Sunday, August 14, 2011
Ryan Hunter-Reay wins IndyCar race
LOUDON, N.H. -- Ryan Hunter-Reay heard the urgent call on his radio.
"They're wrecking behind you!" his pit crew warned him as a light rain fell. "They're wrecking behind you."
That collision with just 10 laps to go made a mess of the finish of the first IndyCar race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 1998 -- and made a winner of Hunter-Reay.
The crash occurred seconds after a decision to resume the race on a wet track that angered drivers. Will Power even flashed an obscene gesture at race officials after being involved in the wreck. That brought out the caution flag and, a short time later, the race was declared over 10 miles short of its scheduled 225-mile distance on the mile oval.
Oreovicz: IndyCar madness at Loudon
For the record, Ryan Hunter-Reay won Sunday's Izod IndyCar race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But that's not what we'll remember. No, not even close, writes John Oreovicz. Story
Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's vice president of competition, said he made the wrong decision.
"It was no condition to race in. Shame on him," Power said. "We worked so hard for that all day. I'm ashamed of myself for losing it. I have to say I was as angry as I've ever been when I got out of the car."
Barnhart said he hadn't considered whether to penalize Power.
The trouble began when Danica Patrick spun sideways, causing a chain reaction that involved Power and Takuma Sato, who had been involved in a collision midway through the race that knocked out series points leader Dario Franchitti.
"That was definitely my mistake," said Patrick, who felt the final restart was wrong. "I got on the throttle and (the car) came around. I take full responsibility for that one and the mess that it created. ... I'm one to finish races and be smart and get through it all, but it was pretty slippery out there."
Michael Andretti -- owner of Andretti Autosports, which has Hunter-Reay and Patrick -- was livid.
"This is the worst officiating I've ever seen," he said.
Others felt the same.
"It was really wet out there and we shouldn't have gone out," said runner-up Oriol Servia.
Barnhart said he received input from his group of spotters and officials but said it was a difficult decision because the rain was very light. But he knew immediately after making it that it was the wrong one.
"As soon as you had the guys stand on the gas out there, you saw right away it was the wrong decision," he said. "At that point in time, you're just kind of sick to your stomach and realize it was an error on race control's standpoint and, clearly, my fault."
At least one person tried to view the finish in a positive way, even the shot captured by a television camera of Power raising two middle fingers toward officials.
"I'd like to put it on our ticket brochure for next year," said track general manager Jerry Gappens, hoping to build interest in the event.
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates his win during the IndyCar race in Loudon, N.H. Hunter-Reay was awarded the win after the race was called early due to rain.
This year's race was part of a one-year contract. IndyCar series CEO Randy Bernard said discussions would be held about whether to return next year.
Power's fifth-place finish moved him 47 points behind Franchitti, who started the day 63 points ahead, with five races left. But the crash deprived him of a chance to finish even better in the race.
Officials reverted to the race order that existed before the final restart, leaving Servia in second place and Scott Dixon in third.
But Servia said he should have won because he took the lead during the final restart. Dixon said he also passed Hunter-Reay and should have finished second.
"I just don't understand race control's thinking," Dixon said. "It isn't make things up as you go racing. It is IndyCar racing with rules."
But Barnhart said "it was the right thing" to revert to the order before the restart because he had made a bad decision that put drivers in jeopardy and caused costly damage to several cars.
After Franchitti's race ended early, Hunter-Reay took the lead and held it most of the way for his fifth win in 113 IndyCar races. He came in third in two of his three previous races and now has five consecutive top 10 finishes after managing just one in his other eight.
He wished his win "was in a little bit different way, but we'll absolutely take it after the year we've had," he said.
The start of the race was moved up by a half hour in hopes of avoiding rain predicted for late in the afternoon.
The crashes began on the very first lap when Mike Conway spun sideways coming out of Turn 2 and hit Graham Rahal. Both ended up on the grass and were out just seconds into the race.
Then, moments after the first restart, Helio Castroneves also spun coming out of Turn 2. He continued after repairs but never was a factor.
A light rain began falling on about the 70th lap and the yellow flag came out six laps later for moisture on the track. After 33 laps under the caution flag, the race restarted with Franchitti in the lead followed by Sato and Servia. Then Franchitti was knocked out
"It was my fault," Sato said. "I was too close to Dario and had debris in my eye. ... I'm sorry about that."
Soon after, another crash ended the day for Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter.
The last caution flag came out on the 206th lap because of more moisture on the track. At that point, the top three cars were driven by Hunter-Reay, Servia and Dixon.
Then came the final, ill-fated restart.
"It was a strange day," Hunter-Reay said, "but sometimes racing is strange."