LEEDS, Ala. – As Ryan Hunter-Reay climbed out of his winning Dallara/Chevrolet in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Part late Sunday afternoon there was a big “Brazilian Doughnut” on the right side pod.
Hunter-Reay, the winner of Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, was unaware of the big, black wheel mark on his race car from contact with Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves in turn five on lap 48.
It was a reminder of just how close it could have been the “End of the Road” for the defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion at Andretti Autosport.
“Yeah, you’re right – that could have been the end of the road for me with a broken suspension,” said the defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion. “I’m sure we bent the tow a little bit on our car because it was lighter going to the left, the handling was. Yeah, glad we both got out of that one. That was a close call.
“Yeah, I had a ‘Brazilian Doughnut’ on the side of the car. We were just racing hard, got on the inside and I couldn’t slow the car down. I think Helio saw me coming. He was turning down, saw me coming but he probably figured I’d be turning for that left-hander, too. I couldn’t slow the car down. Luckily we made contact and both of us continued on, continued to race hard with no issues.”
Although the incident cost Hunter-Reay the lead and put Castroneves in front for the next 25 laps, Hunter-Reay’s decisive moment of the race came in the same turn five against the same driver – Castroneves.
After Hunter-Reay hounded Castroneves lap-after-lap he was finally able to make the race-winning pass in turn five on lap 75.
The Andretti Autosport driver led the rest of the way, defeating Target/Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by .636-second.
“He stayed really close,” Hunter-Reay said of Dixon. “There are not many guys that you don’t want in your mirror, but Scott is one of them you really don’t want in your mirror. He’s a veteran that doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s won championships, the Indy 500. He’s the best. You know he’s going to be flawless, so you have to hit every little mark you can just to make sure that you’re not making a mistake at that crucial moment. Had I made one mistake, he would have been by.
“It was pressure-packed.”
The victory was the 10th IndyCar win of Hunter-Reay’s career and the first since he won the Grand Prix of Baltimore last September. Hunter-Reay won the pole on Saturday to break the Team Penske streak of winning every pole for this race that began in 2010 and he also ended the Penske winning streak for the race. Castroneves won the inaugural in 2010 and Will Power won in 2011 and 2012.
Consider that Hunter-Reay’s previous best finish in this race was 12th in 2010 and 2012. On Sunday, Hunter-Reay’s racing game has improved to the point where he had a 12-second lead earlier in the race before his incident with Castroneves.
“It’s great to be in victory lane, showing that last year we were for real,” the winning driver said. “This was one of our weakest tracks. To be on pole and win, I hope it’s a sign of things to come.
“It’s amazing when I think about it how different the weekend could be. Let’s say I didn’t put that lap in qualifying in the end, you start second or third, the whole weekend is changed. It can hinge at any point. That’s the beauty of racing. That’s the things that the fans don’t get to see, is how precise the whole entire execution of the weekend is.”
It was also Hunter-Reay’s first victory carrying the Car No. 1 which traditionally represents the IndyCar National Champion.