With Marco Andretti on the pole and teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe alongside him on the front row, the stage was seemingly set for Andretti Autosport to continue its strong 2013 campaign.
Instead, the Pocono IndyCar 400 saw the defending IZOD IndyCar Series champions go through a rough afternoon on the “Tricky Triangle” while fellow “Big Three” team Chip Ganassi Racing took over the podium.
The problems started from the get-go when Hinchcliffe lost control of his No. 27 GoDaddy machine and slammed into the Turn 1 wall just moments after the green flag. The Canadian driver, who will surely be the favorite of the crowd next weekend in his hometown of Toronto, has won three times this season (St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo, Iowa) but with his crash at Pocono, he now has three DNFs as well (Barber, Long Beach).
Ryan Hunter-Reay then suffered a bizarre accident as he was hit from behind by Takuma Sato while entering pit road on Lap 61. The Japanese driver was trying to slow down as he made his way to the pits but locked up his tires and instead hit the back of Hunter-Reay’s No. 1 car.
“I couldn’t believe it,” an exasperated Hunter-Reay said after the race to ESPN. “I couldn’t expect that it would be Sato coming so far back. We had a great car to start with but we had just a little too much understeer so we were going to keep adding front wing as we went.
“I think we had a great car to challenge for the win and was really looking forward to the rest of the race, and then we’re just coming to pit lane minding our own business and we get creamed from behind. [Sato] was nowhere near slowing the car down – just unplugged his brain entirely and he’s playing a role in the championship again.”
Indeed, Hunter-Reay, who returned to the track later on and finished 20th, lost ground to leader Helio Castroneves in the standings and now sits 23 points behind the Brazilian as the series heads north to Canada.
But perhaps most heartbreaking for the Andretti camp was the late-race fade of Marco Andretti, who led the most laps on Sunday but finished 10th after being victimized by poor fuel mileage.
When asked by ESPN whether there was any point in the race where he didn’t feel like he had the car to beat, a dejected Andretti replied in the negative.
“I was just having to sit there and watch the lead go away from me,” the third-generation driver said. “It was ripping my guts out.”
E.J. Viso, who crashed during qualifying on Saturday, was never a factor on Sunday, finishing 21st after being forced out of the race momentarily due to mechanical problems on his No. 5 CITGO-backed car.