OUTSTANDING NIGHT FOR RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING GUTTED BY LATE-RACE ACCIDENT FORT WORTH - Saturday night was the type of evening that Ryan Hunter-Reay ( ...
OUTSTANDING NIGHT FOR RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING GUTTED BY LATE-RACE ACCIDENT
FORT WORTH - Saturday night was the type of evening that Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Rahal Letterman Racing had been shooting for all year, as Hunter-Reay's Ethanol machine was in the top-five of the IndyCar Series' Bombardier Learjet 550 all night, and had its first win of 2008 within reach.
But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades as the old saw goes, and neither of those have a single thing to do with auto racing.
Hunter-Reay had the best race of his young IndyCar Series career on Saturday night, storming to the front from the drop of the green flag and staying there all night. He started 10th, was in the top four by Lap 11 and never dropped out of the top five again - until his Indy Car slid to a rest in Turn Four of the Texas Motor Speedway with just five laps to run.
Hunter-Reay had eventual race winner Scott Dixon in his sights with nine laps to go after passing Ryan Briscoe and Marco Andretti, but when Andretti came back at Hunter-Reay, the two got together in Turn Three and crashed heavily, ending their chances for victory.
"Marco gave me the low line on the backstretch and all day that meant that he would give me the low line in the corner as well, but he came down on me, I went low to avoid him and got down on the white line," Hunter-Reay reported. "That upset both cars and took us out. We had a great car, we pushed really hard, the guys in the pits were flawless and we really deserved a good finish tonight. This was going to be our breakout night and we didn't get it. I can't tell you how disappointed I am. We did what we had to do out there tonight and it was going to be our night. Unbelievable."
The wreck left Hunter-Reay to finish 20th, and marked the first time all season that he has failed to finish a race. But more importantly, it obscured one of the Ohio team's best performances in nearly three full seasons.
Hunter-Reay was the car to watch from the drop of the green flag. Starting 10th, he was on to sixth in just six laps, then found himself third on the Lap 17 restart after the first of seven caution periods. He stayed in the top four the rest of the evening, fending off furious charges and holding right with Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves as well as Andretti during the long green-flag periods that highlighted the middle part of the event.
A debris caution on Lap 166 set the stage for the final scene as the Ethanol car took four tires and plotted a strategy that would help the car stretch its Ethanol load for the last 53 laps. Fourth on the restart, Hunter-Reay passed Dixon and Andretti and then tucked in behind Vitor Meira to try and save fuel, secure in the knowledge that Meira was definitely going to have to pit before the end. It was going to be very close as to whether or not the #17 car would make the full distance, but that dilemma solved itself when Enrique Bernoldi crashed with 15 laps to go. The restart came with 10 trips to run, and the end came for RLR and RHR four orbits later.
The series will finally have a weekend off next week, its first since the middle of April. The break will be short-lived however and the series starts back to work with six straight weeks of races beginning at the Iowa Speedway on June 22. The race can be seen Sunday the 22nd on ABC at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.