Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn’t to be denied as he raced to victory in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, 90-lap race at the 2.3-mile road course at Barber Motorsports Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The race was the second of the season for the IZOD IndyCar Series and 57,963 fans were on hand to witness the action.
Prior to the race, IndyCar and Barber officials announced a three-year extension had been signed, extending the agreement through 2016.
Even though Hunter-Reay pulled away to a commanding lead in the early going, the scene changed toward the end as Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Scott Dixon sought to unseat him from the throne. While he disposed of Castroneves and Power without too much difficulty, Dixon proved to be a formidable foe and at the checkered flag, the pair was separated by just.6363 seconds.
“I felt like coming into Barber was going to be the start of the season for us, as we had a big hole to dig out of from St. Pete. And we won,” he said. “Several times in the off-season, I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big superspeedways like Texas and Fontana. The guys gave me a great car. I had more pressure today than anything bringing a care home that I knew was capable of winning,
Regarding Dixon’s pressure, he added, “He stayed really close. Not many guys you want in your mirror, and he’s one of them. He’s a veteran that doesn’t make any mistakes. He’s won championships and the Indy 500. He’s the best. You know he’s going to be flawless and had I made one mistake, he would have been by.”
Hunter-Reay didn’t lose faith after dropping to third in the standings, and he was optimistic that he could regain the lead. “When I got on blacks (tires), Helio was on new reds and started closing on me, just like I did to him earlier. I didn’t want to take any risks this early in the season. I knew I had a great car, so I had to bring it home.”
The two did make contact at one point, but neither car suffered from it, and they both attributed it to hard racing.
Hunter-Reay led three times for 53 of the 90 laps and Castroneves led 25 laps.
Regarding the victory, he won for the 10th time in his career and the first time at Barber. Previously, he had a pair of 12ths and a 14th.
The winner drove the DHL Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport, giving the team its second win of the season. Two weeks ago, James Hinchcliffe took another Andretti car to victory, but his luck turned south today, as he finished last after making contact with another car in the opening lap.
Wearing a big smile, owner Andretti said, “It really was a perfect weekend. We got the pole in both races (IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights), and we won both of them, led the most laps – you can’t ask for much more than that. I’m really happy and proud of the whole DHL crew.”
Dixon brought the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda home second, giving him four consecutive runner-up finishes at Barber.
“Today was a day of catch-up after a big fumble at the start with Will (Power), and it backed the whole line up and we dropped to sixth or seventh,” he said, adding a set of mismatched tires hurt him at one point, plus there was a gaff on a pit stop. “It was just one of those days where the car was very fast. I think we had the speed to win the race quite happily, but we were just playing catch-up all day.”
Regarding his succession of runner-up finishes, he quipped, “I’m going to buy a bridesmaid’s dress and party pretty hard tonight.”
Castroneves took third in the AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet and with his runner-up finish at St. Pete, he leads in points.
“Today was a good day,” he said. “It was a little bit tough to recoup after the start we had. We got boxed in. Will (Power) and people were shoving him in a way that was very difficult for us to get away. That was a shame, but when we changed to Plan B, we just decided to go for it and it paid off. It wasn’t a win but for us for the championship, it is good. We need to keep going, and you have to put yourself out there and that’s what we did just that today.”
Charlie Kimball drove superbly to garner fourth in another Ganassi Honda.
Fifth went to Will Power, the 2012 race winner.
Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden and flashy rookie Tristan Vautier rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Dario Franchitti was another hard-luck driver, falling out on the 42nd lap with mechanical problems. He was scored 25th.
Only one yellow flag was unfurled, and that came on the second lap for debris and a tow-in of Hinchcliffe.