Ryan Hunter-Reay took the two toughest hits Friday in qualifying at Indianapolis.
First, he damaged his car, then he was stripped of his two fastest laps — costing him the pole position for Saturday’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
The 2012 IndyCar Series champ said afterward that he was OK, though the ramifications of his late crash will linger all night.
“It’s salvageable, it’s the right rear,” the American driver said, referring to the damaged No. 28 car for Andretti Autosport. “The biggest thing is putting some of the smaller details back together.”
Hunter-Reay was in position to win the pole with less than three minutes left in the third and final round of qualifying when his car spun coming out of the 14th turn on the wet 2.439-mile road course. He thought he saved it as the car slid backward down the track, only to have it jerk around one more time and hit the outside wall — where there was no SAFER barrier. The hit made enough noise to make the smattering of fans at the track gasp.
A few minutes later, Hunter-Reay climbed out of the cockpit. Later, he explained, the crash looked worse than it felt.
“I had some time to head backward for a while and I almost had it going straight backward there and then it spun around,” he said. “So it wasn’t a hard hit at all.”
The harder part was coping with the penalty for causing a full-course caution, which knocked him out of the pole position. He’ll start third — behind Colombia’s Sebastian Saavedra, who spun in the first round of qualifying but did not damage the car. His pole-winning time of 1 minute, 23.8822 seconds correlated to 104.675 mph. English rookie Jack Hawksworth was next at 1:24.0788 (104.431) and Hunter-Reay was third at 1:24.8882 (103.435).
It’s the third time in four races that Hunter-Reay has started third. He won the pole in the other race, at Long Beach.
Eventually, though, the wet conditions made life hard on Hunter-Reay.
“Every time through there I almost lost it. I had a few big moments there,” he said. “There’s a very fine line between stepping over, getting the big lap in the wet and throwing it off. Just part of it. Unfortunately, dinged up the right rear there.”
Here are five other things to know at Indy.
GOOD START: Hawksworth had one of the fastest cars in qualifying all day and even had a chance to win the pole. He still wound up with the best starting position of his first IndyCar season. In the three previous races, he started eighth, fifth and 22nd. But he’s eager to start on the front row Saturday. “We have a clear track ahead,” he said. “If we can get Saavedra at the first corner, we’ll try and pull away.”
MAKING HISTORY: The changing weather condition made the latest track first — Indy’s first-ever IndyCar qualifying session in the rain — tough for everyone. A light drizzle began just as the first round of qualifying began. Heavier rain hit between the end of the first round and before the start of the second, causing rooster tails to spray off the cars’ rear tires. The third round was briefly halted and then restarted when the heaviest rains hit.
COLD WAR: When Aleshin, the Russian rookie, was penalized for interference, it was American Graham Rahal who became the beneficiary. He replaced Aleshin in the second round of qualifying. The result: Rahal will start sixth. Aleshin will start 25th and will become the first Russian to ever start a race at Indy.
WINNERS CIRCLE: Previous success at Indy didn’t translate into success on the newly reconfigured road course. Four previous 500 winners — New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan of Brazil and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya all participated in qualifying. But Dixon was the only one to have a shot at the pole. The others were eliminated in the second round of qualifying. Dixon, the 2008 Indy champ and defending series champ, will start sixth Saturday. Montoya, the 2000 Indy winner, is starting eighth; Kanaan, the defending Indy winner, starts ninth, and Castroneves, a three-time Indy winner, is starting 10th on the 25-car grid.
MOTHER’S DAY: Team owner Sarah Fisher will celebrate Mother’s Day in a unique way — waving the green flag to open practice for the 500. Fisher was one of the series’ most popular drivers in the series when she competed before moving full-time into ownership. The track was scheduled for road-course work exclusively Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday will be the first time IndyCars will be on the traditional 2.5-mile oval. Fisher is expecting her second child in June.GP of Indy, IndyCar, Ryan Hunter-Reay