3 September 2012
Victory for Hunter-Reay sets up season finale
Briscoe probably still wouldn't have made the distance from here anyway if not for one last caution that came seconds later when Mike Conway and Rubens Barrichello tried squeezing through turn 4 side-by-side. That was never going to work, and one of them was going to end up in the wall: as luck had it, Rubens made it through and Conway was the one stuck in the tyres. He was then collected by the incoming Justin Wilson, who wedged himself in underneath the AJ Foyt car with the help of a shove from Graham Rahal arriving on the scene.
James Hinchcliffe also arrived to find the road ahead totally blocked, and so the yellows came out once more to remove the traffic jam; as track workers strained to prise apart Conway and Wilson's mounted cars, the irony of this all occurring at the corner of Conway Street wasn't lost on anyone.
"On that last restart, I got a couple cars when they bottled up on the hairpin, but then I tried to go in too quick on the next corner and I was into the tyres" said Conway of the incident. "Tough way to end."
Marco Andretti was another to arrive on the scene, at the end of a very long afternoon for him which included his own trip into the tyre barrier. "It was a war zone out there today," he said. "I had a piece of carbon fibre fly up and hit my helmet which took a big gash out of it and we broke two front wings," he signed, happy to be done with Baltimore and more than ready to be back to an oval track in a fortnight.
That left a two lap shootout to the chequered flag: Hunter-Reay was in no mood to lose this race now, and he controlled proceedings with a grim determination until the chequered flag had come out. He'd done what he'd set out to do: the race win was his.
"It's massive," said Hunter-Reay. "I'm just trying to catch my breathe. Those restarts were crazy, crazy, crazy."
He'd done all he could do, and now all that remained was to see where Power finished to know whether it had been enough to make sufficient in-roads into the Australian's lead in the points standings.
With the aid of that final pile-up caution, Ryan Briscoe had made his fuel last to the chequered flag although he'd promptly run dry almost immediately afterwards. That had given him second place ahead of Simon Pagenaud in third, while Scott Dixon had to make do with fourth place. Still no sign of the championship leader.
In fact it had been a rough final couple of laps for Power: he'd found himself barged aside at the hairpin by none other than Rubens Barrichello, which also allowed Oriol Servia to get past. Power was able to get back past Servia but Barrichello was already too far ahead - and probably permanently crossed off Power's Christmas card list for that overtaking move. Barrichello duly picked up fifth place, and Power finally came home in sixth.
In terms of points, that meant Power was on 453pts to Hunter-Reay's 436pts: just 17pts between them going into the final round at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on September 15. But perhaps most significantly, that's an oval race: while Power has three wins this season they've all been on road courses. Ovals are not Power's forte, whereas three of Hunter-Reay's four wins have been on ovals. That means that despite the apparent points difference between the two, the odds are very much even going into that final race of the year.
"It never comes easy," said Power of his championship prospects. "We just have to do our best and fight like a dog till the end. We'll come out swinging."
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