DETROIT – It began with the pace car crashing on the parade lap and ended with Ryan Hunter-Reay taking a dip in the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle after winning Sunday’s second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
It all added up to a peculiar and entertaining second race of the Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
Hunter-Reay was relentless as he attempted to end a winless streak in the Verizon IndyCar Series that dated all the way back to Pocono in 2015. He accomplished that with a come from behind victory.
In order to do that, he was going to have to catch, and pass, his Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, who started on the pole and led 46 laps in the 70-lap contest.
Hunter-Reay’s engineer, Ray Gosselin, went with a three pit stop strategy early in the race that allowed Hunter-Reay to have a clear track and run qualifying laps during the race. Rossi also went with a three-stop strategy and was in the lead late, but had a car that was starting to drop off in speed toward the end of the race.
Hunter-Reay reeled in Rossi, putting the pressure him and causing Rossi to lock up his brakes in the turns. Finally, with six laps remaining, Rossi locked up his brakes going into turn three, sending him sliding down the escape road. The lock-up left Rossi with a flat left-front tire and gifted the lead to Hunter-Reay.
From there, Hunter-Reay’s Honda cruised to an easy 11.3549-second win over Team Penske driver Will Power, the winner of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 last Sunday.
“When we started that last stint, Rossi was more than a straightaway ahead of us,” Hunter-Reay recalled. “I couldn’t even see him. I just put my head down and this thing was flying. It was such a great car.
“I’m so happy for this No. 28 DHL Honda team. I wish my wife and the boys were here with me because they’re the best, and this has been a bit of a long time coming. That was going to be a heck of a fight at the end, but good thing we pressured him (Rossi) into it and we’re here in victory lane. It’s awesome – this car deserves to be where it is right now. That was a heck of a car, heck of a strategy, great in the pit lane and I drove my rear end off.”
It was Hunter-Reay’s first win of the season and the 17th win of his IndyCar career. His last win came at Pocono in 2015, 43 starts ago.
It was the 59th Indy car win for Andretti Autosport and its third win at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The team also won here with Tony Kanaan in 2007 and Carlos Munoz in 2015.
Rossi went from looking like a sure winner to a disappointing 12th place finish. He also lost the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead.
“It was a pretty disappointing day considering we led the most laps and started on pole,” Rossi said. “For sure we didn’t have the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay) – he was just on another level. So, hats off to him and the DHL team, they certainly deserved to win.
“But the Ruoff Home Mortgage car definitely had a second-place finish in it. Unfortunately, with less than 10 laps to go, our luck changed. We’re not really sure what happened, we’re going to investigate to see if something went wrong because it was a very abnormal issue to have when we hadn’t experienced anything remotely similar all weekend.”
The race got off to a highly unusual start when Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain at General Motors and the overall head of all motorsports activities, crashed the $100,000 Corvette Grand Sport Pace Car exiting the pits and slamming hard into the wall. An IndyCar official was in the passenger seat and the airbag inflated.
Chevrolet issued a statement that said: “We are thankful that there were no serious injuries. Both the pace car driver and the series official were taken to the infield care center, where they were checked, cleared and released.
“It is unfortunate that this incident happened. Many factors contributed, including weather and track conditions. The car’s safety systems performed as expected.”