IndyCar » 16 September 2012
Hunter-Reay survives thriller to win title
That set up a new round of pit stops, and for Andretti Autosport there was a big decision to come: Hunter-Reay had been complaining of increasing vibration in the #28 impairing his speed, and the concern was that it was down to a broken right rear shock absorber that would mean a costly delay on pit road to change. This time around the team crossed their fingers and hoped that a new set of tyres would be sufficient to address the problem, and sent their man back on his way with just a turn of extra front wing to compensate for the cooling conditions now that night time was firmly setting in.
Ed Carpenter held off an attack on the high side from Tony Kanaan at the green flag to resume at the head of the race, with Ganassi team mates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon competing for the honour of third place. There were brushes with the wall for Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe, before Hinchcliffe's day was fatally ruined by a penalty for jumping the latest restart
Dixon broke through at the front to snatch the lead at the halfway point of the race, just as the resurrected #12 car of Will Power had emerged from the garage and headed back out onto the track. Of course it was 69 laps down and could only run a few under-speed laps before being told to park by race control, but those laps were crucial in that they boosted Power ahead of the already-retired EJ Viso in the positions and meant that Ryan Hunter-Reay now had to finish fifth rather than sixth if he was to steal the title from them. Would it really come down to that, one position either way at the end of 500 miles?
Hunter-Reay's night wasn't improved by having the lapped Josef Newgarden buzzing around him on the track for an extended period, especially when Hunter-Reay himself couldn't afford to fight back and get drawn into a careless accident that could cost him the title.
Ahead, Dixon and Kanaan had resumed their battle for the lead after the latest round of pit stops ahead of Castroneves, Sato, Carpenter and Tagliani: Hunter-Reay had been left scrapping with Dario Franchitti to hold on to seventh position, and he didn't seem to have the pace to inch his way forward to where he needed to be. Was it all slipping through his fingers?
What he needed was a yellow, and of all teams it was Penske that provided one on lap 181 when Ryan Briscoe got loose and tapped against the wall in turn 4.
"At the end of the second stint there with Will's crash in turn two we ran over his wing and I think it might have damaged our diffuser and we just struggled from then on throughout the night," explained Briscoe of his uncharacteristic mishap. "It was a disappointing result, the #2 IZOD car was running really well at the start of the race."
Dixon had now been handed the lead for the restart after Kanaan had a lengthy stop to fix a flapping loose engine cowling, and the Kiwi was left in a fierce duel with a revived Carpenter over the next half dozen laps until the matter was finally resolved in Carpenter's favour with 50 to go.
Dixon faded away and left a new generation of challengers for Carpenter to face led by Alex Tagliani and Takuma Sato. Tagliani took over the lead from Carpenter on lap 204 with Sato snapping at Carpenter's heels and the Ganassi duo of Franchitti and Dixon watching on: Hunter-Reay meanwhile was now in sixth place, still one position too low to wrest the championship from Power. Even if a yellow came out, did Hunter-Reay have the pace in his car to capitalise on the opportunity?
A final round of pit stops with 25 laps concluded with Tagliani back in front with Sato and Carpenter in hot pursuit and Hunter-Reay still stuck in sixth place behind the Ganassi pair. It seemed his final gambit was to hope that one or more cars in front would hit problems or crash out and hand him the position he needed to win the title. Could it possibly happen?
Tagged as: Penske , Jr Hildebrand , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Dario Franchitti , championship , Ed Carpenter , Scott Dixon , Will Power , Takuma Sato , Fontana , Andretti , tony kanaan
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