Flat tire deflates Hunter-Reay’s hopes in Brazil

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Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to have a good chance of converting the Sao Paulo Indy 300 pole into his second win of the season. But the Andretti Autosport driver’s chances for victory in Brazil were done in around the middle stages of the vent by a flat tire on his No. 1 DHL/Sun Drop Chevrolet.

The American paced the first nine laps before Tony Kanaan took the lead from him in the Turn 11 hairpin. Hunter-Reay settled into second place until the first caution period, where he managed to win the race off pit road by beating Kanaan and Scott Dixon out of the pits. Lining up 10th for the subsequent restart, he quickly made his way back toward the front on the second stint and inherited the lead on Lap 34 during a green flag pit stop cycle.

Takuma Sato, however, managed to take the lead from Hunter-Reay on that very same lap before giving it back when he pitted under yellow at Lap 37. Hunter-Reay and Kanaan swapped the lead under green on Laps 44 and 45, but two laps later, the former was forced to come to pit road in order to get rid of his flat Firestone.

That cost Hunter-Reay key track position and after being forced to save fuel for the final stint of the race, he wound up 11th at the checkered flag — a result that he called “extremely disappointing.”

“[We] absolutely had the car to win,” he said. “Guys gave me a great, great car…the pit stops were awesome. [We] definitely needed to capitalize on this opportunity, but we got a flat tire about halfway through the race which pretty much sidelined us.

“We pit super early on the last stop, had to save fuel the remainder of the race. I was lifting halfway down the straightaway so…We were wounded and stayed that way.”

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “