He’s had engine failures, electrical shutdowns and crashes in the pit lane with teammates. But today in Detroit Ryan Hunter-Reay conquered all comers to finally win for the first time in almost three years.
In a wet qualifying, teammate and championship leader Alex Rossi took pole ahead of Rob Wickens. Indy 500 winner Will Power was third ahead of the Ganassi duo of Ed Jones and Scott Dixon. RHR himself was only 10th after spinning, but it could have been worse. Sebastien Bourdais was only 16th and reigning champ Josef Newgarden 19th after crashing.
Speaking of crashes, there was the ultimate embarrassment before the race had even started. On the way out of the pits for the two warm-up laps, the pace car, driven by the Executive Vice President of General Motors, crashed coming out of turn 2. After being assured the occupants were okay there was much hilarity as the cars were driven back to the pits.
Eventually, after being led around in the back up pace car piloted by actual racing driver Oriol Servia, the race began. Now dry, it was, like yesterday, a story of strategy as the top ten all started on the softer compound red-stripped tyres.
After five turns Spencer Pigot spun and stalled causing the first and only caution. On the restart Rossi pulled out a little gap and RHR was already on the move, passing 2016 champ Simon Pagenaud before stalking his teammate Zach Veach.
He was also the first to pit on lap 11 for blacks, clearly on a three-stopper. The only other top driver to try this was Wicky Bobby, stopping a lap later. The others – Rossi, Willy P, Jones, Dixie and Graham Rahal stayed out aiming to stop just twice.
Meantime, Seabass was flying after pitting with a puncture at the end of the first lap; he was up to 4th by lap 20. Shortly after and Dixie was in with Graham following a lap later. At that moment Seabass’ rookie teammate Santino Ferrucci tapped the wall in turn 2. Fortunately he kept the engine going and drove back to the pits and no yellow was thrown.
The other two-stoppers didn’t know that though and pitted anticipating a caution. Rossi, Power and Jones were all in and with the first stops completed Wicky Bobby was leading followed by RHR, Rossi, Tony Kanaan, Pagenaud, Willy P, Jones, Seabass, Dixie and Veach. Graham was back in 12th.
Lap 30 and Wicky Bobby was in. This was a surprise, especially when RHR went five laps longer before coming in. This meant that the American rejoined ahead of his Canadian counterpart after some fast laps.
On lap 38, just after being passed by Dixie for 4th, Seabass’ rear toe link broke at turn 1, causing him to spin. He got back to the pits and eventually finished 21st, his rotten luck continuing.
Twelve laps later and debris was on the track. Once again, anticipating a yellow, Rossi, Willy P, Dixie and Graham pitted. Two laps later Wicky Bobby was in again, the three-stopper having not quite worked out for him.
Things didn’t look amazing for RHR at that point either. He had the lead but not enough of a gap to Rossi behind. Sure enough when Captain America pitted on lap 52, Rossi resumed the lead. Behind him were RHR, Willy P, Jones now ahead of Dixie, Graham and Wicko.
Now the chase was on! No pit stops and hopefully no yellows. 15 laps remaining and seven seconds for RHR to make up. He began to carve chunks out of Rossi, being two seconds a lap faster on his newer tyres. With seven to go he was right on his gearbox ready to pounce on the slightest error, but Rossi was holding firm.
Then disaster! Rossi locked up going into turn 3 and went straight down the escape road, letting RHR through into the lead! Rossi found reverse but had a puncture on his left-front from the lock up. He dragged the machine he calls “Babygirl” back to the pits and rejoined with a fresh set of shoes way down in 13th place.
It was then cruising time as RHR took the chequered flag 11 seconds ahead of Willy P. Captain America had pulled it off! Behind them were Jones for his second podium of the year, Dixie, Graham, Wicky Bobby, TK, Charlie Kimball in a great result for Carlin, Marco and Pagenaud.
The win was the 17th of RHR’s career and his first since Pocono in 2015, ending a drought of 41 races.
He moves up to 4th in the championship, now just 31 points behind the lead. Willy P leads on 309 with Dixie second on 304 and Rossi dropping to third after his 12th place on 298. Close stuff! As previously stated RHR is fourth with JoNew dropping to fifth after a dismal 15th placed finish.
Wicky Bobby is sixth on 232 with Graham eleven points behind him. Then a bit of a gap to Marco on 197, Seabass on 194 and Pagenaud rounding out the ten on 188.
That’s it from the motor city, but not long before the next one! We’re at the crazy Texas oval next year, the scene of last year’s demolition derby and close finish the year before. What can we expect this year? It’d be foolhardy to guess with this championship. See you then!