Power's mistake gives victory to Hunter-Reay at wet, wild Barber
28 April 2014 – Ryan Hunter-Reay needed something about his season to change, and judging by the strange series of events this weekend, someone was listening. Hunter-Reay's title hopes got a much-needed boost after winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama for the second straight year after a long rain delay and a costly mistake from rival Will Power.
After heavy storms postponed the race for three hours, IndyCar announced that the 90-lap event would be shortened to a timed 100 minutes, and as a result, no one wasted any time attempting overtakes and bold strategy decisions.
Hunter-Reay started third on a wet track behind pole sitter Power and Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe. The 2012 series champion immediately grabbed second place, but it was too late to track down Power, who was soon seven seconds ahead of the field.
But in the tricky, damp conditions, Power misjudged his entry into the hairpin on lap 16 and slid out into the gravel, narrowly missing a tyre wall. That was all the opportunity the American needed, slipping by his rival and never looking back, winning the race under caution after a late crash by Mikhail Aleshin. Hunter-Reay now sits second in the points standings, gaining three spots and trailing Power by just 18 points.
Power would rejoin the track in second after his incident, but through the wildly varying pit stop strategies, he would slip down the order and finish off the podium in P5.
Late in the race, a strong run from Marco Andretti would lift him up to second place in front of Scott Dixon, who had finished P2 in each of the last four years.
Several laps into the event, big movers included Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya. Kanaan had started last, but six laps in he had gained nine spots. Late in the race he would climb as high as P4, but his final pit stop relegated him to a solid top ten finish in ninth.
Montoya had expressed concern this morning that he had not driven in the wet in many years, but for the middle part of the race his lap times were identical to the leaders. Strong overtakes after a good battle with Dixon elevated him to fourth, but his race soon unraveled.
As many still struggled with the drying conditions, Oriol Servia took the first risk and went onto slick tyres. Moments later Aleshin was hit by Sebastien Bourdais, sending the Russian rookie into a spin that would stall the car and bring out the first caution.
The entire field pitted and switched to dry tyres---a move that proved too costly to Carlos Munoz, who spun on the out lap and contacted the wall, prolonging the yellow.
After losing three spots on his pit stop, Montoya was punted off track by Sebastien Bourdais on the ensuing restart, remaining in the gravel hoping the safety crew would re-fire his engine. Eventually they did, but he wound up in P21. For his two incidents, Bourdais would later be given a drive-through penalty.
Sebastian Saavedra chose not to pit during that round of stops, and he would lead the race on wet tyres long past the formation of a dry line. His gamble wouldn't pay off, as he soon pitted under green and finished P18. As a result, Hunter-Reay regained the lead while Marco Andretti made quick work of Power and eventually Dixon. Dixon would also jump Power on the final round of pit stops to claim the final step of the podium.
When Hunter-Reay made his last stop of the race on lap 49, Marco stayed out and set a quick lap, but a slow stop meant that his teammate would regain the lead while Marco's team reconnected the in-car radio (which, by rule, must be reconnected as soon as the team realizes it's come undone). Andretti would still get out in front of Dixon, but his last chance for victory slipped away as a result. For Hunter-Reay, the final gap meant that he would finish the race without using a single one of his "Push-to-Pass" boosts.
With six minutes remaining, Aleshin lost control and hit the turn 13 tyre barrier, guaranteeing that the race would end under caution. Time expired as the field completed 69 of the scheduled 90 laps, with Andretti Autosport claiming its first 1-2 finish since the Iowa Corn Indy 250 last June. It was Hunter-Reay's 12th IndyCar victory and his first of 2014.
The field now travels to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in three days where they will be testing ahead of the upcoming Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the oval's road course.