Heavy rain which passed over the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama forced a two-and-a-half-hour delay to the start of the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama yesterday, but once things got underway, Ryan Hunter-Reay took advantage of a rare Will Power off-track excursion to take the lead on Lap 16 and never look back to claim his second successive win at the circuit.
With all the storm clouds lingering over a select few drivers from Long Beach now dispersed, it was down to racing again, and from the start, the spray affecting every driver from Row 2 back was thick and blinding. After some of the standing water on the circuit was cleared, the field made it through the first few corners unscathed until the end of the lap, when Takuma Sato spun and stalled, bringing out the first full course caution.
Up front, Will Power was literally driving away from the rest of the field, pulling out a lead of around five seconds early. Perhaps the Aussie got too comfortable, as a seemingly routine brake for Turn 5 saw him run too hot into the corner and run wide on the outside of the hairpin, narrowly missing the tyre wall. While Power was able to rejoin fairly quickly, his time off the circuit was enough to see Ryan Hunter-Reay through into the lead.
A few laps later, a spin by Mikhail Aleshin in which he was tapped from behind by Sébastien Bourdais, exacerbated by the wet road, brought out the yellow flags a second time, with the majority of the field heading for service this time around.
A few minor yet noteworthy events from the first round of stops included James Hinchcliffe delayed by a recalcitrant fuel hose, while a little further up, Hélio Castroneves pulled into the wrong pit stall – that of Justin Wilson. Given Team Penske’s tradition of changing Castroneves’ livery scheme at every round to-daye, his confusion was warranted as the ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Enterprises crew were dressed in remarkably similar colour schemes to Hélio’s AAA colours – predominantly blue with red and white panels.
Thankfully for the Brazilian, his own crew was located in the box directly ahead and waiting so all the Brazilian had to do was accelerate and he was in the correct box in seconds. If Lewis Hamilton was watching, he’d be thankful his act of confusion from the Malaysian Grand Prix last year was capable of happening to others. Unfortunately for Hélio, he was issued with a drive-through penalty a few laps later for his pit stall error.
As the laps ticked down, Will Power found himself not only unable to catch Hunter-Reay up front, but having extreme difficulty holding off those immediately behind. Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud all managed to slip past, with Power eventually coming home in fifth place.
James Hinchcliffe, running strongly for a lot of the race, was another who had difficulty overtaking drivers who had managed to better wear in dry tyres on a rapidly drying track. He found the long, slow and winding corners the most difficult, with drivers he was attacking able to put the power down sooner and hold off Canadian’s attempts to pass into the next corner. The Canadian eventually finished seventh.
Every driver would have been guilty of some sort of spin or heart-in-mouth sideways moment at some point over the first half of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya came unstuck on the icy circuit later in the race, and Aleshin had another off-track excursion, the latter of which occurred so late in the time-limited race that Hunter-Reay claimed victory under yellows. The 2012 series champion led home team-mate Marco Andretti and Dixon to complete the podium just as daylight was fading for the afternoon.
2014 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Alabama – Race Result (69 laps*):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Result|
|1.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport Honda||1:40:43.3337|
|2.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 10.364|
|3.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 1.4286|
|4.||Simon Pagenaud||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||+ 2.4350|
|5.||Will Power||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 3.1599|
|6.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 3.7009|
|7.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 4.6538|
|8.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda||+ 5.3417|
|9.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 6.2513|
|10.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 6.8371|
|11.||Ryan Briscoe||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 7.6182|
|12.||Jack Hawksworth||Bryan Herta Autosport Honda||+ 8.5257|
|13.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda||+ 9.6750|
|14.||Mike Conway||Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet||+ 10.1933|
|15.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology Honda||+ 11.3198|
|16.||Carlos Huertas||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 12.8894|
|17.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 13.7182|
|18.||Sebastián Saavedra||KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda||+ 14.0955|
|19.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 16.1476|
|20.||Oriol Servià||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 1 lap|
|21.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 1 lap|
|DNF.||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||63 laps|
|DNF.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport Honda||29 laps|
* Race distance reduced from its scheduled 90 laps to a 100-minute timed race after the race start was delayed due to poor weather.
Images via Motorsport.com