Milwaukee flashback: Hunter-Reay is best at “IndyFest” in 2012

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After team owner Michael Andretti and his marketing group did everything they could to save racing at the historic Milwaukee Mile, one of his drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, came through with the first of what would be three consecutive victories that began his run to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship.

Hunter-Reay withstood two late restarts and pulled away to a five-second win over Tony Kanaan, while James Hinchcliffe finished third to put two Andretti Autosport drivers on the podium in last year’s Milwaukee IndyFest.

“We put enough pressure on ourselves to go win,” said Hunter-Reay. “Every race is very important. These points are very precious each and every race. It’s great to get a win here and be back where we belong.”

Nonetheless, the American driver may have caught a break by not having to deal with Scott Dixon in the closing laps. Dixon had been hit with an 10-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change, but still managed to charge from 21st starting position to as high as fourth. But his march to the front was stopped cold by a drive-through penalty for jumping a restart on Lap 103.

However, the call wasn’t made until the next restart, creating all sorts of confusion. It was later revealed by INDYCAR race director Beaux Barfield that a timing problem on Race Control’s replay machine had caused him and his team to review video of the wrong restart.

“I have been through issues before to play an incident all the way through to provide the full context, and that was an oversight on my part,” Barfield said. “It was a technical issue and certainly human error. It is painful, nonetheless.”

Dixon was forced to swallow an 11th-place finish after the penalty, robbing him of what had appeared to be a potential shot at a win in the second half of the race. Hinchcliffe, who started alongside Dixon during that particular restart, felt that perhaps Dixon shouldn’t have suffered the penalty.

“I saw it,” the Canadian said. “It was 100% a violation. What I don’t get is we threw the yellow, so he had to go back. He didn’t do it again when it went green, so he didn’t really gain anything…

“Was that a violation of the rule? 100 percent. Do I think the penalty was appropriate, given the circumstances?  Maybe not necessarily.”

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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