ETHANOL RUNS DRY TWO LAPS SHY FOR RYAN HUNTER-REAY AND RLR AT ST. PETERSBURG
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla - And you may ask yourself, 'well, how did I get here? - Talking Heads
It took six seconds for today's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to go from promising to surreal for Rahal Letterman Racing and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone), but those six seconds would have been forgotten - had there been another half-gallon of Ethanol in the tank of the #17 Indy Car.
Hunter-Reay showed why he is considered one of the better road racers in the IndyCar Series on a rainy, breezy Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, fighting back to lead the race after a first turn spin dropped him from sixth to 18th. Using quick hands and strong pit strategy, Hunter-Reay and RLR moved into the lead after 57 laps and had a podium finish in sight at the end of the race before an empty fuel tank doomed him to a 17th-place finish.
The Florida skies opened just prior to the command to start engines being given, dousing the course and forcing everyone to run in formation behind the pace car for the first 10 laps of the race. Hunter-Reay's spin came right as the race was taking the green flag at Lap 11, and a balky gearbox dropped him to 23rd on Lap 24, before he vaulted back to 11th when much of the field pitted on Lap 34.
The track was dry enough by the halfway point for the most intrepid of the bunch to swap their Firestone rain tires for slicks, which Hunter-Reay did ahead of much of the field when he pitted on Lap 41. He used the slicks to turn a series of quick laps, making up ground while the rest of the 25-car field (Marty Roth did not start the race) came in to make their own tire changes.
The strategy paid of handsomely on Lap 57 when Ryan Briscoe crashed, bringing out a full-course caution that sent most of the teams scurrying down Pit Lane for fuel. Hunter-Reay stayed on course, looking to stretch his fuel load and led four laps under caution before the Lap 63 restart. The reigning Rookie of the Year was passed on the restart by eventual race winner Graham Rahal, but another quick caution allowed him to save more fuel while the track was cleaned up for Ed Carpenter's spin. Hunter-Reay settled into the third spot as the announcement was made that the 100-lap race would be a timed affair, leaving him 10 minutes to stretch what was approximately 5 minutes of fuel.
But just as the team was about to call Hunter-Reay in for more Ethanol, a three-car crash brought out the caution banner again, giving the team the opportunity to stay out and conserve fuel as he followed the safety car. Unfortunately for RLR, the caution period did not last long enough, as the field went back to full-speed pursuit with four laps to run. Hunter-Reay did a yeoman job keeping in front of the field but ran out of fuel two laps shy of the end.
"I spun at the beginning trying to overtake Briscoe and then I had problems with the shifting mechanism that was giving me trouble," Hunter-Reay said. "I couldn't get into sixth gear but we did a nice job sticking with it and staying up front. It's just too bad that we didn't get to finish the job."