The action was wet on track and wild off it, and when all was said and done on Sunday afternoon in New Hampshire, it was IZOD IndyCar Series chief steward Brian Barnhardt who was the unexpected centre of attention in a controversy-packed event.
Most race strategies were thrown out the window as a multitude of caution periods continually interrupted the race. The eventual winner was Ryan Hunter-Reay, winning his first race of the season, his first oval win since Milwaukee in 2004 and becoming the third out of four Andretti Autosports cars to visit victory lane in 2011. Our resident IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon takes a look at a crazy race…
The race came to a somewhat premature conclusion after 216 of the scheduled 225 laps when, despite furious protests from drivers and team owners, race control decided to restart the race following a caution period due to the circuit being too wet to resume racing. It became immediately clear this was the wrong decision, as Danica Patrick immediately spun as soon as trying to apply the throttle. This triggered a chain reaction behind her, as cars swerved to avoid her, with many others also spinning and colliding with others. The most animated of these was Will Power, who launched himself from his car and sprinted for Race Control, livid over the prospect of a poor decision threatening to cost him many championship points in an event where championship leader Dario Franchitti failed to finish for the first time since Kansas in 2009. Team owner Michael Andretti was equally bemused at the decision to restart and made his opinion known when interviewed.
Radio released from Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car heard the eventual winner imploring the race to either be stopped or remain under caution as he was “unable to get the power down at all”. Race control eventually aborted the final restart and declared the finishing order as it was immediately prior to the aborted restart.
With the threat of rain lingering all afternoon, the scheduled start of the race was brought forward by 30 minutes to try and ensure all, or as many laps as possible, were completed. As the pole-sitter, Dario Franchitti chose the outside line as the starting position and led away from the green flag.
Lap 1 saw the first caution period, as Mike Conway lost the back end at the beginning of the back straight, likely due to tyres that were not up to temperature. Spinning backwards towards the inside wall, it was another case of “wrong place, wrong time” for Graham Rahal, who was collected by Conway’s machine and ploughed into the inside barrier. At the restart on Lap 8, the same thing happened to Hélio Castroneves, however all other drivers managed to avoid him, and despite a brush with the wall, Helio was able to restart and after repairs, resumed running in last place, 12 laps down.
At the front, Dario Franchitti was strolling away from the pack and by Lap 52, had opened up a gap of 9.2 seconds to 2nd place. The first scheduled pit stops came on Lap 69.
At Lap 76, the yellow flag was out as the circuit was too wet, and therefore too dangerous to continue racing at full speed. While the pace car came out to contain the field, the jet-dryers were deployed to try and dry the circuit. This happened… slowly… and the race restarted on Lap 108.
At Lap 111, Marco Andretti was racing side by side with Tomas Scheckter and Tony Kanaan when Marco inadvertently squeezed Scheckter out of room on the outside, sending Scheckter into a spin in front of Kanaan at high speed. Both cars slid across the infield grass and upon impact with the tyre wall, flipped Kanaan’s car onto its roll-hoop, with Scheckter also making heavy contact with the tyres. Both were unharmed, while Marco Andretti returned to the pits and into retirement with heavy suspension damage.
The next restart had championship implications, as Takuma Sato, running strongly in second place, made contact with Dario Franchitti as the field took the restart, sending the championship leader into the inside wall and into retirement for the first time this year.
From here, the race ran under green for an extended period, with the lead swapping between Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Takuma Sato before each made a pit stop. At Lap 209, the circuit was deemed too wet to continue and the pace car was again deployed. After six laps under yellow, with Hunter-Reay back in the lead, from Oriol Servià, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Will Power, the ill-fated decision to resume racing for the remaining 10 laps was taken. As mentioned above, Danica Patrick, running in 6th place, spun at the restart, causing a multiple car accident which along with Power, also involved EJ Viso, Ana Beatriz and Ed Carpenter. From here, the decision was taken to red-flag the race and all cars that were still moving returned to the pit lane.
Twenty minutes later, the word came from Race Control that the race would be declared at that point, and Michael Andretti’s mood quickly turned from anger to joy, as Hunter-Reay was awarded the victory, with Servià and Dixon rounding out the podium.
Will Power was vindicated with a reinstatement of the running order prior to the drama that caused the red flag, eventually finishing 5th and cutting his deficit in the championship to Franchitti to 47 points.
So as the series cleans up from an action-packed event in the rain-prone northeast, the transporters are loaded and prepared for the cross-country trek to the much drier northern California region of Sonoma whereby cooler heads will have returned and the on-track action will be back.
2011 MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 Final Classification (215 laps):
|1.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||215||+ 9.0784|
|2.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||215||+ 0.2361|
|3.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||215||+ 1.4839|
|4.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||215||+ 2.1750|
|5.||Will Power||Team Penske||215||+ 2.8250|
|6.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||215||+ 3.6173|
|7.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||215||+ 4.1774|
|8.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||214||1 lap behind|
|9.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi||213||2 laps behind|
|10.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||212||3 laps behind|
|11.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher Racing||212||3 laps behind|
|12.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||212||3 laps behind|
|13.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||211||4 laps behind|
|14.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||210||5 laps behind|
|15.||Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest Racing||210||5 laps behind|
|16.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||209||6 laps behind|
|17.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||202||13 laps behind|
|DNF.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||176||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||137||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||118||Collision|
|DNF.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||118||Collision|
|DNF.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||109||Collision|
|DNF.||Tomas Scheckter||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||109||Collision|
|DNF.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||109||Collision|
|DNF.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi||0||Collision|
|DNS.||Pippa Mann||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||85||did not start|
* Race red-flagged before full race distance completed; classification determined based on timing at completed of 215th lap
[Images and video via Associated Press and IZOD IndyCar Series]