IndyCar: Ryan Hunter-Reay victorious in crash-marred race at Pocono

Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates in Victory Lane.

© 2015, Michael L. Levitt

LONG POND, Pennsylvania – It was an extremely bittersweet day for Andretti Autosport as Ryan Hunter-Reay won Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono under caution while teammate Justin Wilson suffered an apparent serious injury when he was struck in the head by debris from a crash late in the race.

Sage Karam lost control of his car coming out of the exit of Turn 1 and slammed hard into the wall while leading the race with 21 laps to go ending a dramatic storyline for the 20-year-old driver from nearby Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Wilson was also involved in the crash with debris scattering across the track. It appeared part of the nose that had broken loose off Karam’s Chevrolet hit Wilson, rendering him unconscious before he hit the inside wall.

Wilson was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His condition has not been released. Sage Karam was transported by ground to the same hospital for a right foot injury.

Title contender Graham Rahal crashed just past halfway in a three-wide battle with Wilson and Tristan Vautier. He finished 20th and Juan Pablo Montoya finished third so Montoya now has a 34-point lead over Rahal entering the final race of the season – next Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Hunter-Reay’s Honda finished ahead of Josef Newgarden’s Chevrolet. Montoya was third followed by defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power’s Chevrolet and Carlos Munoz’s Honda.

It was not a race for the winning team owner to celebrate because of Wilson’s apparent serious injury.

“Ryan drove a fantastic race, the restarts were spectacular and the guys got him out in front of everybody but it’s a tough one – a tough one right now,” said team owner Michael Andretti. “Our hearts and prayers are with Justin Wilson right now. I thought he was going to have a routine check. Thoughts are with him first and foremost.

It was Hunter-Reay’s second win the last four races. He also won at Iowa Speedway on July 18.

Justin Wilson airlifted to hospital after IndyCar crash at Pocono

“I saw the trucks around Justin and then they said he was in the ambulance so I thought he was OK but he wasn’t,” Hunter-Reay. “My thoughts are with Justin. He is my friend but I don’t know anything. It was a fantastic day in the race car. But I don’t know anything about Justin.

“To get a second win with this team is a tremendous achievement. I’m just happy I get to go home and see my kids and hopefully Justin will get to do the same and see his kids. My fingers are crossed.”

After Tony Kanaan’s crash on Lap 133 the competitor’s came down pit road but the championship battle took another twist when Montoya ran over the air hose in Ed Carpenter’s pit for a post-race review.

The green flag waved on Lap 139 with rookie Gabby Chaves in the lead but Pagenaud passed him in Turn 1 for the lead. But as the field came out of that turn Marco Andretti’s car spun after what appeared to be a part failure sending the driver from nearby Nazareth, Pennsylvania into the wall. Andretti climbed out of the car but appeared to have a lower leg injury as he walked with a heavy limp.

Andretti was attempting to become the second driver in the current IndyCar Series to complete every lap of every race in the season. The only driver to do that was Kanaan during his championship season in 2004.

The remaining cars in the field lined up for a restart with 51 laps to go. Power came into the pits to top-off his fuel tank. Pagenaud was in the lead over rookies Karam and Chaves. A wild four-wide and five-wide battle broke out on the frontstretch behind entering Turn 1.

Hunter-Reay’s Honda raced into third place with 50 laps to go.

IndyCar: Title contender Graham Rahal caught up in crash at Pocono

Hunter-Reay dove low in Turn 1 to take the lead on Lap 152 in a fierce battle over the closing quarter of the race. But the yellow flag flew once again for a fox on the track on Lap 163 with Hunter-Reay in front of Karam and Newgarden.

Pit road opened for stops and Hunter-Reay was first off pit road ahead of Karam and Pagenaud. Castroneves gained two positions and Newgarden lost two spots of the drivers in the top five.

The green flag waved on Lap 167 with cars fanning out seven-wide. As the field came through Turn 1 Castroneves’ Chevrolet swapped ends and backed into the wall for another yellow flag to end the race for the pole winner and probably his hope at an elusive championship.

Montoya was one of several drivers that came into the pits and topped off ensuring he could make it to the finish on fuel.

The green flag flew on Lap 172 and Newgarden dive-bombed underneath Hunter-Reay with Sato to Hunter-Reay’s outside going into Turn 1. Newgarden took the lead but Sato passed Newgarden at the start/finish line by the end of that lap. Karam took the lead on Lap 175.

The green flag waved with seven laps to go and rookie driver Chaves in the lead ahead of Sato and Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay dove to the inside of Chaves in Turn 1 to take the lead with five laps to go. Montoya moved into third place. But with four laps to go the Honda engine in Chaves’ engine blew up and he pulled onto pit road ensuring the race would end under yellow with Hunter-Reay the leader.

That was before the catastrophic crash by Karam sent debris flying with part of it hitting Wilson in the helmet.

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