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It is entirely appropriate that ABC’s last ever IndyCar broadcast involved a pace car crash during the parade laps that they missed while away at commercial, utterly destroying a brand new Corvette and delaying the start by thirty seven minutes. It was less so that Honda absolutely schooled Chevy in their hometown yet again, sweeping both races rather easily and awarding AA’s Ryan Hunter-Reay the trophy Sunday. Despite a positive public face and Power’s podium, the Cap’n could not have been happy.
RHR earned the victory, for much of the race looked like a Rossi runaway, the 500 winner starting from pole after emerging from a drenched morning qualifications. Overcoming adversity after a podium finish Saturday, the victor spun into the tire barrier during quals Sunday morning and received a penalty for his trouble, losing his fastest two laps of the session. As a result Hunter-Reay started back in tenth position. He wouldn’t be deterred.
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The pre-race consisted of a replay of Hinch’s lap from yesterday and a very subdued command to start engines by Mark Reuss – a senior VP at GM – who then proceeded to crash the pace car on the parade lap, stopping the race before it’d even begun. IndyCar should demand that fellow be drug tested immediately.
Even before the “celebrity” pace car driver fiasco – which we predict you’ll never, ever see such amateurishness again – it was clear ABC was on their way out the door. They’ve never been good at filling time on air, even though it does occasionally rain in the Midwest in the summertime, and today was no different. An interview with The Cap’n swerved into some strange places, referencing the infamous Kevin “Coo-gan!” Cogan spin at Indy on the parade laps decades ago. The reporters posed questions like, “How hard is it . . . ?”
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It took too long, as usual, for the cleanup as debris from the crashed Corvette littered the racecourse. When the thing finally did start, it was wild but didn’t last long. Hard luck Hinch bobbled and went wide, dropping back along with Jones. Immediately Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot spun out and glanced the wall, coming to a stop. He brought out a first lap yellow, remarkably – especially after such an unbelievably bad start – the only caution of the entire race.
Another unfortunate soul of late, Sebastien Bourdais suffered a cut tire in the opening lap melee, forcing him into the pits. Jan Beekhuis quoted Pigot on his radio saying, “What an idiot!” strongly implying he was hit from behind by someone. Race control reviewed the incident, but no action was taken. A late replay showed Eddy’s boy spinning on his own, possibly due to a suspension problem. On the plowed field-rough streets of Belle Isle, it wouldn’t be the last such issue of the race.
ABC managed to actually show the restart on lap five and it was clean, with RHR already fiercely dogging those in front of him. Rossi’s lead continued to open up over second place while his red hot teammate got around Pags on the inside for tenth position. This happened while Goodyear droned on about manhole covers for easily the tenth time of the weekend and then confused turns 3 and 7. Frankly, we’re excited it’s the last time we’ll have to hear his whiny, effeminate voice calling IndyCar. Ever again.
Following green flag stops on lap 11, Rossi led Power, Dixon, Jones and Rahal. Then Bestwick confused the relative positions of both Dixon and Jones, who were dueling it out on track. To his credit, he did mention the upcoming Texas race on NBCSN next Saturday night – twice. It was undoubtedly contractual.
During another round of stops Dale Coyne’s rookie Santino Ferrucci spun out leaving pit lane, ruining a nose and narrowly being avoided by a quick reacting Gabby Chaves, who was at speed. In his first ever IndyCar races this weekend, Ferrucci finished ahead of his veteran teammate Bourdais – both days. No yellow was thrown for the spin however, as Coyne’s latest ride buyer kept it going and quickly rejoined the fray.
Once the stops had all taken place Hunter-Reay – on a different, three stop strategy – led Rossi, Pags, Power and Jones, all of whom aimed for two pit stops. In a strong case of foreshadowing, RHR was setting the fastest laps of the race by lap 32 as Goodyear continually and absurdly mispronounced “jostling” as “jost-isle-ing.” Prior to pitting, RHR was burning up the track and became the clear favorite, despite the fact that Rossi led a majority of race.
At this point hard charging Frenchman Bourdais’ left rear tow link broke, causing him to spin out of control across the track and – incredibly, like Ferrucci – hit nothing as he was able to continue and limp into the pits. It destroyed a solid run and prediction, but one out of two ain’t bad. The incident again failed to bring out a yellow with a trailing RHR, Rahal and Wickens all narrowly missing him. Meanwhile, Rossi was up 11 seconds over second place Power until, on old tires, he began to fade.
There was debris on the track that’d been there most of the day and banners hanging loose along walls, interfering with the racing line. It looked like, well, Detroit. The whole event wreaked of amateur hour, surprising for a Penske run event. Then the leader pitted for a final time, followed by the rest of the contenders. Although Rossi’s crew gave him a lightning fast 7.7 second stop, the distance he still had to travel would prove too great for the tires.
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RHR remained out, committed to his strategy. It paid off. Finally, he yielded the lead back to his teammate and fellow Indy 500 winner Rossi on lap 52, pitting for his final service. Following a phenomenal 6.3 second stop he came back out in second place behind Rossi and ahead of Power, top Chevy.
The stands appeared less full Sunday; perhaps the locals wised up after Saturday’s show. RHR speedily pulled to within four seconds of his teammate, then to under two seconds with ten laps remaining. Hunter-Reay was seriously hounding Rossi as his older tires went off and his car grew steadily looser. Feeling the heat, he then locked ’em up, smoking the tires – twice – before over-shooting turn 3 and going into the runoff area, his race ruined. One of the best scenes of the weekend showed Michael Andretti furiously pounding his fist on the pit stand in reaction to Rossi’s flub. Alex was equally gracious in his post race interview – see post race quotes below.
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RHR enjoyed a thirteen second lead when the white flag came out, winning easily. This after an impressive second place showing on Saturday. The American was back in victory circle – as we predicted prior to this season – for the first time since the tragic Pocono race in 2015. With a mere three minutes left in the broadcast window, ABC’s Bestwick promised an interview with the winner and, even though they ran over allotted time, to the network’s credit they delivered.
Post Race Quotes –
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I was really worried in the beginning, I was really loose. . . . Then the thing was flyin’. . . . Good thing we pressured him into it. . . . I drove my rear end off. . . . I was really strong outta turn 2, and he wasn’t.”
Rossi: [huffily] “I don’t have an answer for ya. I need to talk to these guys [his crew]. I don’t have anything to say.”