TOUGH DAY FOR RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING AT SONOMA SONOMA, Calif - Rahal Letterman Racing rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay ( ...
TOUGH DAY FOR RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING AT SONOMA
SONOMA, Calif - Rahal Letterman Racing rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) took the green flag at today's Motorola Indy 300 at Infineon Raceway from the seventh spot and wasted no time in getting to work.
He stormed through the first handful of turns fighting tooth-and-nail with Marco Andretti to hold his spot. They poured through Turn Two with Hunter-Reay giving no quarter to the defending race champion. Once, twice, three times they banged wheels into Turn Three, with Hunter-Reay muscling Andretti briefly off course, holding his spot through the first lap while the Team Ethanol crew pumped their fists in reaction to watching their young charge battle so fiercely for position.
Then, to borrow a Bill Murray line from Stripes, depression set in.
The contact with Andretti caused nose damage to the Ethanol car, but more importantly it cut a brake line in the #17 car, causing Hunter-Reay to lose brake pressure almost immediately. Four laps later, the Floridian pulled into the pits, his day done.
"Starting in the seventh spot, we had high hopes to say the least," Hunter-Reay said. "Knowing that we started 10th and finished seventh in Mid-Ohio, our expectations were the highest of the season. After running side-by-side for several corners with Andretti, I had the line and he pinched me and we had contact, and the resulting damage ended what was a promising day for Team Ethanol and Rahal Letterman Racing."
Meanwhile, Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) saw the momentum gained in Kentucky evaporate in the Sonoma sunshine. He started 17th on the day and moved up to 15th by the first fuel stint, but a spin and two incidents of contact, first with Danica Patrick and then later with A.J. Foyt IV, put him a lap down. A spate of late-race accidents moved him up to 14th at the end of the day, matching a season-low for the veteran.
"It was a really tough day for the Patron Rahal Letterman Racing team," Sharp said. "We got behind on Friday when we missed a session, then we tried to make it up in Saturday qualifying and I spun, which dug us even deeper. I was really trying hard to make things up, but things just didn't go our way. I tried a couple of optimistic moves out there, and those didn't quite pay off either. But we brought the car back in one piece and we'll head to Detroit and try to turn it around there."
Sharp's 14th-place finish dropped him two points in arrears to Patrick, who moved into seventh place in the standings with her sixth-place run. Hunter-Reay moved into a tie for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie-of-the-Year race with his finish and will look to claim the lead in the rookie standings next week at Belle Isle.
Despite the troubles, Sharp was still fighting for position with 10 laps to go, jockeying with Foyt all through the first lap on the Lap 71 restart. The two battled through the entire lap with Sharp holding the advantage heading into the frontstretch hairpin. Sharp slid briefly on the exit of the turn, then came back in front of the oncoming Foyt car, causing contact the sidelined the grandson of the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion.
"We had a good battle going and I really wanted to make something happen for us," Sharp lamented. "I got sideways and I kept it off the wall, but once I caught it, it hooked back up and came out in front of Anthony. I feel bad for Anthony, I certainly didn't want to take him out and I apologize for it."