8 April 2013
Hunter-Reay overpowers Penske to win in Alabama
"We had a good start and I thought I was pacing myself well, we could have had a top ten day without the couple breaks against us," he said. "It was a good day with a bad stall and unfortunately after that point we were saving fuel so it made it tough to make up ground.
"There are a lot of positives to take out of it," he added. "I know that I can compete with these guys and look forward to getting even better at Long Beach."
Castroneves and Hunter-Reay came in together next time by, and there were further problems in the Penske pit this time with the team struggling to engage the fuel nozzle. That wiped out Helio's lead and he barely made it back out on track ahead of Hunter-Reay. But ahead - and in the lead - he nonetheless still was, and initially he was helped further by having Justin Wilson between him and the Andretti Autosport car.
That didn't last long as Wilson himself pitted two laps later, and Hunter-Reay engaged turbo-thrusters to scythe through the gap and he was soon all over the back of the Penske #3, which was now labouring on a set of the harder tyres for its final stint: the disparity in pace between Castroneves and his soft-shod pursuer was such that the pass for the lead when it came through turns 5 and 6 on lap 76 was no surprise and the outcome a formality.
Nor did Castroneves have any time to consider a counter-attack, as he was under pressure from Scott Dixon who had himself charged through the field on soft red-walled tyres in the last few laps to put the Ganassi into third spot ahead of his junior team mate Kimball and a now-waning Power. Helio had no chance against this, his prime tyres now shot after the effort of trying to hold onto the lead, and he was made to surrender second place to the Kiwi next time through.
The only question remaining was whether Dixon had enough left in the #9 to make a play for the race win: he charged hard and closed down the gap between himself and Hunter-Reay to under a second, but in the end he ran out of time to push it further - and Hunter-Reay always looked in confident control of the situation to make it back-to-back wins for Andretti Autosport team in the first two outings of the 2013 season.
"It really was a perfect weekend," smiled team president Michael Andretti of his squad's season so far. " We got the pole in both races and the win both races and led most of the laps, you can't ask for much more than that.
"I'm really happy and proud of the whole DHL crew. They did a great job all weekend, and the whole Andretti team and it was really good," he added. "We knew we had to get it done because we had the reds and Helio had the blacks, and that's how Helio was able to get us, so we had to try to return the favour."
Dixon meanwhile was left to rue the positions he lost in that messy start, without which the victory might have been his.
"Today was a day of catch up, a big fumble at the start with Will and it backed the whole line up and we dropped to like sixth or seventh," he agreed. But later, things couldn't have been better in the latter stages of the race: "It was just one of those days where the car was really fast. I think we had the speed to win the race quite happily but we were just playing catch up all day."
The third man on the podium, Helio Castroneves, was relieved that Penske's emergency back-up plan had worked as well as it had done after the problems for the team at the start of the race.
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