15 August 2011
Hunter-Reay wins amid controversy
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, surviving crashes, rain interruptions and furious controversy at the end.
For a long ten minutes after the end of the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport weren't sure that they had won. In fact they weren't even sure whether the race was over, or who had finished where. It summed up an exciting, eventful - but not necessarily an ultimately shining entry in the annals of IndyCar history.
The race had already been brought forward by half an hour in attempt to beat the weather, which showed rain closing in from the south-west of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway at Loudon. And it was clear that race control was doing everything they could to hustle the race into action at every opportunity, with no time lost before the green flag came out to send Dario Franchitti and Oriol Servia away at the front of the field.
It was just seconds before the first inevitable incident: with tyres still too cold for daring antics, someone was bound to lose it off turn 2 and the short straw went to Mike Conway, who spun and sheared across the track in a cloud of smoke. The rest of the field did what they could to avoid him, which was no mean feat as they couldn't actually see what was going on.
He almost made it - he was off into the grass in-field area before he found Graham Rahal, who had pulled right off in a desperate attempt to avoid the trouble. Unfortunately there was no avoiding it now and Conway's car made heavy impact with the side of the #38: Rahal had paid the price for his poor qualifying leaving him so far down the field and getting collected in someone else's accident just as he had feared.
Again, race control hustled the clean up and got the race back underway as fast as possible on lap 7; only to have an action replay of the earlier incident, with Helio Castroneves this time playing the part of Conway and losing the back end of the #3 off turn 2 and spinning off to make heavy contact with the inside barrier. This time the rest of the field successfully avoided him, and it was just Helio who was removed to the pits for lengthy repair work before rejoining the race 12 laps down.
Third time was the charm when it came to restarts, and on lap 12 everyone was just that bit more careful on the cold tyres and made it around without further incident. Dario Franchitti finally had the chance to put his foot down and leap away from danger, and he went to warp speed and was soon virtually out of sight down the straightaway.
One driver who wouldn't have minded another rapid caution was Tomas Scheckter, standing in for the injured Justin Wilson in the #22 Dreyer and Reinbold car. Having qualified in 18th, he had made the outside line work at the start and leapt up to ninth, and then did it again to climb to sixth at the restart. A few minutes into the green flag running and he was up to third, but that proved to be his high-water mark: as the other cars finally got their tyres up to temperature, Scheckter's greater downforce settings changed from being a help to a hinderance and he began a long, slow fall back down the running order to eleventh.
That left Franchitti up to 10s ahead of Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe, the #10 starting to lap cars as early as lap 25 and eventually even putting a lap on Will Power on lap 56. But just when it appeared that everyone could pack up and go home, Franchitti was on the radio to complain about the back-end handling going away, and when he came up on the back of twice-lapped James Jakes he found it impossible to pass and ended up bottled up behind the #18 while the cars behind him started to cut through the huge lead he had opened up.
Franchitti would have been relieved to see the first round of pit stops to help him address some of those problems; he briefly surrendered the lead on lap 73 to Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe during the pit cycle, but was then once again back on front and back in charge.
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