3 September 2012
Victory for Hunter-Reay sets up season finale
Another attempt at a restart was foiled by Simona de Silvestro aping Ed Carpeter's earlier encounter with the frontstretch wall after cutting the chicane too fine: "I hit the curb in the chicane and it ended our day," she confessed. "Until then it was kind of a crazy race. We made some positions; we don't know where we would have finished. This time it's kind of my fault. It's a shame because we were doing really well.
After that, the race finally got back to a sustained period of green flag running, with Pagenaud retaining the lead ahead of Hunter-Reay at the restart on lap 43. However, this period saw the end of the race for three more competitors.
First there was Takuma Sato retiring in the pits on lap 50, with an issue that likely explained why he'd been so slow on that earlier restart: "I think a fuel pressure problem," he said. "The engine started coughing and I started to lose power; especially on the restart, there was just no power and a bunch of the drivers overtook me. Every restart was difficult and in the end it was difficult to select the gears due to some engine response I think. In the end we had to stop which is a big shame."
Two laps later, Tony Kanaan became the latest victim of the wall beyond the front stretch chicane. While his contact was relatively light and he was able to continue round to the pit entrance, the impact had been terminal on his left rear suspension. "We had a pretty good car, I was just pushing hard on the last lap before a pit stop and I made a mistake," he said.
And then on lap 64 it was Bruno Junqueira's turn to retire on pit road after a similar incident to Kanaan's. "I brushed the wall after going through the chicane," he said. "My left rear suspension was broken and we couldn't continue on in the race. I was very sorry and frustrated because I had been making up distance all afternoon."
Finally the yellows were out again with ten laps of the race to go, this time for Charlie Kimball whose engine appeared to have blown, bringing the car to a halt in turn 3. "It's a shame to have something behind me go wrong around lap 65, but we proved we have the speed all weekend," he said, already looking forward to the final race of the season at Fontana.
By this point, the final round of fuel stops had already cycled through and Hunter-Reay had popped back in front of Pagenaud on his exit from pit road ahead of Dixon, Power and Franchitti. But the actual leader of the race was Ryan Briscoe, who was attempting the near-impossible feat of trying to stretch his fuel all the way from lap 41 to the end of the race and thereby gain position by making one stop fewer than the others. It had looked like a doomed plan, but the caution for Kimball and the ensuing gas-saving laps under yellow kept the dream alive.
However Briscoe was slow at the restart on lap 70, and just as he had done multiple times already this afternoon Hunter-Reay needed no second invitation to floor the throttle the minute the green flag came out. He blasted away from Briscoe, taking Pagenaud along with him.
"Everyone had been going late, the green flag was actually coming out before the leaders were accelerating," explained Hunter-Reay of his ability to read the restart to such accuracy. "I caught wind of that so I just started to focus on the green flag instead of focusing on the guy next to me, and Briscoe got jumped on that one but the green flag was flying when he was still sitting there in first gear.
"I mean I feel sorry for him," he said. "Well I don't really feel sorry. But you know what I mean!" he laughed.
The Penske team was furious: as far as they were concerned, this was a clear case of Hunter-Reay having jumped the restart. Roger Penske was quickly demanding that race control issue a penalty to the #28; but Beaux Barfield reviewed the footage, determined that Hunter-Reay had maintained position behind Briscoe until the green flag came out, and only then had made his break. As far as IndyCar was concerned it was a legal move, and there would be no penalty forthcoming. The thunderclouds that suddenly appeared over Baltimore's downtown area directly over the Penske pit area were entirely non-meteorological.
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