Hunter-Reay's tyre gamble pays off on last lap
13 July 2014 – A late call to pit for new tyres made all the difference for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night. Following a caution, a 10-lap shootout was just enough time for the two to utilise their new rubber and blow by the field to take first and second, respectively, with two laps remaining.
The victory is Hunter-Reay's second in three years on the 0.875-mile oval, and it is a much-needed third win of his 2014 campaign.
His penultimate lap slingshot around long-time race leader Tony Kanaan crushed any chance that Ganassi or any other team might have had of stopping Andretti Autosport's dominance at the Newton race track. Instead Michael Andretti's squad has now won the last five editions of the July race.
Hunter-Reay seemed out of contention before Juan Pablo Montoya came into contact with Ed Carpenter at the end of the backstretch, but a strategy call by Michael Andretti saw Hunter-Reay come in for new tyres with a hunch that it just might pay off. If the leaders stayed out (which they did), by the end of the race their tyres would have been 67 laps old compared to Hunter-Reay's 15.
He would re-enter the race just on the cusp of the top 10, but with everyone else on worn rubber, the 2012 series champion immediately sliced through the field, likening his improbable charge to "a video game." His race-winning lap was actually the first lap that he'd led this season since his win at the Indy 500.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's decision mirrored Andretti's by bringing in Newgarden after the caution came out on Lap 284. When the field went green with eight to go, the young American was in P11, but he eventually set the race's fastest lap as he flew by Kanaan on the last lap to take second place. That P2 matches his best career finish in the IndyCar Series, despite starting second to last in P21.
For Kanaan, though, it was an all too familiar story in Iowa of dominating the race but failing to bring home the win. The Brazilian led 247 of the 300 laps (50 laps longer than the 2013 edition of this race), consistently winning the battles on track and in the pits. Ironically, then, it was the decision not to pit that would doom his chances of winning his second race in Newton. His tyres quickly fell off in the final few laps, leaving him helpless to halt the charges of Hunter-Reay and Newgarden.
Montoya's late race caution was one of several yellows during the event. The first came after 39 laps when increasing rainfall caused IndyCar officials to red flag proceedings for 26 minutes. It was the first time IndyCar had stopped a race due to rain since Sao Paulo in 2011.
When the event resumed, the field had not yet come down the frontstretch when a spinning Mikhail Aleshin collected Takuma Sato on the exit of Turn 4. Further cautions would include one for debris from Montoya's car, another for Marco Andretti hitting the Turn 2 wall and stopping on the backstretch, and another for Sebastian Saavedra.
The Colombian had pitted for fresh rubber and began to carve his way through the field in the latter third of the event. Eventually he found himself third, ready to hunt down the leaders when he got too high in traffic and understeered into the wall. He would get the car back to the pits, but his race was essentially over.
Pole-sitter Scott Dixon stayed in the mix throughout the night, taking several turns leading the race after passing Kanaan through traffic, but his hopes would fade late in the race along with his tyres, and he would finish P4.
It was the same story for Penske's Helio Castroneves and Will Power. The two championship co-leaders coming into this event spent good chunks of the race in the top five, but Power would fall back to P14 and Helio to P8. As a result, the Brazilian takes the championship lead ahead of Power and a resurgent Hunter-Reay.
The next round of the IndyCar season takes place in Toronto on the weekend of July 19-20