Joe Jennings, IndyCar Correspondent
Ryan Hunter-Reay took command as the Grand Prix of Baltimore wound down and raced to victory in the second running of the race through the bumpy streets of the Charm City.
The 14th race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season had plenty of action, and it will go down as one of the most memorable events of the year. A light rain shower, intense traffic jams and yellow flags spiced the action and as a result, a variety of pit and tire strategies were put in play and at the end, Hunter-Reay had the winning hand.
Today was unbelievable and I couldn’t write the script any better.
“Winning the race is massive for us,” the victor said. “Those restarts were crazy, crazy, crazy. It was a wild day and that’s what we needed. We needed a wild day and a bit of rain. I was hoping it would rain more than it did. We rolled the dice, and they left me out there on slicks, and although it was treacherous for a bit, it started drying up and coming our way, which paid off.”
Hunter-Reay credited Michael Andretti for making the correct call on not changing to wet tires. “To not change to rain tires was critical for us, and why we won today. Michael said to me, ‘We are going for the championship, not trying to come in fourth or fifth.’ But I had to keep the car off the wall and when it dried out, I had a big smile on my face. Today was unbelievable and I couldn’t write the script any better.”
The winner took the lead for the final time on a restart with six laps to go, barging ahead of leader Ryan Briscoe. The latter thought Hunter-Reay jumped the restart but officials thought otherwise. “I wasn’t looking at him, but I knew whether they were throwing the green flag,’ Hunter Reay said. “I learned from watching them and from seeing Simon Pagenaud make a big move on a restart.”
The victor drove the Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport owned by Michael Andretti. Andretti’s group also promoted the race.
“The race was crazy,” Andretti said. “When the rain came out, we took a bit of a gamble, but we thought most likely the rain was going to stop, which it did. We told Ryan to just keep it on the track and don’t try to pass anybody and when the next yellow comes out, the track will have time to dry out.”
Andretti said his team is focused on winning the championship and he hopes they have Team Penske worried. He also praised his team for its enthusiastic effort in promoting the race and thanked the citizens of Baltimore for their support.
Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe nailed down second place with a smooth run and by running in fuel conservation mode in the final laps. His team thought he was about a lap short on fuel but a pair of late-race caution flags may have saved the day for him. He actually ran out of fuel on the cool-down lap.
He drove the PPG Automotive Refinishes Team Penske Chevrolet.
Said Briscoe, “It was a tough race today. There were really mixed condition with the rain and everything. Even with saving fuel, the car was really fast, but it was a bit frustrating at the end on that final restart. They waved the green (flag) 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 proud of my whole team. And Roger (Penske) pulled off one of those strategies today, and it worked for us.”
After a crowd-pleasing run, Simon Pagenaud ended up in third place in the Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda. He gained immense recognition when he forged his way from sixth to first on a restart midway through the race, and his moves were reported over and over again.
Said the Frenchman, “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. I had a big jump and man, I got to turn 1 and thought, ‘Okay, I’m P1, I think,’ so it was great for braking and everyone followed me.”
He looked to be in position to go for the win, but Hunter-Reay got by him on the last restart. “We got passed by Hunter-Reay, as we had too much pickup from the tires and I couldn’t get rid of it. “I’m happy with third and we’re knocking on the door. Next year we will be tough on those guys.”
Scott Dixon took fourth in the Target Chip Ganassi Honda with Rubens Barrichello fifth in the BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet.
IndyCar Series point leader Will Power finished sixth ahead of Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, E. J. Viso and Helio Castroneves.
“I knew it would be a day like this,” Power said. “It never comes easy. We just have to do our best and fight like a dog until the end. We’ll come out swinging.”
Hunter-Reay’s first-place finish combined with Power’s sixth place narrowed the latter’s point lead. Power leads Hunter-Reay by 17 with one race to go, the season finale at the Auto Club Speedway in California two weeks from now.
Nine caution flags slowed the race for 24 laps. A four-car incident involved four cars in turn 6 on the 14th lap and five cars were involved in the last slowdown on lap 70 with Mike Conway ending up on top of Justin Wilson.
There were no injuries in any of the incidents.
The season concludes with the MAV TV 500 on September 15, and it will be telecast live by the NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. ET.