LEEDS, Ala. — Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed the Verizon P1 Award thanks to a “Red Storm” and two incidents of blocking on the race track left several drivers “Seeing Red” Saturday morning at Barber Motorsports Park.
Hunter-Reay won the IZOD IndyCar Series Pole in Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama when he put on the Firestone “Reds” for the first time late in the session.
The “Reds” are a softer compound tire that is built for speed and by saving a set for the end of qualifications the Andretti Autosport driver was able to knock Team Penske’s Will Power off the pole with just nine seconds left in the session.
Hunter-Reay’s lap of 1:07.0871 (123.422 miles per hour around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile natural terrain road course broke Power’s track record of 1:09.8529 (118.535 mph) set last year.
By saving the Reds until the very end Hunter-Reay’s Red Storm blew away the field.
“It was great,” Hunter-Reay said afterwards. “As a racing driver, you love two things — grip and horsepower. We had both of those two things, combined with a track that’s been newly resurfaced or grinded or whatever you want to call it. It certainly helped. It’s great to break records.
“It was fun putting those Reds on, those Firestone Reds that first time, feeling how much overall grip there was. There was so much in the car. It’s tough sometimes for you to even keep up with it because you’re used to the grip from the standard Blacks. Once you get into the Reds, you have to push yourself further into corners and ask more from the car which you have the entire weekend, which is tricky.”
While Hunter-Reay’s “Red Storm” was fierce so were several incidents of blocking. James Hinchcliffe, who won the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, claims that Power held him up twice in the first qualifying session when he was on target for his fast lap. Hinchcliffe claims that Power intentionally got off the accelerator twice even though the Team Penske driver had a clear track in front of him.
“On my second flyer I caught some guy (Power) that had already backed off; got on the gas and backed off again,” Hinchcliffe said. “That caught me out and killed my second lap. That would have easily got us into Q2. It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to show our hand today. It seems like that guy was playing games. Now, we’re going to have to be aggressive. Having an extra set of Reds in the race will help but it will be a matter of making smart decisions.
“I guess he did it because we are the points leader and we were quicker in the test. I’ll talk to him about it later today. It seems like foolish games to play and stuff like that will come back to you.”
Power went on to qualify second at 1:07.3304 (122.976 mph) and claims he was no intentionally trying to hold up Hinchcliffe.
“I don’t think I blocked him actually,” Power said. “E.J. Viso checked me up. Those guys checked up in front of me. Yeah, don’t know what he’s talking about. Blocking? I have to take a look at the video.
“It’s just whining because he didn’t get through, I think.”
IndyCar Race Director Beaux Barfield did not see any fault with Power’s move. The same could not be said for an incident involving Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson.
Sato was disqualified from the “Fast Six” when Barfield ruled that he had blocked Wilson in the third qualification session. Sato and A.J. Foyt Racing team partner Larry Foyt were irate with the call which allowed rookie Tristan Vautier to take Sato’s place in the decisive Fast Six session.