Ryan Hunter-Reay won a caution-filled, wreck-strewn Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT. On a day that featured nine full course cautions and a mix of wet/dry conditions, the Andretti Autosport driver recaptured the magic of the middle of this IZOD IndyCar Series season won he won three straight races.
“Man, that's the toughest race I've ever drove. I barely can talk,” Hunter-Reay said. “I pushed so hard. I flat spotted tires my last restart. The only thing I was doing was winning, otherwise I'd be in the wall.
“And I think what if this season would have gone our way and have our luck? We'll have a heck of a championship title fight. This is for the fans.”
His fourth win of the year also comes in an Andretti Sports Marketing promoted event – same as what happened at Milwaukee in June. The win brings him to within 17 points of championship leader Will Power, who finished sixth, having led the most laps from pole for the third straight race but not winning yet again.
Ryan Briscoe finished second ahead of Simon Pagenaud. Scott Dixon was fourth with Rubens Barrichello in the top five for the second race in a row.
Hunter-Reay got a great launch on the second-to-last restart, accelerating once the green flag flew, per the regulations. Briscoe didn't have any push-to-pass to begin with, and team principal Roger Penske and teammate Power naturally came to his defense.
“Hunter-Reay just jumped the restart and didn't get a penalty,” Power said. “That's life. It was a tough day, tough call. I knew it would be a day like that. He just took off. Briscoe didn't even go. Beaux (Barfield, IndyCar president of competition) didn't do anything about it. It was strange. Ryan has to go between those two cones – but I would have done the same thing, it's for the championship right?”
Hunter-Reay's take: “I had been watching the green flag point, everyone went late, it came out before guys accelerate. When it's green it's racing. When it flew I went. Sorry for Briscoe, he got the short end of the stick there.”
From Briscoe's perspective: “Absolutely, there's a zone. First accelerate point and a second. I hung back so I didn't accelerate. Then he's by, the green flag's waving and I haven't accelerated. We got screwed. I went back from first to fourth, passed back to second. Great day anyway for a podium, but I think we deserved the win.”
Lastly, Barfield weighed in on the matter in the media center: “When it's green, they can go. It's certainly unfortunate for Ryan and Penske, and in real time it looked like a jumped start, but not when you look at every fraction of a second (to see when the green flag waved). Briscoe chose the left side of the track for the first time of the race. So at that point, out of the chicane, Hunter-Reay caught up, so inevitably there'd be some speed differential to Briscoe. He was three-quarters alongside and then the green came out.”
The rest of the top ten included Power in sixth, then Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, EJ Viso and Helio Castroneves.
Admittedly, the race was always in flux and a stretch of yellows from laps 9 through 41 (seven of the nine) made it hard to get into any sort of rhythm.
Ed Carpenter, from his best ever road or street course starting position in eighth, was the first to test the barriers on the outside of the chicane on lap 8. Within a few laps Mike Conway and Bruno Junqueira joined the spinning brigade at lap 14, in the Turns 5-7 complex. Marco Andretti's nosing into the Turn 1 wall came just before the rains did, thus opening up a Pandora's Box of varying strategies as teams opted whether to stay on slicks or switch to wets.
Hunter-Reay was among those to stay on slicks, and the decision to stay out was a big move for track position purposes. He briefly went to the lead although fell back when he did his normally scheduled first stop on lap 23.
Takuma Sato and James Jakes had moments of brilliance in the laps that followed, but Jakes nosed into the Turn 4 tire barrier at lap 32 with Sato in the lead. Sebastien Bourdais – who'd ran as high as second – then retired shortly thereafter with suspension damage, in his final start of the year for Dragon Racing.
No sooner than another green flag and Simona de Silvestro – due to serve a penalty for avoidable contact anyway from nudging Dario Franchitti into the Turn 1 tires and already on her second rear wing – then crashed off that restart.
Hers was the last in the assortment of accidents and once the race had restarted on lap 42, a proper progression could be established. The order changed through the cycle – Power needed to recover from falling as low as 17th, 48.8 seconds behind the leaders, having been out on dry with rain tires and then falling down the order as a result.
He recovered back to fifth, only to be hit by Rubens Barrichello on the second-last lap and drop two places, although he managed to repass Oriol Servia to finish a frustrated sixth.
Through all of this Pagenaud had put in arguably the move of the race, if not the season, on a lap 36 restart where he launched from the outside in sixth place and by the exit of Turn 1, had taken the lead from Hunter-Reay.
Once the last cycle was complete Briscoe had ascended to the lead, needing at least one more yellow to ensure enough fuel to make the finish. He got it when Charlie Kimball, who'd also had a solid weekend running most of the race in the top five, lost an engine and ground to a halt in-between Turns 3 and 4.
That ultimately set up the second-to-last restart where Hunter-Reay launched, with Briscoe then falling back to fourth. He recovered to second by the flag but the win was lost.
The carnage wasn't over though as Conway was involved in his second accident of the day. Already stuck in Turn 4, Conway was then the victim of Justin Wilson's car coming underneath his. Andretti hit Rahal who hit Wilson, thus causing the accordion effect accident.
It was a race where it looked like more a short oval where most of the field had some sort of damage, and the rest were involved in action if they weren't in accidents. All told, one of the more intriguing races in recent memory that now sets up the title showdown for Fontana between Power and Hunter-Reay, with Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves set to be mathematically eliminated as soon as the green flag falls at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 15.
Results - 75 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy 2h09m02.9522s
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske Dallara-Chevy + 1.4391s
3. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 3.0253s
4. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 3.9281s
5. Rubens Barrichello KV Dallara-Chevy + 5.0450s
6. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy + 5.7467s
7. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy + 7.5913s
8. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 7.7701s
9. EJ Viso KV Dallara-Chevy + 8.8651s
10. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 9.0843s
11. Graham Rahal Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 10.2963s
12. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 17.1591s
13. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 1 lap*
14. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
15. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 2 laps
16. Mike Conway Foyt Dallara-Honda + 2 laps
17. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 3 laps
Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda 65 laps
Bruno Junqueira Fisher Dallara-Honda 64 laps
Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy 52 laps
Takuma Sato Rahal Dallara-Honda 50 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM Dallara-Lotus 38 laps
Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy 32 laps
James Jakes Coyne Dallara-Honda 31 laps
Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy 7 laps
* Not running at finish