Hunter-Reay superb in the rain, wins GP of Alabama

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Scott Morris/AR1.com

After crashing out in spectacular style two weeks ago while leading in Long Beach, Ryan Hunter-Reay put on a clinic on a drying but still wet track to win the Grand Prix of Alabama for the 2nd year in a row.

His teammate Marco Andretti came 2nd to give Andretti Autosport a 1-2 finish. Scott Dixon was third for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

"It's too bad it finished under the yellow," said Hunter-Reay, "we were walking it. The car was perfect."

The start
Chris Jones/IndyCar

A soaking wet Barber Motorsports Park saw thousands of drenched fans patiently waiting for a break in the Alabama weather. The crowd was not large, but surprisingly good considering the weather. The promoter and track owner George Barber are doing an amazing job cultivating IndyCar racing in what would seem the most unlikely spot in America…the middle NASCAR turf.

But with Alabama home to several auto manufacturers, all of them foreign brands, it's not quite as odd as it might seem.

After the rain started to break and the thunder and lightning quieted, teams began using all sorts of innovative methods to dry out their pit stalls as cars were quickly rolled into formation. The opening ceremonies were omitted and we were getting right down to racing, no time to waste.

Will Power gets the early lead
Phillip Abbott for Chevy Racing

The green flag fell and Will Power started to run away and hide until lap 13 when Power seemed to lose a little pace, and then went wide and off course in the turn 5 hairpin. With braking very tricky on the slippery track on the approach that drops away, he just barely missed hitting the tire wall and putting an end to his day. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was third at the start but then disposed of his teammate James Hinchcliffe for 2nd, slipped by to a quick 3.6 second lead.

Tony Kanaan started dead last from a nightmare qualifying day on Saturday. But in true TK fashion, he had passed several cars in the first couple of laps, and sat in 14th by lap 8.

Bourdais, also penalized and sent back in the pack from a controversial incident on Saturday, was putting on a wet driving clinic with wide wet lines through turns 2 and 3 and some squirrelly twitching through the blind uphill turn 4.

Newgarden, the AR1 pick to win the race before the weather took hold, quickly faded back several spots and seemed to settle in on pace and gained a few spots back by race end.

RHR leading and Power keeping pace a few seconds back, Bourdais and Aleshin were battling hard and a lot of tapping was going on between the two. Finally in turn 5, where most of the action was taking place today, Bourdais gave Aleshin a love tap and sent him turning around and he gained the spot. Yellows flew and everyone dove into the pits. Saavedra stayed out and assumed the lead. Castroneves pulled into the wrong pit stall (Wilson's), setting him back in the order.

At lap 21 the running order was Saavedra, RHR, Power, Marco and Dixon and Bourdais behind, charging fast. The green flag flew with Saavedra trying to hold off the faster group on his tail. Yellow flew again for Munoz who tagged the barrier in turn 7. When the green flew again, RHR made quick work of Saavedra. Andretti seemed to come from nowhere and overtook Power, taking chase to his Andretti teammate.

Bourdais' hard chase was stifled after he had to pit on lap 46. The leaders started to cycle through the pits as RHR stretched his lead on Marco, and Newgarden in third, having made up a few spots on track and from a few cars ducking into the pits under green.

RHR was the first to make the final pit stop, with Andretti assuming the lead before taking his turn. Wilson assumed the lead for a lap before his turn as well.

From Left, Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Dixon
Scott Morris/AR1.com

RHR was off with a 7 second lead and Marco seemed to take a bit out of it, finding a little more pace, when the yellow flew again; Aleshin getting up close and personal with the barrier in turn 14, with a little under 10 minutes to go, bunching up the field and putting a hungry grin on Marco's face and a bulls eye on RHR. Dixon, sitting close behind waited for it all to unfold and perhaps capitalize on a scrap.

But they wouldn't get a chance to duke it out as the timed race expired and the checkers flew, RHR repeating his 2013 win.

It marks the 12th career Indy car victory for Hunter-Reay, a 32-year-old resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Today's race is Hunter-Reay's ninth win with Andretti Autosport and he extends his distinction of being the winningest active American driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the first American driver to visit victory lane in 2014.

Hunter-Reay is the only driver to score victories in the IndyCar Series, CART, Champ Car, Grand-Am and the American Le Mans series.

Simon Pagenaud was 4th and Will Power, who led early but made a mistake and went off, rounded out the top-5.

"I'm really proud of this whole team," said Michael Andretti, whose team notched its 49th victory. "Marco did a hell of a job. He drove his way to the front and Ryan drove a perfect race. Feels good after the last one for sure. We were lucky that Will made that mistake, and that gave up the top position. That was really important. Just the way everything fell with the rain and how it dried out. It came to us. It was a great day."

Marco Andretti, who started ninth in the No. 25 Snapple car, went almost the distance without radio communication with the pit lane crew. He overtook Power for second on the Lap 34 restart and held off repeated challenges by reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

"I just put my head down and looked forward; awesome job by Andretti Autosport," said Andretti, who recorded his first podium finish since Sao Paulo last May and tied his best finish since June 2012 at Iowa Speedway. "The Snapple car didn’t have much for the DHL car so we definitely need to hit the drawing board and see how he kicked my butt today. I didn't have a radio, so the only way I knew when to pit, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Ryan stop and thought 'I guess I'm coming in the next lap.' It was definitely a blind race, but I just had my head down and tried to hit my marks."

POST-RACE QUOTES:

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Owner, Andretti Autosport): “I’m really proud of this whole team. Marco (Andretti) did a hell of a job. He drove his way to the front there and Ryan (Hunter-Reay drove a perfect race. Feels good after the last one for sure." (On Hunter-Reay strategy): “It just played out that way. We were lucky that Will (Power) made that mistake, and that gave up the top position. That was really important. Just the way everything fell with the rain and how it dried out. It came to us. It was a great day."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "I've been anxious (to compete) since we left Long Beach. What a dream to have a car like that at that distance. Great to get the No. 28 DHL car with a Honda at a Honda (sponsored) race into Victory Circle. (Long Beach) should have been a great result, but we got it today."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda): “It was fun. If you look at the onboard, the start was incredible. Very treacherous and very difficult to see. We had a little moment with Montoya at the start and dropped to 13th. The SPHM team did a great job and the car was fast and the Honda power was great. The car was really good all race and I was able to go forward. It’s a good start of the season for us."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The Verizon Chevrolet was really fast on the wet tires and I just got in trouble in turn 5. I keep moving my braking point further and further into the corners and I got caught going too far. It’s tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere. We really didn’t have the pace in the dry anyway, but that sure didn’t help our cause when I went off course. We may have just been a bit heavy on downforce. Still a fifth-place finish today and we have the points lead going into the month of May."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing): “I had another fast car and another disappointing result. Once again, I feel bad for the KVSH Racing guys. They did a great job. I want to thank my sponsors, especially Hydroxycut for their support this weekend. We just have to move on and try and win the Grand Prix of Indianapolis."

MIKE CONWAY (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “It was a pretty long day for us today. I guess we’ll have to take 14th from starting 21st. We struggled in the wet with overall grip. I tried to make a few moves in the early portion of the race and they just didn’t work out. We felt quicker on the slicks, especially on the earlier segments of the runs. But once everyone had their tires up to temperature, we couldn’t get up to make a move. It’s a frustrating. I hope we can improve on the road circuits. I’m excited to go to Indy for the test this week on the road circuit and race in the upcoming Grand Prix of Indianapolis. But we need to work on the setup some more to fight for a win there."

CARLOS HUERTAS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "I think my performance was OK, nothing special. The pace was good even when we put on the red tires. The conditions were tricky on those tires and the first couple of laps on them were not easy. It was difficult and I spun trying to defend a position. I went into the corner a bit deep and went down into first gear and short shifted into second and I spun. Thankfully, I stayed on the lead lap and managed to finish 16th."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chevrolet): “It was definitely an interesting race with the weather mixed in there. Hopefully we put on a good show for everybody. We were trying. We seemed to burn up the front tires quickly. The same thing happened on the west after Helio (Castroneves) jumped the start and passed a couple of cars which is typical, I guess. We had to fight back and had a good pit stop exchange. (Will) Power pitted early and we were able to put down some good lap and gain some spots. We just didn't have enough for Marco. He did a hell of a job, so congrats to Andretti for a 1-2 finish. The race was really fun. In the wet conditions, there was a little puddling and standing water which made it pretty tough… especially in the fast sections around the back. It was one of those races where at the start you kept it clean and stay out of trouble. I think Helio (Castroneves) got a bit greedy on the restart and jumped us which was frustrating because he backed us up some. It was fun to race with Montoya; he was making some pretty good turns onto the front straight. We tried to pull as much as could out of it and kinda burnt the front tires off the thing trying to push so hard. Congratulations to (race-winner Ryan) Hunter-Reay and good job by Marco (Andretti). More importantly, a big thanks to the fans who stuck it out through all this weather."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The Verizon Chevrolet was really fast on the wet tires and I just got in trouble in turn 5. I keep moving my braking point further and further into the corners and I got caught going too far. It’s tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere. We really didn’t have the pace in the dry anyway, but that sure didn’t help our cause when I went off course. We may have just been a bit heavy on downforce. Still a fifth-place finish today and we have the points lead going into the month of May."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Snapple Honda): “Heck of a team effort. I’m so proud of Andretti Autosport. I’m really proud of how we can adapt to different conditions. Not only the drivers, but the teams. They gave us good cars."

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet): "We had a good car in the wet. I thought it did a pretty good job in the wet. We had trouble with the radio, so I tried to plug myself back in while driving. So that was fun. I had a good restart on cold tires. We were going through the esses, and I was right behind the No. 9 car (Scott Dixon) . He had a big moment, and I lifted then ended up having a bigger moment myself. I went in and I kind of referenced and measured with the wet, and I did the same thing I was doing in wet. He lifted more than I expected and I had to lift a lot more and it started tail slapping. After that, something broke in the car..I don't know what happened."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “You couldn’t see a thing. You were getting on the brakes on the straight because you couldn’t see where you were going and you were hoping the guys behind you were in the same boat and fortunately they were. The spray would die down just enough and you’d accelerate again. No one could see a thing. It was an interesting race. We had a car stop in our pit box and the Dale Coyne Racing guys dealt with it great. We lost a couple of positions because of that but we stayed focused and all in all it was not a bad day considering I started 16th and we were up to sixth. I’m pleased with it. I think this was a good day but obviously, we’re already thinking about the next one."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske): “Man, what a race. The AAA guys did a helluva job once again. Unfortunately I confused our pit stall with the 19 car of Justin Wilson. We were pitted right beside each other and our colors were very similar. I stopped in their pit stall, which was bad, but I also had to serve a stop and go penalty. With the cautions the way they fell, I could never get a full green flag lap to serve my penalty. I feel so bad for the guys because that was completely on me. Thank you to AAA. The Chevrolet was great today. This is a race we shouldn’t forgot because we don’t want that to happen again."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "It was a tough day. I think tough for everyone. Very difficult conditions to figure out, We salvaged what we could there at the end. We could have been a little bit higher potentially for the day. I think we had a top-5 car. It would have been tough to challenge with the leaders but we’ll take what we can today, take some good points and go on to the next one and try to do a little bit better."

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 AFS KVAFS Racing Chevrolet): "It was disappointing to finish 18th as we had been consistent in the top-10. We had an amazing car in the dry conditions, but in the wet we really struggled. At the beginning I had to let cars through because I couldn’t see anything from the spray and once we got back into the race pace I didn’t have anything. We had a great initial strategy by staying out longer than the rest, but by the end we couldn’t make it work. We were the only ones that could have done a two-stop race because of all the fuel saving we had done, but by the race being shortened by that couple last yellows everyone was then on a two stop and we stuck at the back. We had an amazing car, so I am very proud of all the KV AFS guys. We go on to Indy and will get back to business. We are so close to getting something special, we just need to get all the bits working together."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Snapple Honda): “I just put my head down and looked forward; awesome job by Andretti Autosport. The Snapple car didn’t have much for the DHL car so we definitely need to hit the drawing board and see how he (Ryan Hunter-Reay) kicked my butt today… heck of a team effort. I was driving blind today – didn’t have a radio, so the only way I knew when to pit, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Ryan stop and thought ‘I guess I’m coming in the next lap’. It was definitely a blind race, but I just had my head down and tried to hit my marks."

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Honda): “We had just put on the slick Firestone tires on and I don’t know. Everything happened so fast, but I just stepped on the throttle, and I don’t know… I spun around and couldn’t do anything. I don’t think we went to slick tires too soon – everyone was on them at that point. Maybe I made a mistake and was too aggressive, I don’t know. Thank you to my Cinsay Andretti Autosport crew for working hard to get me back out to run a few more laps."

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 GE Reveal Chevrolet): “It was a good day for us. I mean we passed half of the field on a track that people say you can’t pass on. We’ll take a top-ten finish, especially after the weekend we had and qualifying in the back. It was a great day for the GE Reveal team. We had some great pit stops and we’ll just continue to go forward from here."

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda): "It was an exciting race with a lot going on. We started twenty-second and it was raining at the start. The car was good in the wet and we made some progress. Then we had some solid racing throughout the field. The BHA guys had some good calls on pit lane and I think we salvaged something from what was a difficult weekend. To get twelfth after the weekend we had was a good result in the end, so a big thank you to the team for working hard all weekend and for their ability to keep believing."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 8 NTT DATA Chevrolet): “It was a fun race starting in the rain and then going to slick tires, but it was a bit challenging with the fuel conditions. We were able to stay out of trouble and really keep our nose clean allowing us to move up a ton of positions. The whole NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing team definitely wants to be higher than eleventh, but considering where we started today I was really happy with the result."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet): “I have to say that I’m just so proud of the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew and the whole Chip Ganassi Racing team. After crashing this morning, everyone from all three teams came together and just really put their heads down with no complaints and started working. It was a really upside-down race with it starting wet and ending dry, but we had really good pace and clean air. We just did what we could do and made the most of where we were at. I’m pleased to be able to bring the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet home with a top-ten finish and now we’re just ready to move onto the month of May."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 National Guard Honda): “At times we had a good pace. On the wet track, I was struggling with understeer and then at times I feel like we got some pace and the National Guard car was moving forward. Next thing I know, I got hit by two guys and lost about four spots there. And on the last pit stop, I’m not sure what happened. The guys weren’t slow but with the strategy we lost another three spots. I don’t really know how we ended up 17th but obviously I feel bad for the guys because they deserve better than this. We were creeping up there. I think the highest we got was tenth. We were kind of up into the territory that we need to be in but we just couldn’t quite keep it together. (On first laps on alternate tires after running rain tires:) “Those were the most difficult laps I have ever driven. Cold, slick tires in the wet produced, honestly the most difficult laps I have ever driven. I’m glad those are over and I hope I don’t see them again."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Tough and busy race. (On first sprint?) "in the kink, a couple guys got sideways and it was an accordion effect and everyone hit the brakes, but I was in the middle of the corner and I had to avoid hitting the brakes. And then I spun. Fortunately I didn't lose a lap. (2nd spin) On the restart I was side by side with Briscoe & we entered the hairpin – we tangled together. Another spin but I kept it going. After that we had good pace and I was able to gain a couple position but in the end, time was up. After a tough race, I'm pleased to bring the car home."

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Honda): “The rolling start went much better for me today. I was overtaking cars one by one which was exactly what I set out to do. I had a really tough battle with Bourdais and everything was fair until he took me off the track in Turn 5. The car stalled and it took two laps for me to get restarted and join the race again. Honestly, I was really upset with being a lap down and I was pushing as hard as I possibly could to make up every bit of ground. I pushed too hard in Turn 13 and touched the wet area on the track, which sent me straight into the wall."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): “The start in the wet was crazy as expected. We couldn’t see anything. On the start actually I felt good. There were a couple of interesting maneuvers there and I think we were looking good and on the second restart people were acting actually even more crazy and I couldn’t see anything again. We were stuck at the back and it was single file and I couldn’t do anything really and I felt it was getting dry. I knew it was a little early but we had a lot to gain if it worked out and it almost did. The track was still too wet but it was on the edge. I saw that Ryan Hunter-Reay) was coming to lap me but I knew that if I was able to keep him behind for a little bit more until my tires warmed up, then I knew I would be faster because I was on slicks. But out of the chicane I almost lost it and he passed me and then the yellow came out for someone. So instead of all of a sudden inheriting the lead like we would have, Ryan had just passed me and we were a lap down and had to go to the back of the pack. There was really nothing gained there unfortunately but in dry conditions there were some moments where we had a good pace but when you’re 19th and there are no more yellows to make anything happen, we were stuck at the back. It was not a spectacular weekend for us but we knew we had some work to do at the test and were just not able to catch up. Fortunately now we have a test on the Indy road course so hopefully we can improve our road course setup. We have a good one for the Speedway but it will be good to spend more time on our road course setup at the test."

Results

1. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
2. (9) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
3. (5) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
4. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
5. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
6. (16) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
7. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
9. (23) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
10. (17) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
11. (20) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
12. (22) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
13. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
14. (21) Mike Conway, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
15. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
16. (15) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
17. (18) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
18. (13) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
19. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
20. (19) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 68, Running
21. (8) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 68, Running
22. (11) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara-Honda, 63, Contact
23. (7) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 29, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 94.537
Time of Race: 01:40:43.3337
Margin of victory: Under Caution
Cautions: 16
Lead changes: 7 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Power 1 – 15
Hunter-Reay 16 – 22
Saavedra 23 – 33
Hunter-Reay 34 – 48
Andretti 49
Dixon 50
Wilson 51
Hunter-Reay 52 – 69

Point Standings: Power 125, Hunter-Reay 107, Pagenaud 92, Dixon 87, Conway 82, Andretti 73, Wilson 67, Castroneves 66, Kanaan 62, Newgarden 58.

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