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.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.