2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay led from pole at Barber, led the most laps and scored a gritty win over Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.
The Andretti Autosport team claimed their second consecutive victory to open the 2013 season as RHR used his Chevy power to streak away during the first third of the race and came back to pass Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves–which included a NASCAR-style donut from contact with the Brazilian–to take back the lead which he held to the finish.
“I had a little contact there with Helio [Castroneves]; I feel bad about it,” he said. “Good thing nobody was affected by it but man, I was driving my tail off trying to stay in front of [Scott] Dixon. Will [Power] did a good job staying in front of me on blacks, not sure how he did it. A lot of great racing out there. It’s just great to get a win for DHL, Sundrop, Circle K and Chevrolet back in victory lane. A good way to start the season.”
Chevrolet also won its second straight Honda-sponsored IndyCar event, but unlike St. Petersburg, Honda-powered teams were a force to be reckoned with.
Behind RHR, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was the top Honda performer as he passed Castroneves for second and chased RHR to the checkered flag on Lap 90.
Dixon crossed the line just .636 seconds behind RHR, while Castroneves fell back by more than 17 seconds by the final lap.
“I think we had the quickest car out there, but I need to buy a bridesmaid dress…” said Dixon who scored his fourth consecutive second-place finish at Barber.
For Castroneves, his second podium finish in a span of two weeks vaulted the 37-year-old to the top of the point standings.
“It paid off and it wasn’t a win but for us for the championship, it is good and right now we just have to keep going,” said the three-time Indy 500 winner. “We need to keep going and you have to put yourself out there that’s great and that is what we just did today.”
Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball found his mojo at Barber, running inside the top 5 for most of the day and passing Will Power to finish fourth.
“We knew the car had a lot of speed on blacks and used blacks, he said. “I’m not sure where our podium went. We had the speed in the car to be on the podium, it was just a question of what tires. We might have been a little greedy using reds in warmup this morning to do a balance check. All in all, it’s been a great race.”
All of the Ganassi racing teams used blue-colored wheels this weekend as a promotional effort, which Kimball would like to see continue after his standout drive.
“I’ll have to talk to Novo Nordisk to let me run that scheme all year,” he said. “To have Scott [Dixon] represent it with the blue rims, finish on the podium, Jamie McMurray finished top 10, and the GRAND-AM boys finished top five yesterday. Great day for diabetes awareness and the whole Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew.”
Power, who was conserving fuel as part of a two-stop strategy that didn’t pay off as desired, took fifth.
“It was a tough start for us, we couldn’t get in the right slot and then committed to a different strategy to hopefully get the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet on the podium,” said the Australian. “We thought we had a good plan and just needed a yellow at any point after Lap 31. Unfortunately it didn’t come and we fought for the fifth place finish. It isn’t exactly what we wanted to get out of the weekend but is still a good points day and gets us closer to the top.”
ONE TO FORGET
The race had minimal contact, except for a Lap 1 contretemps that kept the field under yellow before an uninterrupted 86-lap sprint to the finish.
St. Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe saw his chances of going 2-and-0 were dashed on the opening lap when Graham Rahal triggered a crash that ruined the day for Oriol Servia, Hinchcliffe and his own chances.
“From what I have been told, we all piled into Turn 8; I was behind Tony [Kanaan],” said the Canadian. “From what I hear, [Graham] Rahal hit [Oriol] Servia who got in the back of me. I got in the back of Tony a little bit, but it was pretty square, and it didn’t do any damage to the front. I knew I had gotten hit, but everything was fine at first, but I guess, under caution, things started to work itself loose. As I started to warm the tires up, the wheel actually broke, that was what it was.”
Dario Franchitti, who crashed at St. Petersburg and finished 25th, was dealt another blow when his Honda-powered car suffered a broken header–the same issue that dropped Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier out of the St. Pete race–left the four-time champion in…25th.
“We had a header problem on the Banana Boat car and that led to some electrical issues that took out the clutch,” he said. “The guys worked real hard to get the car back together. Tough day for us.”
Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud delivered one of the most determined drivers of the day, hauling his Honda-powered car from 13th to sixth.
“Today was a good day, sometimes sixth place feels like a win,” said the Frenchman. “We’ve had quite a bit of tough ones since the beginning of the season and it feels like luck might have turned around now. We had a great race car it was consistent and fast. We were able to fight with the main guys so we came back from 13th into sixth position so pretty happy with the result today, good points for the championship and great to know we’re going to Long Beach and I’ll aim for the win this year.”
Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson motored from 19th to eighth after picking up a bunch of spots in the early laps, only to lose some before clawing back to take a strong top 10 result.
“We got held up a bit on our first pit stop of the day and that cost us some track positions,” said the Brit. “But we were able to battle back and regain most of them. The Dale Coyne Racing team gave me a great car all weekend and we were able to secure another Top 10 finish. I would have loved to finish higher, but I am satisfied with eighth place on the day.”
The most impressive back-to-front performance belonged to Josef Newgarden. The sophomore IndyCar driver had a poor qualifying result that left him starting in 23rd, but pushed his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda to ninth, and improvement of 14 positions, to earn his best result to date.
Tristan Vautier looked human for the first time this season as the rapid rookie made a number of mistakes that turned his third-place qualifying effort into 10th by the end of the afternoon.
“Today was a pretty tough race,” said Vautier. “I learned a lot and that’s good but really I was struggling with space and I asked my engineer for a little too many changes and wasn’t quite there on the pure speed. I made a few mistakes, three big mistakes that cost us a lot. I think next time I just need a better pace and to avoid those mistakes.”
AJ Allmendinger looked like his IndyCar Series debut was going to be one to remember after moving up to seventh–leading his Team Penske teammates–put a stall in the pits ruined his chances. He’d go a lap down and would settle for 19th.
“All in all today was a good day in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevy and there are a lot of positives to take out of it,” he said. “We had a good start and I thought I was pacing myself well, we could have had a top 10 day without the couple breaks against us. It was a good day with a bad stall and unfortunately after that point we were saving fuel so it made it tough to make up ground. But I know that I can compete with these guys and look forward to getting even better at Long Beach.”
Dragon Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra was also bitten by issues in pit lane that contributed to his drop from ninth to 20th.
“I’m really disappointed with the way our day ended here at Barber,” said the Colombian. “We had an amazing car and I was really happy with it, challenging drivers like Will Power for position. Pit stops did not go as planned and we lost what we had gained, moving to the back of the field. I’m ready to move onto Long Beach and go for the results I know we can get.”
KV Racing was the talk of St. Petersburg with Simona de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan featuring throughout the race, but the duo never got the handle on the speed necessary to qualify well or run among the faster cars.
“It was a tough race for us,” said de Silvestro. “We were always in traffic and there was always something going on. At the start I kind of got pushed out and lost a few positions and had to work my way back up. You know we were always fighting with different people and different tires and it was really hard to get by, so we kind of got stuck there and it wasn’t great. But, we’ll go on to the next one and hopefully we’ll be alright there.”
Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
2. (4) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
3. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
4. (5) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
5. (2) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
6. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
7. (7) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
8. (8) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
9. (22) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
10. (3) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
11. (15) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
12. (16) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
13. (19) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
14. (12) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
15. (18) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
16. (23) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
17. (24) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
18. (14) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
19. (10) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
20. (9) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 90, Running
21. (21) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 90, Running
22. (26) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 89, Running
23. (11) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 86, Running
24. (25) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 65, Mechanical
25. (17) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 42, Mechanical
26. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 3, Contact
Winners average speed: 110.818
Time of Race: 01:52:04.5450
Margin of victory: 0.6363
Cautions: 1 for 4 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 4 drivers
Hunter-Reay 1 – 26
Power 27 – 30
Hunter-Reay 31 – 42
Kimball 43 – 45
Power 46 – 50
Castroneves 51 – 75
Hunter-Reay 76 – 90
Point Standings: Castroneves 79, Dixon 70, Hunter-Reay 66, Andretti 61, Hinchcliffe 56, Kimball 51, Kanaan 49, Power 47, Wilson 46, Viso 44.