Happy, Sad, Mad And Glad
Emotions from all points on the spectrum were on display following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday.
The 90-lap race had more twists and turns than Barber Motorsports Park as IZOD IndyCar Series teams tried radically different pit stop strategies, waiting for a full-course caution that never came.
In the end, the fastest car and driver won as defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay broke Team Penske’s three-year winning streak at Barber by claiming the laurels for Andretti Autosport.
It’s safe to say that Hunter-Reay was among the happiest people among the 57,963 folks present at the scenic Alabama road course. But happy and sad don’t sum up the post-race mood, so this week, we’re adding “mad” and “glad” to the mix.
Here’s who was feeling what:
HAPPY: RYAN HUNTER-REAY – All winter long, 2012 IndyCar Series champion Hunter-Reay reminded Andretti Autosport that the team’s weak point last year was natural terrain road courses like Barber, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. Mission accomplished, because RHR claimed pole position and overcame a mid-race scare to take his 10th career IndyCar race win. Halfway through the race, Hunter-Reay found himself bottled up behind Team Penske’s Will Power, and things got worse when Hunter-Reay lost a position to Power’s teammate Helio Castroneves. But once the pit stop sequence and tire strategies sorted themselves out, Hunter-Reay had a set of new, red-sidewall Firestone alternate tires for the final stint while Castroneves was on the standard black tires. Hunter-Reay made a clean pass on the Brazilian in Turn 5, then held off Scott Dixon in the closing laps for one of his most satisfying wins.
SAD: DARIO FRANCHITTI – Once again, four-time IndyCar Series champion Franchitti leads this week’s list of sad drivers. Still reeling from a crash and subsequent 25th-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry suffered a broken header that produced electrical and clutch issues, and Franchitti stumbled to another P25. Despite qualifying 17th at Barber – a track where he has always had difficulty – Franchitti said he was encouraged by his race pace. But he’s got a lot of ground to make up if he’s going to be in the running for a fifth series crown.
MAD: JAMES HINCHCLIFFE – St. Petersburg winner Hinchcliffe had a torrid Barber weekend, qualifying 20th and falling victim to a second-lap accident that left the Canadian parked trackside for the remainder of the 90-lap contest. During a full-course caution immediately after the incident, the Holmatro Safety Team tried to tow-start Hinchcliffe, but his Andretti Autosport car shed a broken wheel. Officials planned to take additional measures to get Hinchcliffe back to the pits for repairs so he could rejoin the race, but the race went green the rest of the way. The DNF dropped the Mayor of Hinchtown to fifth in the standings.
GLAD: WILL POWER – Tipped as the strong favorite to win at Barber, Power looked in good shape after qualifying second. But the Australian lagged at the start, causing problems for the outside row of cars as he dropped to eighth place at the end of the first lap. Strategist Tim Cindric immediately switched Power to a two-stop strategy for the 90-lap race, and Power just made it to the finish, running dry a couple hundred yards after taking the checkered flag. After his misfortune at St. Petersburg, where JR Hildebrand’s mistake cost Power a likely podium finish, Power was relieved to notch a top five in Alabama to get his championship campaign back on track.
HAPPY: MICHAEL ANDRETTI – It’s official: The IZOD IndyCar Series is no longer just a Penske vs. Ganassi show. Andretti Autosport is two-for-two to start the season, and team owner Michael Andretti doubled his pleasure at Barber as he watched Carlos Munoz score a victory in the Firestone Indy Lights support race. Hunter-Reay has cemented his status as one of the series’ elite drivers, and Andretti Autosport as a whole looks set to regain the form that delivered series championships in 2004, ’05 and ’07.
SAD: SCOTT DIXON – It’s hard to feel sad for a guy who finished second in a close-fought race and ranks second in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings, but Scott Dixon garnered the sympathy vote at Barber. Dixon has finished second every year the IndyCar Series has raced at Barber, tying a record with four consecutive runner-up results at the same track. Dixon is fifth on the all-time list with 30 second-place finishes in Indy car competition, but there were no sour grapes from even-keeled New Zealander Dixon on Sunday.
MAD: TAKUMA SATO – Once again, Japanese ace Sato was very quick in qualifying, earning a place in the Firestone Fast Six for the second race in succession for A.J. Foyt Racing. But it was determined Sato blocked Justin Wilson during the second qualifying segment, so he was excluded from the Fast Six and placed 12th on the grid. Sato could only watch and wish as rookie Tristan Vautier, the driver who replaced him in the Fast Six, ran second in the first stint of the race before fading to 10th place at the finish. Mired in the midfield all day, Sato wound up matching his car number with 14th place.
GLAD: CHARLIE KIMBALL – American driver Kimball had his second-best IZOD IndyCar Series finish at Barber with fourth place. Kimball was strong all weekend, making the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in his IndyCar career and never putting a wheel wrong in the race. But Kimball’s “glad” had Ganassi Racing teammate Dixon slightly mad, because Dixon struggled to get by the Novo Nordisk car in the middle stages of the race when he was on red tires and Kimball was on black tires. Dixon made up a 12-second deficit in the final stint and lost out to Hunter-Reay at the line by less than a second. Still, even Chip Ganassi was glad to see two of his cars in the top four.