Hunter-Reay in sensational drive to win GP of Baltimore
Ryan Briscoe finished second, followed by Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Rubens Barrichello.
The championship will conclude in 2 weeks at Fontana, with Hunter-Reay 17 points behind Will Power.
Well, it didn't start out this way. The way things looked this morning, it would be another Will Power driving exhibition, with a bunch of carnage along the way. What it turned into was a very entertaining, very competitive race, with an late-blooming championship battle kept alive due to audacious driving. As they say, there IS a reason why they actually run these races.
The start was a bit surprising. Word yesterday was that, on start / restart, the cars would be bypassing the late-added chicane. However, Indy Car Race Director Beaux Barfield apparently had second thoughts, and all restarts used the chicane -- in spite of the fact that the back half of the field was still coming through, or waiting to come through, the chicane. Oh well, at least you can't call this "amoeba racing" since the field was immediately strung out a bit.
Early on, Sebastien Bourdais showed that he hasn't lost a step since he won 31 wins back in CCWS. Bourdais passed Dixon for second on lap 5, and threatened Will Power for the lead until lap 8, when Ed Carpenter found the wall in Turn 13.
Turn 13 was the chicane added yesterday to slow cars over the railroad track bumps on the front stretch. This was the point that claimed several cars yesterday, including a spectacular jump by Ed Carpenter. (Dario Franchitti quipped yesterday that Dallara should sponsor that bit of wall.) Ed, however, didn't find the wall yesterday after the jump, and he found it today. Easily his best start in a road course start, he finished 25th, apologizing to his team and sponsors for his mistake.
By the time the race went green on lap 13, the rain was already spitting. Radar showed only a small spot of light rain, and teams had some decisions to make. Indeed, the race immediately went yellow when Mike Conway and Bruno Junqueira spun off of the track, and under yellow Sebastian Bourdais spun out and went from 2nd to 7th. JR Hildebrand served a drive through for his part in the Conway/Junqueira spin, and more teams gambled on rain tires.
However, the rash of cautions wasn't over. On restart, EJ Viso and Helio Castroneves spun out, and on lap 18 Marco stuffed his car in to the tires. And again on the next restart, Dario Franchitti got punted by Simona, who got a drive-through penalty to add to her miserable weekend. After all of this, James Hinchcliffe lead the race, followed by Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Scott Dixon.
And so the race continued as the track dried. Those with rain tires fell back to earth, and were forced into an early pit. Finally, on lap 33, James Jakes ended a promising run when he found the tire barrier on lap 33. On the same lap, Sebastien Bourdais pitted, thinking that he had a right rear going down, when in fact he had a left front "going up" (suspension failure). Bourdais finished 23rd, Jakes 24th, both very disappointed after great early runs.
A restart on lap 37 saw the restart of the century when Simon Pagenaud went from 6th to first on a restart. He had already noticed that the IndyCar flagman was waving the green very early, as soon as the lead car hit the first restart cone, and timed his run (and his luck) perfectly. Taking notice of this restart was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who fell into second spot. The green was brief as James Hinchcliffe hit the wall on restart, causing a full-course caution. Hinchcliffe soldiered on and finished 15th.
Another rash of cautions followed. When the green flew on lap 40, Helio's wing ended up on the track, and Simona de Silvestro crashed near turn 13. So there was another restart on lap 43, with more full-contact WWF-style auto racing.
On lap 47, pit stops started, with Takuma Sato pitting for good on lap 51 due to fuel pressure problems. On lap 50, Pagenaud pitted from the lead, followed by Justin Wilson. On lap 52, Tony Kanaan hit the wall at -- you got it -- turn 13, but the race continued as Ryan Hunter-Reay pitted and came out ahead of Pagenaud, both waiting for Will Power to pit. By lap 58, all of the pitting was done. Kanaan finished 20th, and Wilson 17th.
On lap 66, the caution bug bit again when Charlie Kimball ended his miserable weekend with a second motor failure of the weekend. At that point, Ryan Briscoe was in the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Dario Franchitti. Meanwhile, the TV commentators discovered that Briscoe didn't have any Press to Pass remaining -- because he never had any to start the race, making his run from an 11th place start even more spectacular.
However, in a move that will live in IndyCar debates for decades, Hunter-Reay anticipated that previously-mentioned early green flag to perfection. Not only did he pass Briscoe for the lead, but so did Pagenaud and Dixon. More of a miracle, Hunter-Reay made the pass stick when most thought there was no way he could make the next 2 turns, and the deed was done. There was another restart a couple of laps later, and Briscoe clawed his way back to 2nd, but the deed was done, and Hunter-Reay not only won the race, he was back into the championship race. "That's probably the toughest race I ever drove." Reflecting on a career that has seen far more downs than up, he said, "Oh-five through oh-seven were the longest days of my life.... (now) Every day I have a beautiful IndyCar to drive."
Hunter-Reay wasn't apologizing afterward, since there had been other instances earlier in the race when the green flag came out the same way.
"On the restart thing, every time I came out of the chicane (a series of turns to reduce speed), the flagger was sitting there getting ready to wave it and they were waving it right as the first row paired up â€¦ especially later in the race,'' Hunter-Reay said. "And I knew that. I came out of the chicane and got right next to Briscoe, and boom, the green was out and I think he was looking out for his peripheral at me and waiting for me. The flag was green."
It didn't seem so clear-cut to Briscoe and his team owner, Roger Penske, who asked race officials to review the restart, but they ruled that the quick move by Hunter-Reay was within the rules.
"When it's green they can go,'' said IndyCar director of competition and racing Beaux Barfield. "The bottom line is, it's certainly unfortunate for Ryan (Briscoe) and Penske (Racing). I watched it, and it certainly appeared â€” when you just look at it in real time â€” like a jump start."
However, when officials reviewed it more closely, Barfield said they determined that the green flag was out when Hunter-Reay punched the accelerator. He would not speculate on why Briscoe was slow to accelerate when he crossed into the acceleration zone, but seemed to imply that the leader simply got caught napping.
"When you get to that first cone, he's completely free â€” Briscoe was the leader â€” to go before the green flag comes out,'' Barfield said. "That probably further compounds either their issues or the fact that he got hung out to dry and it was a non-call."
During the post-race news conference, Briscoe still did not seem satisfied with that explanation, since he felt that Hunter-Reay had failed to move into the proper position for the restart.
"The fact is, you're supposed to pair up,'' he said. "He hung back about two car lengths out of the chicane and then he accelerated from the two car lengths back before I accelerated and that's not how the restarts work."
Later, Briscoe tweeted that it was "BS + not what we agreed at the drivers meeting."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet): "It's massive. I'm just trying to catch my breathe. Those restarts were crazy, crazy, crazy." (About restart w/ Briscoe) "Everyone had been going late. The green flag was actually coming out before the leaders were accelerating and I caught wind of that so I just started to focus on the green flag instead of focusing on the guy next to me and Briscoe got jumped on that one but the green flag was flying when he was still sitting there in first gear. I mean I feel sorry for him, well I don't really feel sorry, but you know what I mean." (About the tires) "Wild day. That's what we needed. We needed a wild day. We needed a bit of rain. I was hoping it was going to rain more than it did. They rolled the dice, and left me out there on Firestone slicks and it was treacherous for a bit but started drying up coming our way and paid off."
About taking the lead without rain tires on a wet track: "I can't really describe how nerve-wracking it is when it rains on a street circuit and you're on slicks and you know the championship is on the line and you know if you get through it you're going to have a great race. Unbelievable emotions in the car, trying to tip-toe through some of those corners. These cars are very stiffly sprung and they're 700 horsepower and putting that down on a city street when it's wet is one of the toughest things in racing. I'm just glad I got through that. It was very nerve-wracking. I enjoy racing in the wet, but I prefer rain tires when it's wet. We thought it was just going to sprinkle, and we went through a bit of a wet track, and hoped that that sprinkle would end. You know, we never came in for rain tires, and it was absolutely critical to our win today.
"You never like being out there on slicks - that's not a nice feeling, especially the fast, fourth-gear Turn 11... man, that was crazy! (Team owner and strategist Michael Andretti) said let's just see what happens - he said to me, 'we're going for the championship, you know, and we're gonna do it. Let 's do it. Coming in fourth or fifth isn't going to do anything for us.' I look up to that. That's a pretty great move and it worked out. I had to keep the thing off the walls while it was drying and then when it started drying I had a big smile on my face for sure."
About his DHL / Sun Drop No. 28 team: "I really believe in what these guys can do and... it was an amazing day. Couldn't write the script any better."
About narrowing the championship chase with one race remaining : "I kind of learned a little bit about myself, because the championship's on the line today and that's the only thing I really focused on. I'm fixated on winning. I mean, this is all I've worked for my entire life and to come this close... I haven't been nervous at all or anything. I've been enjoying it and driving 110% and really getting along with the car. I feel like I'm in rhythm with the car, so hopefully we'll have that at Fontana too. I'm enjoying it. I'm glad I don't feel really nervous between races or on the race weekends. I haven't had any of that. Keeping it light and fun."
"I'm certainly very thankful for all of the opportunities I've had in my life and in racing. I've been able to drive a lot of different race cars and I think all things happen for a reason. If you keep working for something, it's going to come good if you believe in it, most of all. That's how I've gone about it. The period from the end of '05 through the middle of '07 there (when Hunter-Reay was without a ride), those were the longest days of my life... not having a ride, not having anything. That was long time period. I just kept my face at the racetrack and kept the faith it would work out. Just like life, the more you put in, the more you get out. That makes me really appreciate, it just means that much more. I have a beautiful IndyCar sitting there waiting for me and it's my job to drive it. I mean, how cool is that? It's awesome. Awesome. Couldn't think of anything better."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinishes Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a tough race today. Really mixed conditions with the rain and everything. Strong finish, the car was fast, even saving fuel that whole final stint, the car was really fast. I'm really proud of the whole team, my engineer, everybody, for giving me the whole car to race today. Bit of frustrating end there on that final restart, they waved the green and we weren't even lined up yet, it was a little bit unfair. But Hunter-Reay did a great job today, and I'm just really proud of my whole team. And Roger pulled off one of those strategies today and it worked for us."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was a tough day. We missed a little bit on picking the wets and the slicks and that kind of cross over. It seemed about three or four of the guys worked that out. I guess it's luck really, whether it's going to rain or not. Then we went off strategy big-time at the end there. We pitted really early and had to save a lot of fuel on black tires. It's probably one of the hardest stints all year, to try and get speed and try to save fuel. It was a crazy finish there."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "I thought we were going to come away with some good points. on that last restart, I got a couple cars when they bottled up on the hairpin but then I tried to go in too quick on the next corner and I was into the tires. It's a shame because my ABC crew did a great job putting the car back together after yesterday. Tough way to end."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Lexar Media Honda): "Very disappointing race for us. We ran out of fuel at the end. INDYCAR officials need to take a look at what is and what isn't acceptable. This is becoming a full contact sport."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda): "Obviously, we're pretty bummed out about the result. Really, 11th isn't bad but we were in a position to win this race and the engine shut off under yellow, we lost a junction box and we lost overtake and our pit lane speed limiter. We lost a lot. I'm pretty upset that we worked that hard and didn't get a better result."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "The start of the race was a tough one due to the chicane. Where I started, which was basically at the back of the grid, it was already green for me before the chicane, around Turn 12. After a few laps I settled into a rhythm as it was difficult to overtake at that point. But then the weather really helped me a lot. It started raining and I was grinning a little bit of course. It was strange weather. On the main straight it was quite wet, more than damp, and on the back straight it was dry. We just stayed on our program. It was difficult conditions and a lot of people came in to change to wet tires but we decided to stay on dry tires and I made a huge jump and was in fifth. We overtook on the restarts and led the race, and we led comfortably. But then unfortunately the problem started - I think a fuel pressure problem. The engine started coughing and I started to lose power; especially on the restart, there was just no power and a bunch of the drivers overtook me. Every restart was difficult and in the end it was difficult to select the gears due to some engine response I think. In the end we had to stop which is a big shame. The boys did a tremendous job and some really hard work over the course of the weekend with changing the engine twice. We worked through it and had a really competitive race and I am really proud of that so it's just a shame that we couldn't bring home a good result today."
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "It was a crazy race with conditions that were dry, wet and then dry again. I was hit from behind early and lost a lap. But when the track dried I was able to get a good pace and got good laps in. Unfortunately near the end of the race I brushed the wall after going through the chicane. My left rear suspension was broken and we couldn't continue on in the race. I was very sorry and frustrated because I had been making up distance all afternoon. I have to thank the entire Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team for giving me a great opportunity this weekend in a great race car."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "It was a really great run for the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen car all day. The car was quick and the guys in the pit lane did an awesome job. The team not only made the right strategy calls to keep me on slicks when it was damp but also the second stop they did a really good job. It's a shame to have something behind me go wrong around lap 65 but we proved we have the speed all weekend. We'll carry that on to Fontana, finish the year out with a really good result and head to 2013 looking to come back stronger than ever."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "It was a shame we got passed by Hunter-Reay on the stop there, but anyway, on the last restart we got too much pickup from the tires and I couldn't get rid of it. I'm happy to take third, we're knocking on the door and sometimes it's that way, it's the first year. Next year we'll be tough with those guys." (About his pass for the lead): " It was a little bit of a sports car trick there. I saw where they were starting, and it was consistently at the same point, so I used the push to pass at the right time, and I had really good traction. It's perfect with my gears, so I had a big jump and man, I got to Turn 1 and I thought 'OK, I'm P1, I think," so, it was great for braking and everyone followed me."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HMV Racing Lotus): "Well, I'm disappointed because I made a mistake. I hit the curb in the chicane and it ended our day. Until then it was kind of a crazy race. We made some positions; we don't know where we would have finished. This time it's kind of my fault. It's a shame because we were doing really well. Now you just go to the next one I guess."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): ""It was kind of a bummer of a day, things just didn't go our way towards the end of the race. We stayed out on slicks when it started to rain and that was definitely the right call. We got ourselves up into the top five legitimately, but we kind of got hosed on a restart; the pole sitter was kind of just sleeping on the restart and I got stuck behind him and couldn't find a way around which put us into sixth or seventh. We were looking to have a really good day and with five laps before we were going to pit, I clipped off the right side of the front wing and that just hosed our day at that point. I lost a few spots right there because of that, and then having to make the nose change in pit lane cost us an extra fifteen seconds, which at that stage put us behind all the cars we should have been ahead of. I was a little overly aggressive at a couple points during the race and that ended up costing us. But the guys did an awesome just today, and that's what makes it so disappointing. We picked the perfect strategy today and because I made a couple mistakes things just didn't pan out."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO/PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "We could always do better, but finishing ninth was not a bad way to end the weekend after the way we started. . It was a very difficult and long race to drive. There were a lot of decision that needed to be made at different parts of the race. Some of them based on the weather and some of them based on how the car was handling. I believe we made the best decision we could under the circumstances. Looking toward the final race of the season in Fontana, we have been fast on all the ovals this year and hopefully we can continue to be fast and have a good result to end the season."
RUBENS BARRICHELLO (No. 8 BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): ""We had another top-five finish which makes me very proud. I didn't want to get involved in that melee right at the end of the race. I am sorry if people thought I was a little bit aggressive towards the end with Dario and Will. In the case of Dario, I had run out of lock which is why I went in wide, I had no intention to push him wide. Regarding Will, I took avoiding action, everything stopped ahead of me and then I ended up on the inside. I was happy with the race and the car from the moment I arrived here I fell in love with this track and am pleased I was able to bring another top-five finish home."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): ""It was too bad for the GEICO | MOUSER ELECTRONICS guys the way the race ended. We had a pretty good car. I was just pushing hard on the last lap before a pit stop and I made a mistake. The crew told me it was OK. Now I just have to focus on Fontana and the battle for the A. J. Foyt oval championship."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "Today was a clinic in what not to do. Pretty ashamed of the whole deal, it's just not what the Go Daddy team is capable of. We will bounce back in Fontana. I'm super happy for Ryan (Hunter-Reay). He drove a blinder and after all the bad luck he has been through this season, he deserves this title. We will go to Fontana and do everything we can to help him win."
MARCO ANDRETTI (Team Dr Pepper TEN Chevrolet): "It was a war zone out there today and I messed up and put the car in the wall which started my fate for the afternoon. We ended up driving an ill car for the rest of the day. I had a piece of carbon fiber fly up and hit my helmet which took a big gash out of it and we broke two front wings. I would like to thank all of my sponsors and crew guys for all their hard work this weekend."
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