Will Power knew today was his opportunity to close out the 2012 IndyCar Drivers Championship, however a poor strategy move combined with rival Ryan Hunter-Reay making the right call saw the Andretti Autosports driver take the win at Baltimore and take the title fight to the final race of the year.
Inclement weather was showing on the local radar at race start time, and the question on everybody’s lips was when, not if, the rain would arrive and throw a spanner in the works.
Upon the drop of the green flag, pole-sitter Will Power took off like a bat out of hell and opened up a decent lead early on, before the first caution – caused by Ed Carpenter jumping over the temporary chicane installed on the back stretch and smacking the wall – closed the field back up.
At that point, the heavens began to open, with droplets visible on both the camera lenses and on the circuit, with the $64,000 question being, will the rain last or won’t it? Do I need wet tyres, or not?
Power and the majority of the field erred on the side of caution, pitting for the high-tread rubber, while Hunter-Reay and a few others took the gamble that the rain would stop soon.
At the restart, there was definitely spray coming off the back tyres and it appeared Power’s gamble had been the right one. The pace around corners had slowed, and over the course of the next 15 to 20 laps, cautions bred cautions as one car after another got into difficulty on the circuit, forcing a prolonged visit by the safety car. Hunter-Reay made his scheduled stop, and interestingly, put new slick tyres back on, which proved to be the turning point as the rain had indeed stopped.
No fewer than ten drivers were caught up in on-track collisions, skirmishes and off-track excursions. From Mike Conway, Hélio Castroneves, Justin Wilson, Simona De Silvestro, Oriol Servià, Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais, Marco Andretti and more, it was proving to be a slippery affair. Through it all, Power soon realised his decision to switch to rain rubber was hasty and dove back into the pits for slicks. Hunter-Reay’s gamble had paid off, and he was now set for a much better result than his championship rival.
After a period of green flag running, Power was starting to make inroads back towards the front, passing cars wherever he could spot a gap. Hunter-Reay wasn’t leading, but was set to win with cars in front forced to pit.
A late caution caused by Charlie Kimball had Ryan Briscoe leading the field with Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud, himself running another outstanding race and often threatening to win, following close behind.
At the restart, Hunter-Reay took off as soon as he saw the green, catching Briscoe asleep at the switch and powering into the lead. It a controversial move which required several looks by the stewards, as team boss Roger Penske (for one) believed Hunter-Reay had to wait until the field passed a second set of traffic cones before he could pass. The stewards did indeed review the restart and ruled the move to be legal, much to The Captain’s chagrin.
On the final restart, Power knew he wasn’t going to win, but knew he had to finish as high as possible to minimise the damage done to his points lead. Getting passed by Rubens Barrichello and Oriol Servià was not part of the plan, and resulted in Power finishing in sixth.
But it was Hunter-Reay who played the tactical masterstroke, slashing Power’s lead to 17 points. Two weeks will now pass before the field gathers for the final time in 2012 at the California Speedway in Fontana for a 500-mile race to the championship.
And with Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves now eliminated from the title fight themselves, it’s going to be a thrilling ride for Power and Hunter-Reay as they both duke it out for their first IndyCar championships.
2012 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Baltimore Final Classification (75 laps):