Hunter-Reay outlasts teammate Rossi to win Race 2 in Detroit

Photo: IndyCar

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay put on a driving clinic in Sunday’s Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, using a three-stop strategy and a slew of fastest race laps to put himself in position to challenge teammate Alexander Rossi for the win.

Rossi, who used a two-stop strategy, was the dominant driver on the day and led a race-high 46 laps, but Hunter-Reay rapidly closed the gap in the final laps, bringing it down from over seven seconds after his final stop on Lap 53 to be all over Rossi’s gearbox with less than 10 laps to go.

Rossi then started suffering brake lockups in Turn 3, locking up on corner entry with eight laps remaining, and then again with seven laps left.

The second lockup, however, saw his day come completely unraveled, as Rossi was unable to make the corner and he went into the Turn 3 runoff.

It left Hunter-Reay to cruise to the win by over 11 seconds from Team Penske’s Will Power.

“Today the car was awesome. I mean, it was — we were at times lapping, I think, a second and a half faster than anybody on the track, and that car definitely ended the race where it should be, and that’s in Victory Lane,” Hunter-Reay described in the post-race press conference. “So really proud of the 28 DHL Honda team. These guys have worked really hard, but they gave me a great race car, the engineering side. I’m just really proud of what they’ve done.”

Power, on a two-stop strategy like Rossi, did not appear to have the pace to challenge for a win, but ran a very solid race to improve on Saturday’s seventh-place finish.

“I feel like this was about as good as we could get, give how fast Hunter-Reay was,” Power said afterward. “There was just no way anyone was going to beat him. We just seemed to struggle a little bit on full tanks and cold tires, but very happy with the result. You know, I feel like with what we had, that’s the most that we could have got out of that race, so very happy.”

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones rounded out the podium in third, his second podium of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, followed by teammate Scott Dixon

“We had the pace where we were. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough to get by Will again, but it was a great job by the team the whole weekend. Scott winning the race yesterday and then me on the podium today, we’re just aiming to bring the team forward and have some 1-2s eventually.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal rebounded from his Race 1 crash to finish fifth.

Of note: outside of Hunter-Reay, the rest of the top five used two-stop strategies in Race 2.

Robert Wickens, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top 10.

Rossi ended up 12th at the checkered flag. Also: Sebastien Bourdais, who ran inside the top five after suffering a cut tire on Lap 1, ended up 21st after spinning in Turn 1 on Lap 38. Bourdais reportedly suffered a damaged toe-link, which caused his spin, and relegated him to a 21st-place finish, three laps off the lead.

In comparison to Race 1, Race 2 was especially chaotic, and it started even before the race began. One of the strangest incidents in recent memory saw the pace car crash just after exiting the pits to start the warm-up laps, and the subsequent cleanup delayed the start by over 30 minutes.

The start of the race saw more carnage as Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot spun after contact with Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci.

The aforementioned Bourdais also suffered a cut tire in the melee, but a full-course caution limited the damage at the time, as Bourdais was able to pit under yellow.

Racing resumed on Lap 4, with Rossi leading from the pole, and pit stops began on Lap 11, with Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, and most notably Hunter-Reay among those who pitted early, going for a three-stop strategy.

It wasn’t until Lap 21 that the two-stoppers pitted, with Dixon the first to do so of that group. But, things took another twist on Lap 22, when the aforementioned Ferrucci spun exiting the pits and made wall contact, damaging the front wing.

Though Ferrucci got going relatively quickly, several teams thought a caution was imminent. The likes of Rossi, Power, Jones, Bourdais (who charged up to sixth by then), Hinchcliffe, and Josef Newgarden all pitted. For Rossi, Power, Jones, and Bourdais, the timing proved just fine for their strategy. But, Hinchcliffe and Newgarden were on a three-stop strategy, and needed a caution to come out in order to benefit from this extra stop.

No caution flew, and Newgarden and Hinchcliffe never got their track position back – they finished 15th and 16th.

Up front, Wickens and Hunter-Reay ran 1-2, having stopped early. Wickens pitted again on Lap 30, and Hunter-Reay stayed out until Lap 35, setting and resetting fastest laps in the process, and he emerged in sixth after the stop, behind Rossi, Power, Jones, Bourdais, and Dixon.

Hunter-Reay moved up to fifth after Bourdais’ spin, and he quickly closed in on Dixon and co. before they pitted on Lap 47.

Hunter-Reay again stayed out for several laps, and again set a blistering pace that saw him repeatedly reset the fastest race lap with a string of times in the 1:15 bracket, before he made his final stop on Lap 53.

Hunter-Reay emerged in second, behind Rossi, and he quickly closed the gap – it stood at over seven seconds when Hunter-Reay got back on track, and he was on Rossi’s gearbox with eight laps remaining.

Although Rossi’s mistake allowed Hunter-Reay to move into the lead, Hunter-Reay appeared to have the pace to pass Rossi on his own in the final laps.

Regardless, the victory, Hunter-Reay’s first since the 2015 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, completed a landmark drive for the former IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner.

And elated Hunter-Reay celebrated by jumping in the Belle Isle Park fountain, something he promised to do if won on Sunday.

“(On Saturday) when I had an interview for second, when I was second with the local news, they said, so if you win this thing tomorrow, are you going to jump in? I’m like ‘Yes, I’ll jump in’ I want to win that bad.”

Hunter-Reay also revealed that Sunday’s race ranks up there with the best drivers of his career.

“Definitely pace-wise I think so. Yeah, I think it was — to be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah. It’s got to be one of my top races. I mean, I’ll always put 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back every lap with Helio like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast and jumping in the fountain.

Results are below.


Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500