SCOTT SHARP EVADES AND ESCAPES MICHIGAN CARNAGE TO EARN PODIUM FINISH FOR RLR BROOKLYN, Mich. - Sometimes, racing is easy. Some days, you show up at the track, your car is a rocketship, every stop goes smoothly and no one has any answers as to...
SCOTT SHARP EVADES AND ESCAPES MICHIGAN CARNAGE TO EARN PODIUM FINISH FOR RLR
BROOKLYN, Mich. - Sometimes, racing is easy. Some days, you show up at the track, your car is a rocketship, every stop goes smoothly and no one has any answers as to how to stop you.
Today's rain-delayed IndyCar Series Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway wasn't one of those days.
But the Rahal Letterman Racing team showed why it is one of the most successful open-wheel racing teams of the last two decades, using a myriad of strategies and powering through some of the stranger problems of the last two years to score a podium finish with Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) while rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) set a new IndyCar best by coming home in the sixth spot.
Both cars had some interesting moments in the pits today, whether it was Sharp's team using a rarely-seen three-tire change on an early stop, or Hunter-Reay's team actually changing Ryan's helmet during a mid-race stop. The team answered the bell each and every time a problem presented itself and kept the cars in the hunt. The efforts paid off in the end as only eight cars were left running at the end of the 200-lap race as a couple of major accidents eliminated more than half of the field. The wrecks set the stage for a furious final stint where Sharp fought off Kosuke Matsuura over the last 20 laps to secure the third-place spot, earning the Floridian his second podium finish of the 2007 season.
"It was a wild day for us. Really, really busy in the cockpit," grinned Sharp. "The racing line moved up as it always does here and that worked for us a bit because we set the car up to run in the third and fourth grooves. The only time I got beat was down low - until the end. At the end, we could run down low and it helped us earn our podium spot and some big points in the standings. The guys made some great calls in the pits and worked hard, and in the end we did what we had to do."
Hunter-Reay needed to change his helmet at the race's halfway point, due to a problem with the visor impairing his vision. The team used a yellow-flag pit stop to make the helmet change, not only replacing the helmet, but then making sure the radio, drink bottle and HANS device were all plugged in and working before sending him back to the track. The team completed the tricky task without losing a lap, which ended up playing a key role in the sixth-place finish.
"This was a learning day for me," recalled Hunter-Reay. "I knew it was going to be a long race so early on, I settled in and worked on establishing a rhythm. Things were starting to build for us, but about midway through the race we developed a problem with the car and we would lose straight-line speed once it got warm. That kept us from contending, but the Ethanol team showed what it was made of today and we came out of here with some good points."
For all of the hard work that the team put in today, there was a good bit of fortune that kept the RLR team at the sharp end of the grid as well. Sharp trailed Sam Hornish Jr. while battling for a spot in the top-10 when the lead cars of Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon got together, triggering a wild melee that took six cars out of the race. Looking around the swirling maelstrom for a way out of the carnage, Sharp suddenly found himself with a bigger problem.
"I was looking to my sides to see how the crash would develop when suddenly (Sam) Hornish's rear wing was right there in front of me," Sharp said. "I hit him pretty hard but I hit him straight-on with the nose of the car, which luckily is the strongest point of the car. I thought we would have more damage, but our guys took care of it and we got back in the fight."
Today's finish kept Sharp in the eighth spot in the title hunt, but it moved him to within four points of seventh place and 17 points of sixth with four races to run. Hunter-Reay sliced Milka Duno's lead in the rookie points again, moving to within 27 points of the rookie leader despite having run just two events this year.