. My engineer just pretty much nailed it. When the car rolled off the trailer it was fast. We only did minor, minor tweaks."
Hampton's engineer is the legendary Steve Fried.
Although Hampton had everyone covered, he said at one point he was a little worried.
"The car kind of started going away around the middle of the race," he disclosed. "It just wouldn't hold the line so you could go flat all the way around. You had to start kind of breathing the throttle.
"Then, all of a sudden, in the last 10 laps the thing just hooked back up and it was off and running," he reported happily. "It was good. It was exciting. I'm ecstatic!"
Although Hampton got off to a great start, the same couldn't be said for Aaron Fike and Tony Turco, who were involved in an accident in turn two on lap two to bring out the first caution flag. The race restarted on lap 10 and by lap 14 Hampton already had a 2.7-second lead. He had stretched that to 6 seconds by lap 28, but that evaporated on lap 34 when Matt Beardsley's engine let go on the backstretch.
That left Hampton vulnerable on the restart, but his closest rival at the time, Cory Witherill, had engine problems at that point and pitted. The green waved again on lap 42, but Hampton wasn't able to get his momentum going again before Gary Peterson had an accident in turn two on the very next circuit.
Luyendyk and A.J. Foyt IV were going at it like gangbusters for second on that restart on lap 50. That turned out to be good for Hampton, because while they were duking it out for second, he was able to start rebuilding his lead. Foyt later retired with engine problems to bring out the final yellow on lap 63. On that restart Hampton missed the shift, but with Luyendyk and Carpenter caught up in a torrid battle for second at the end, Hampton was able to continue unchallenged to the checkered.
Videotape recorders of Hampton fans throughout the nation will be set on "record" when ESPN2 broadcasts the highlights of the race at 6 p.m. EDT Sept. 19.
The next Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series event is Sept. 8 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.