9 July 2012
Hunter-Reay hat-trick shakes up standings
It was even worse for Dario Franchitti, who dropped to 21st place after an agonisingly long pit stop, a result of him stopping the car too far away from the pit wall for the refuelling rig to reach which meant vital seconds were lost as the #10 was manhandled into position. Nor was it a good stop for James Hinchcliffe, who came in complaining of a "weird hesitation" in the engine that wasn't going away. The Andretti Autosport crew took off the engine cowling, checked around - and pronounced it terminal. If nothing else it meant that honours were even between all three engine marques in terms of unit failures in Toronto.
"We had a mechanical issue and started losing power in the engine and it's too bad," said a disappointed Mayor of Hinchtown. "It's a heartache to go out early here. The whole weekend has been incredible - all the support from everybody here in Toronto. Like I've said, it's the best city in the world!"
The race resumed with Pagenaud holding a steady 1.5s lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay for the next 20 laps, until it was time for Pagenaud's second pit stop of the afternoon on lap 49 whereupon he surrendered the lead to Hunter-Reay who was happy to keep it until the time came for his own second stop on lap 55. As the last of the cars to come in before the Rahal caution, Hunter-Reay was in the privileged position of being one of the few who was on a two-stop strategy and good to make it to the end of the race, who hadn't lost track position like Power and Franchitti had. Better yet, he jumped in front of Pagenaud after the pit stops, after the Frenchman's pit crew had suffered with a problem on the right rear wheel nut. It seemed that the race wasn't so much idly falling into Hunter-Reay's lap as it was enthusiastically jumping in and eagerly performing an erotic dance for him.
Power meanwhile had been trying to make a go of recovering from his earlier misfortune by trying some clever out-of-the-box thinking on fuel strategies, but they came to nought on lap 57 when Power made glancing contact with the barrier in turn 12. His front wing had been damaged a few laps earlier after contact with the rear wheel guards of the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing #67 of Josef Newgarden, and an element had broken off and hit the front left wheel of the #12. The combination of a tyre going down and the front wing damage had then caused the understeer. Power limped back to the pits for a change of tyres and went back out again intending to tough it out with the front wing damage in the hope a caution would materialise, but a few minutes later he went down a lap anyway and the plan was moot. He came back in again for the new wing, but his hopes of recovering were now done for the day.
Power's woes didn't trigger a caution even though the broken front wing element was lying in the middle of the track, and Hunter-Reay duly cycled back to the lead. Up into second place was Tony Kanaan, who had recovered from his early pit stop problem beginning with a flying restart after the first caution that saw him blast past a three-wide battle down the main straight to zip past all of them in one go into turn 1. However, much of the lost ground had been made up by his relying on an aggressive fuel-conservation strategy and in the closing laps Kanaan had to lean off the gas so much that he started haemorrhaging positions and dropping down the running order.
Taking over in second place was Charlie Kimball, who pulled off a lovely move on both Kanaan and Pagenaud into turn 3 on lap 72 while the other two cars were busy battling side-by-side and leaving the inside line wide open for him as a result. Even so, Kimball had little hope of catching Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was around 8s up the road - unless there was a caution.
One had come close to fruition a few laps earlier, when Justin Wilson had run wide out of the final corner and slapped the wall on the main straight with some force. Wilson was able to carry on for a few minutes, but the engine was cutting out and it seemed that the impact had done some terminal damage inside the car: all he could do was come back round to pit lane and climb out.
That meant the race was now just six laps from its conclusion, with only one caution in the books: there had never been fewer than five in this event, and it wasn't as if there was a shortage of fierce driving and great overtaking moves going on through the field. What was different? It was hard to tell from the outside, but some combination of the aerodynamic form of the new DW12 plus the re-introduction of push-to-pass from this event were possible suspects, together with race director Beaux Barfield's new rules on overtaking and blocking and the revised approach to throwing cautions. The new bodywork protecting the wheels could also be a factor in preventing minor scraps between cars becoming major conflagrations. Whatever, the new car had once again demonstrated what an improved road racing machine it was over its oval-centric predecessor.
But all good things come to an end, and on lap 79 the green flag period that had lasted 51 laps duly did so when Josef Newgarden took on Simon Pagenaud for third place. Pagenaud - looking as though he was still struggling to get to grips with IndyCar's "no blocking" rule - finally realised he was defeated and handed Newgarden the line, but it was too late: the #67 outbraked itself right into the tyre wall. It wasn't a heavy contact but it was enough to stall the car, and the howls of anguish from the SFHR pit stall could be heard from miles around as Newgarden himself beat his steering wheel in frustration. Not that things were any happier in the Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports camp, as Pagenaud had to concede defeat on the fuel-stretching strategy and come in for a costly splash and dash; and then to rub salt in the wound he was handed a 30s penalty by race control for blocking Newgarden in the first place.
"I don't know whether to be happy or mad," Pagenaud said afterwards. "I don't see why I got penalised ... I think I respected the rule, which is to keep your line. I kept my line, but Newgarden went into a hole where there was no space."
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