IndyCar » 16 September 2012
Hunter-Reay survives thriller to win title
The car was wrecked; the driver, fortunately, completely unharmed. But now Will Power's championship hopes were completely out of his own hands - although by no means gone. Thanks to his 17pt lead in the championship standings he'd held coming into the event, Power still had the lead in the championship despite being out of the race. Hunter-Reay had to finish, and moreover finish in sixth place or better to claim enough the points to overhaul Power and clinch the title. Anything could happen yet: Hunter-Reay had already come within inches of being wiped out by the wrecking Penske car right then and there on lap 56.
"I don't know how close it was," said Hunter-Reay after the race finished. "He was right next to me and I saw him lose it, so I bet it was pretty close. He was joking around that he would take me out if I was next to him - and he almost did!"
The shadows were beginning to stretch over the circuit with the sun dipping further and further below the level of the grandstands, as the green flag came out again on lap 66 for a single file restart that soon scattered multi-wide across the circuit. Carpenter had the jump on Hildebrand, while Rubens Barrichello was up to third place alongside fellow F1 refugee Takuma Sato. Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon rounded out the top six, while Hunter-Reay was struggling to cling on to a top ten spot.
Hildebrand's excellent run at the front came to an end minutes later on lap 74 when the #4 car abruptly slowed on the backstretch with suspension damage, having pushed the high-line just that little bit too far in his battle for the lead with Carpenter.
"I was running high and had to pedal it while Ed stayed flat and drove straight through," said Hildebrand later. "I felt like I had the pace to get back by him, but just by the nature of the two lines we were running I was getting a lot of dirty air on the exit of the corners ... I could see that he was struggling a little bit, but I was the one that ended up getting caught out. Massively frustrating deal: I felt we had a car that was going to finish in the top five and I felt like we had a shot at winning this deal."
The Panther crew managed to effect repairs under the ensuing caution, which was lengthened when Katherine Legge inadvertently rear-ended Justin Wilson's car and caused the Dale Coyne Racing machine to expire on the spot.
"It's so frustrating to be taken out of the race like that," rued Wilson. "There was a big stack-up in front of me and I just got rammed from behind. Unfortunately that damaged the gearbox so that we couldn't get a gear and the clutch wouldn't work either, so that was the end of our race."
Carpenter resumed the lead at the restart ahead of Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti, but significantly Ryan Hunter-Reay was now up in fourth place - just what he needed to clinch the title from Power. The Penske squad recognised the danger and leapt into action, with Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves sent flying in to pass both of the Andretti Autosport cars and force Hunter-Reay back down to sixth place. But the Penske team needed more.
Back in the Penske garage, it was all hands on deck as the pit crew worked feverishly to bolt an entire new back end onto the crumpled #12 car and get Power back out again, in the hope of making up a couple of spots in the final results that could yet prove crucial in the title battle. A bemused Power reappeared in his street clothes and was hustled away to get back into his fire suit: this was by no means over yet.
In the meantime, there was another caution came out on lap 108 for Rubens Barrichello's engine blowing up putting an end to a fine run that he's clearly been enjoying: "I had a good car at the beginning and it was all going really well, but unfortunately it ended literally in fumes," Barrichello said. "I enjoyed being back on ovals and at Fontana. I need to thank my crew for their hard work this year and look forward to next year."
Tagged as: Penske , Jr Hildebrand , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Dario Franchitti , championship , Ed Carpenter , Scott Dixon , Will Power , Takuma Sato , Fontana , Andretti , tony kanaan
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