3 September 2012
Victory for Hunter-Reay sets up season finale
This time the majority of drivers led by Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud had no qualms about discarding the weather forecasts and coming in for wet tyres - it was a simple matter of survival. Unless you happened to be playing all-in poker like Ryan Hunter-Reay, and he staked everything on slicks by staying out with his Andretti Autosport team mate James Hinchcliffe. It was either a work of genius that could win him the race, or else he'd just thrown away his last chance of the championship.
Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe led Wilson, Barrichello, Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal to the line on lap 21 ahead of Will Power and Scott Dixon who were the first of the most recent drivers to have pitted for wet tyres; but the restart was brief before the yellows were back out again, this time for Dario Franchitti who had been spun at turn 1 by a hefty thump from behind by Simona de Silvestro.
The subsequent caution worked to Hunter-Reay's advantage: the rain stopped, and even while the cars were circulating behind the safety car the track was drying all the time. Suddenly staying on slick tyres no longer appeared as suicidal as it did; in fact, it was the cars on wet tyres that started to fret as the rain water quickly drained away and a dry line started to appear all around the circuit.
It was to general amazement, then, that Ryan Hunter-Reay ducked into pit lane on lap 23. Startled, Will Power and the Penske team instinctively decided to do the opposite to Hunter-Reay and stayed out; but it appeared that it had been a bluff by the Andretti crew, as the team changed the #28's tyres not to a set of wets but to a new set of slicks, getting one of their two pit stops out of the way even as Power had left himself stranded out on track still on the increasingly inappropriate wet tyres.
At the restart on lap 25, Hinchcliffe, Sato and Rahal were at the front ahead of Power and Dixon. A poor restart for Hinch put Sato into the lead, which the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver liked the feel of so much that he stayed in front for the next seven laps, and it didn't take long during that time before Power, Dixon and the rest of those who had switched to wet tyres sheepishly came back onto pit road to change back to slicks again.
The cautions were back out again when James Jakes buried his car into the tyres at turn 4 on lap 32, during which time Sato opted to start the visits to pit road. Sebastien Bourdais' time there proved somewhat terminal: after some impressive early laps he had fallen down the running order and was now climbing out of his car, done for the day with suspension issues.
"I thought it was something was sitting on the right rear, or I thought I had a cut in the right rear, but that wasn't it," he said. "It was something in the suspension."
Sato was still in front for the restart, but appeared oddly underpowered as the green flag came out. His slow pace checked up the cars behind and gave Simon Pagenaud the chance to spring from sixth place round the outside down the front straight, and then dive across the front of the field to take the inside line into turn 1. A near-unbelievable manoeuvre that somehow came off.
Once again, however, it was a short-lived green, with James Hinchcliffe crawling to a halt in turn 2 after slicing his tyre following contact with Mike Conway. Initially Hinch climbed out of the #27 thinking his day was done, but after surveying the damage he climbed back in, the car was refired, and following a trip onto pit road he was able to continue the race after all - albeit off the leap lap for the rest of the day.
"Today was a clinic in what not to do," said an embarrassed Hinchcliffe of the incident. "Pretty ashamed of the whole deal, it's just not what the Go Daddy team is capable of."
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