The second Grand Prix of Baltimore, the second-to-last round of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, is in the books. A few of the key items to come out of the weekend in Charm City:
BALTIMORE YEAR-ON-YEAR – To be honest, Baltimore's successful first year (outside of the finances and later promoter issues) almost set it up for an inevitable, but slight decline in year two. It was a good weekend, but not great as largely was praised and opined a year ago.
Attendance was down a bit (officials estimated a crowd of over 100,000 for the weekend, after claiming 150,000 last year), there were a couple additional inconveniences (occasionally spotty Internet, longer walk between destinations) and photo holes were smaller and harder to find than a year ago. From personal experience at both, whereas a year ago you could barely move through the throng of people on Sunday morning, this year it was free-flowing. Aerial shots showed gaps of empty seats in the grandstands, whereas a year ago not an empty seat could be found.
Given Michael Andretti and the Andretti Sports Marketing group's amazing and quicker resuscitative effort at the Milwaukee IndyFest earlier this year, it would be hard to call Baltimore as great a success.
That's not to short-change it. The hot, sticky weather didn't help and the effort put in by Andretti, major backer J.P. Grant and the entire ASM staff was remarkable given the short time scale and issues that dogged the race after last year. The race also had a presenting sponsor – SRT – compared to last year when it didn't. Still, the scale of assembling an event at a one-mile oval and a downtown street race, with city officials, and for the assembled media, is a much larger task.
“I think Michael pulled it off, although it wasn't so much ‘pulling it off' because there was still a lot of planning that went into it,” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard told RACER Tuesday. “I think that J.P. Grant, I'd give 100 percent of the tip of the cap to him, and kudos to him for what he did. That was really important when you pick things for the future. You need to have the right people in place to make a first-class event.”
HUNTER-REAY'S REDEMPTION – Ryan Hunter-Reay tweeted Sunday morning he'd switched his pre-race cereal choice to Lucky Charms. Perhaps its mascot, the magic leprechaun, brought his mojo back.
Since his midseason summer surge of three straight wins, RHR had three difficult races that saw victory chances go for naught through no fault of his own. An engine change after winning the pole dropped him to 11th on the grid in Edmonton, an engine failure at Mid-Ohio cost him the points lead, and getting tagged by Alex Tagliani at Sonoma erased a would-be podium.
But with his back against the wall, Hunter-Reay and his Andretti Autosport team delivered in the clutch. Early progress from his 10th starting position got him in range, then the inspired call from Michael Andretti to stay on slicks when it was raining moved him up the order. Although he pitted shortly thereafter, he was then set up for a standard two-stop race – and was the only driver to run Firestone alternates the whole race after the rule requiring drivers to run both blacks/reds was waived per the rain.
“He said to me, ‘We are going for the championship,'” Hunter-Reay said of his boss. “‘If we are going to do it, it let's do it. Coming in fourth or fifth is not going to do anything for us.'
“I really look up to that. That's a pretty brave move and it worked out. I had to keep the thing off the walls as long as it was drying and when it started drying, I had a big smile on my face for sure.”
From there, RHR emerged head of the pack once the normal pit stop cycle resumed, although behind the off-sequence Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe, who'd had two excellent restarts while leading late at Sonoma, still felt short-changed by losing out on this occasion. Still, Hunter-Reay had to go for it, and the momentum carried from his launch out of the chicane helped him past.
It was an incredible moment where a driver and team needed a win in the worst possible way and came through completely in the clutch. Given his championship rival Will Power's inability to convert the title the last two years, Hunter-Reay has nothing to lose going into next weekend.
POWER SNAKEBIT YET AGAIN – If the title was decided on pace alone, Power would be a multi-time champion already. Yet for the third race in a row, Power qualified on pole, led the most laps and didn't win.
At a certain point, Power's luck will need to change. He's been unable to convert the victories not through any fault of his own but in fact has almost been the victim of his own success. A better pit position in Mid-Ohio ultimately cost him there, a final pit stop in Sonoma was done before the pits stayed open on a yellow, a situation that in years past would have vaulted him back to the lead, and this race, the decision to run the middle stint on wets on a dry track dropped him to 17th.
Power and team recovered nicely to sixth but the frustration was palpable in the post-race press conference when, at least half-jokingly, he slammed his hand and wrist down on the table.
His advantage over Hunter-Reay though, still, is twofold going into Auto Club next week. Obviously there's the 17-point advantage, which he was somewhat pleased with, and there's the fact he's been in a championship-deciding race each of the last two years. With Dario Franchitti out of the picture and Hunter-Reay in, Power's mental toughness should serve him well into the final weekend of the year – provided a black cloud doesn't strike again.
“It's actually not bad. The good news is, if I take Hunter‑Reay out in the last race, we crash out together, I win,” he joked.