New Zealand racing driver Wade Cunningham has dominated Sunday's (NZ Time) Carneros 100 Indy Pro Series race at Northern California's Infineon Raceway, leading from start to finish to cross the line over half a second ahead of fellow front row starter Alex Lloyd.
In the most telling display yet of his superiority behind the wheel this season Cunningham, 22, claimed pole position for this morning's race with a best time 0.5676 quicker than second fastest qualifier Alex Lloyd, then led all 30 laps of the race, despite three yellow flag caution periods which bunched the field back up behind him after he had pulled out buffers of up to half a second on Lloyd.
"Describing it as 'probably the hardest race I've run this year' Cunningham said that Lloyd, who set the fastest race lap, was always there, no matter how hard he pushed, and that meant he had to focus hard on not making any mistakes.
"If anything," Cunningham said, "I think Alex had a slightly quicker car, so if I hadn't started off pole it would have been a lot harder to win the race."
In stark contrast, championship points leader Jay Howard had a wretched race, prompting one of the yellow flag caution periods when he spun then stalled his car, and eventually crossing the line one lap down in tenth place.
Yesterday's pole position was Auckland, New Zealand driver Cunningham's fourth this season and this morning's race win round the 3.8 km Infineon 'road course' is his second - though he has also led the majority of laps at at least two others.
The win caps off a great start to the weekend for the New Zealand drivers competing at the track, with Cunningham's compatriot Scott Dixon claiming pole position for tomorrow morning's (NZ time) Indy Race league (IRL) race.
The points scored for setting pole position and winning the first of his two races at this weekend's 'double-header' meeting in Northern California haven't done Cunningham's overall series points standings any harm either.
Going into this weekend's meeting, the former World Karting Champion - forced to miss the first double-header meeting of the year at St Petersburg because of an emergency appendectomy in the lead-up to the meeting - was tied in fifth place in the overall series points standings.
Now, heading into tomorrow morning's second weekend race he is third equal with former Cooper Tires US FF2000 Series teammate Bobby Wilson, just 29 points behind points leader Howard.
However, the weekend is only half over, and today's win means that Cunningham will start tomorrow's Valley of the Moon 100 race (the second of the two IPS races at the 'double-header' meeting) from P6 on the third row of the grid because of that race's 'reverse-top-six-of-the-finishing-order-of-the-first-race' format.
Of tomorrow morning's race Cunningham said;
"I've won the race I wanted to and with the reverse grid format there's going to be a lot more luck involved tomorrow. I definitely want to win two out of two races this weekend but right now all I can say is we'll just have to roll the dice and see what happens."
The other Kiwi in this morning's IPS race, 22-year-old Aucklander Daniel Gaunt, was forced out with a gearbox problem on the 18th lap.
1. Wade Cunningham 48:32.8171
2. Alex Lloyd +0.6018
3. Nick Bussell +1.235
4. Jonathan Klein +5.8527
5. Bobby Wilson +8.7811
6. Mike Potekhen +11.8229
7. Jaime Camara +12.7167
8. Ryan Justice +13.5826
9. Micky Gilbert +14.2749
10. Jay Howard +1 lap
11. Scott Mansell +1 lap
12. Racer Kashima +1 lap
13. PJ Abbott +3 laps
14. Daniel Gaunt dnf