Power Makes His Move Just In Time To Steal The Show In Brazilian IndyCar Opener
SãO PAULO, Brazil — Time ran out on Ryan Hunter-Reay as Will Power muscled his Team Penske car past IZOD’s “Poster Boy” with a little more than three minutes to go to win Sunday’s São Paulo Indy 300 — the season-opening race for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
In a race that ended with a time limit because of a rain shower, Hunter-Reay took the green flag on lap 57 in what was scheduled to be a 75-lap race. But at the time the race was restarted, there were only six minutes left.
Hunter-Reay hit the throttle and drove away from Power, Raphael Matos and Vitor Meira only to be tracked down near the end.
Power led the final four laps to score his second-career IndyCar Series victory, defeating Hunter-Reay by 1.851 seconds.
“It was probably the most mixed up race that I have ever been in, but it created an opportunity for me to come back through the field and end up winning the race,” Power said. “The improvements that they did to the track last night were like night and day. Not a problem at all going down the frontstraight. I think it is just a really good day for racing. If you were fast you could pass because there is such a good track layout here. I’m pretty sure it was an exciting race for the fans.”
Brazil’s Meira, driving in his first race since breaking two vertebra in a crash in last year’s Indianapolis 500, was third for team owner A.J. Foyt. Ironically, he finished one position ahead of the driver that caused that crash, fellow Brazilian Raphael Matos.
“It couldn’t be much better than that,” Meira said. “I think Will (Power) can relate to it with a back injury and all that. It gets pretty uncertain at some times and having a team behind you making sure that the seat is available, makes a big difference during the recovery. This is the start of the big thank you I have to give to A.J. (Foyt) and ABC Supply. I hope we get better. We overcame a lot here.”
Dan Wheldon of England rounded out the top five.
It was a marathon day for the 24 competitors who participated in the three-round knockout qualifying format — known as the Firestone Fast Six — Sunday morning. Dario Franchitti won the pole with a fast lap of 104.058 miles per hour, just a tick faster than Alex Tagliani’s 104.020 mph.
A few hours after qualifications, and with a packed crowd announced at 46,000 Brazilian race fans, the green flag waved.
It didn’t wave for long as a crash that started near the front involved Power, Justin Wilson and Ryan Briscoe. That triggered a chain reaction that saw Helio Castroneves spin along with Scott Dixon.
But the real mayhem involved São Paulo’s Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti with Moraes’s car going airborne and landing on top of Andretti’s car. These two drivers were also involved in a first-lap crash in last year’s Indianapolis 500 that led to some negative comments between the two.
When Andretti was asked what went through his mind when he saw a car in the air, he simply said, “Moraes.”
When racing resumed, Franchitti set the pace chased by Tagliani.
Milka Duno spun off course by herself on lap 22 and the yellow flag waved for the second time in the race.
Rookie driver Simona de Silvestro did not pit during the second caution and led lap 24 in her first IndyCar Series race.
The green flag waved on lap 27 with de Silvestro in the lead, but hounded by Franchitti, Hunter-Reay and Kanaan.
Hunter-Reay charged past both Franchitti and de Silvestro to take the lead with a late-braking effort in turn five.
That was just one lap before Brazilian favorite Kanaan was hit by Tagliani, who had been hit from behind by Wheldon. Kanaan’s car was knocked off course and his stalled car sat helpless in the runoff area. There was not a full-course caution and racing continued with Hunter-Reay leading Franchitti and de Silvestro.
That was before a torrential downpour hit the track, which sent cars sliding out of control only this time for rain, not for the slick track surface that had to be ground overnight to add more grip. One of the cars that drove off course when heavy rain hit was Danica Patrick, who dropped to 16th.
After running several laps under the yellow, the red flag was displayed on lap 35 to stop the race.
Hunter-Reay was the leader followed by Power, Franchitti and Dixon, who had made it back to fourth-place after he was involved in a first-lap crash. Mike Conway of England was fifth at the time the race was stopped.
The storm quickly moved through and the sun returned, which allowed the race to continue after a 35-minute red flag on lap 38. Franchitti was leading in front of Dixon, Conway, Wilson and E.J. Viso.
Franchitti pitted on lap 42, which put Hunter-Reay in front with second-year driver Matos in second.
That’s when the racing got fierce. Briscoe passed Hunter-Reay for the lead on lap 50, but Hunter-Reay went to the left-side of Briscoe’s car, hopped the curb and retook the lead. IndyCar officials ruled that he had taken a short cut to improve his position and had to give it back to Briscoe.
That left Hunter-Reay sandwiched between Penske drivers Briscoe and Power.
But on lap 53, Briscoe stuffed it in the tire barrier in turn four while leading the race, causing another full-course caution with only nine minutes left in the race.
That put Hunter-Reay in the lead with the clock winding down.
That was before “Will put the Power down” to take the lead with three minutes and 20 seconds left until the checkered flag.