Hunter-Reay Takes Command

Ryan Hunter-Reay won his third-straight IZOD IndyCar Series race Sunday in Toronto. (Photo Courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series)
Ryan Hunter-Reay won his third-straight IZOD IndyCar Series race Sunday in Toronto. (Photo Courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series)

TORONTO – Ryan Hunter-Reay streak hit three race victories in a row by winning Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and that has launched him to the top of the IZOD IndyCar point standings after bad luck once again hit some of the top drivers in the series.

Scott Dixon, who entered the race third in points just five points behind Will Power, finished last in the 25-car field after his Honda engine conked out after just seven laps.

Pole winner Dario Franchitti entered the contest 69 points out of the lead but after a long pit stop because the fuel hose would not disconnect, it shuffled him back in the back and he would finish 17th.

Power’s Verizon Team Penske machine had contact with Josef Newgarden’s car on lap 57 causing his front tire to go flat and a broken front wing. Power’s fate had been decided earlier in the race when Team Penske President Tim Cindric made a questionable pit call by leaving Power on the track rather than bringing him into the pits.

By doing that when Power did make his pit stop it put him in the middle of the field where traffic would eventually seal his fate.

But Power was most upset that Graham Rahall’s crash in the first turn brought out a yellow flag in the middle of a pit stop sequence that IndyCar officials decided to close the pits even though half the field had already pitted.

Cindric and Power believed the pits should have remained open which would have allowed Power to make his stop and leap-frog back to the front.

All of that played into Hunter-Reay’s favor. Once the Andretti Autosport driver took the lead for the second time on Lap 57 after making his final pit stop he stayed in front until the checkered flag dropped in a race that ended under caution on lap 85.

Hunter-Reay moved from three points out of first to the lead by 34 points over Power. Helio Castroneves is third in points 46 behind Power and Dixon dropped from third in points five points out to fourth in the standings 54. Franchitti remains eighth and is now a whopping 105 points out of the lead.

That was set up by a wild chain of events that started when Newgarden crashed in turn three on lap 80. After two laps of caution, Hunter-Reay was in front on the restart on lap 83 but Charlie Kimball’s car made light contact with Sebastien Bourdais, sending the former four-time Champ Car Series champion into the wall in turn one. Rubens Barrichello also spun.

Another multi-car crash happened in turn three when Franchitti ran into Ryan Briscoe entering the corner. Also involved in that crash were Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Ed Carpenter as the yellow flag waved with just two laps remaining.

Hunter-Reay’s Dallara/Chevrolet finished ahead of Charlie Kimball’s Dallara/Honda to give American drivers a sweep of the top-two positions for the second race in a row. Hunter-Reay defeated teammate Andretti at Iowa on June 23.

The last American 1-2-3 was 2006 Indianapolis 500 with Sam Hornish, Jr. winning the race followed by Marco Andretti and Michael Andretti.

Hunter-Reay is the first American to lead the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the series title in 2006.

It was Hunter-Reay’s eighth career IndyCar win and his first in the Honda Indy Toronto.

“Certainly we’re on a streak, but I see it more that we’re reaching our capability in what we can do,” Hunter-Reay said. “I certainly hope there’s a lot more to come. We just need to have a real strong end to the season like we did last year. To win three races in a row is very special. It’s a dream of mine. This is what I’ve always wanted since I was little, to be competing in the IndyCar Series, top-level team, winning back-to-back races, and being in a place for the championship. This is incredibly special for me. I’m appreciative of every lap that I get in this series because I love it.

“With five races to go in the season we just need to really enjoy it. It’s nice to have realized that we’re in this position. And this is what I’ve always wanted, but now we have to take hold of it and go get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting ahead of myself. The whole thing could change next weekend and we could be struggling. Will Power said something before the season that he goes into every year feeling like he could possibly never win another race again. That’s how I felt after the last win. Man, we really have to dig deep here to get another one of these. It is difficult to wind it all up.”

The victory was Michael Andretti’s first as a team owner at Toronto. Andretti won here a record seven times as a driver.

“It’s always different as an owner and a driver,” Andretti said. “They’re both really special in their way. As a driver there’s more of that self-satisfaction. As an owner it’s a great feeling, too. It’s more the camaraderie of the people. I feel happy for everybody on the team that has worked so hard. But it’s great. I do hope there’s more than six, because hopefully I can be an owner a lot longer than I was a driver.

“What can I say, I love Toronto. I think everybody knows that. It’s been a great track to me as a driver. We struggled here a little bit from the owner’s standpoint. It was great to finally get to victory lane. Ryan did a fantastic drive. The team did great pit stops. The whole DHL team couldn’t ask for a better team for them.

Kimball’s second-place finish was the best of his career far surpassing his previous best finish of eighth, which he has achieved three times.

“Somebody asked a team owner what his best race win was? And he said, the next one,” Kimball said. “So today is important, yes. It’s good for my confidence. It’s good for the team’s confidence. I think we’re building both car and driver together, have the foundation built; now it’s time to get the results. But it’s all about moving forward and learning from here rather than relying on this to continue to keep my career moving.

“Second is good; a win is better.”

While Kimball’s runner-up finish counts a “Feel Good Story” don’t tell that to Bourdais, who blamed the young American driver on crashing him on the final restart.

“We end up position three on the restart; we get a good restart and try and pass Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and I passed (Charlie) Kimball and he just puts me in the wall,” Bourdais said. “It’s like he shouldn’t be standing on that podium he doesn’t deserve it.”

Kimball tried to defend his move.

“I think everybody was in a bit of a tight spot there because they didn’t sweep the track,” Kimball said. “We were all in the marbles coming through the last corner, at least those of us that tried to pair up and get offline, get next to the cars ahead of us. Sebastien got a good run and followed Ryan to the outside. I used the draft and the overtake button, caught up, went down the inside, and Mike (Conway) steamed up the inside of me. I didn’t think there was room without using the pit lane for Mike to get up inside of me. He made the move. When we got to the apex, he made contact with my side pod. Because I’d been forced to go through the marbles, I slid out, and Sebastien on the outside wasn’t even wheel-to-wheel. It was to the point where he was starting to fall back behind me. I thought he was backing out of the move to set up for turn three.

“I was reasonably surprised when he came around and he was still stopped there. I think that’s more a function of the restart and trying to do a two-wide restart after such a long green run without working on the marbles.”

Mike Conway drove A.J. Foyt’s Dallara/Honda to a third-place finish for his best in 2012. His previous best this season was seventh at Barber.

Tony Kanaan’s Dallara/Chevrolet was fourth and Oriol Servia’s Dallara Chevrolet rounded out the top five.

Pagenaud was in position for his best career IndyCar Series finish after leading the race one time for 23 laps. After the race, IndyCar Series officials penalized Pagenaud with a 30-second penalty for blocking Newgarden on lap 79.

Pagenaud finished 12th.

“You know, I am eager to watch the replay,” Pagenaud said. “I have no doubt on what I did. I think I respected the rule, which is to keep your line. I kept my line, but Newgarden went into a hole where there was no space. If I didn’t move back, he was never going to stop. I had to move back to make sure he wasn’t going to take me out. So, I don’t see why I got penalized. But again, I need to see the replay. Sometimes, from the inside of the car, it looks a little different. But from my standpoint, I really don’t understand the penalty.

“I don’t know whether to be happy or mad. The HP car was pretty awesome during the race. We led and controlled the race for a little while. The team did an awesome job. It just didn’t go our way on the strategy. We tried to go for the win with a little bit of strategy. It just about worked out. Unfortunately, we did not have enough fuel to go to the end, so we had to pit.”

And then there was hometown hero James Hinchcliffe, who had tremendous expectations entering this race that he could score his first IndyCar Series victory. But after having an engine change on Friday that resulted in a 10-grid spot penalty he started 19th.

His race didn’t get any better as an engine issue dropped him to 22nd in the 25-car field after just 28 laps. He remains fifth in points but is 67 points behind Hunter-Reay.

“We had a mechanical issue and started losing power in the engine and it’s too bad,” Hinchcliffe said. “We started off a bit on the back foot. It’s a heartache to go out early here because the whole weekend has been incredible – all the support from everybody here in Toronto. If I couldn’t win it I’m happy to see one of my teammates in victory lane. Congrats to Ryan Hunter-Reay on his third win in a row.”

There were three cautions for eight laps and five lead changes among five drivers.