There’s no greater contrast between the sublimely fast, ultra-smooth environs of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the brutally bumpy, stop-and-go confines of Detroit’s Belle Isle park circuit. Detroit is hard on drivers and equipment and is made even more challenging these days with a pair of 70-lap races, one run on Saturday, the other on Sunday.
So too was the weekend in Detroit an unhappy contrast in fortune for Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay who crashed no fewer than three times and failed to make the finish of either race. Thus did Hunter-Reay lose IndyCar’s championship lead to Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves, each of whom won in Detroit – Power on Saturday and Castroneves leading Power home in a Penske one-two on Sunday.
Saturday’s opening race was all about pit strategy and good or bad luck with full-course yellows. Castroneves qualified on pole and looked a likely winner in the opening laps as he edged away from an impressive Jack Hawksworth and James Hinchcliffe. But a couple of early yellows turned the race into a lottery with Castroneves and Hinchcliffe racing in the end for fifth place while Hawksworth ran into brake trouble and had to stop for repairs.
Castroneves and Hinchcliffe made two stops while three-stoppers Will Power and Graham Rahal wound up battling to win the race. Power started 16th and Rahal ninth, but both were able to lay down fast laps during the race. Power had to push to the limit to hold off Rahal’s final attacks, winning by a third of a second with Tony Kanaan finishing a close third and Justin Wilson right there in fourth ahead of Castroneves and Hinchcliffe. This was Power’s second win of the year and enabled him to close on IndyCar’s points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay.
1 Will Power
2 Graham Rahal
3 Tony Kanaan
4 Justin Wilson
5 Helio Castroneves
6 James Hinchcliffe
7 Carlos Munoz (R)
8 Carlos Huertas (R)
9 Charlie Kimball
10 Marco Andretti
1 Helio Castroneves
2 Will Power
3 Charlie Kimball
4 Scott Dixon
5 James Hinchcliffe
6 Simon Pagenaud
7 Mikhail Aleshin (R)
8 Carlos Munoz (R)
9 Tony Kanaan
10 Ryan Briscoe
“Graham made it very difficult,” Power remarked. “Man! He never gave up. I pulled a bit of a gap to get a buffer and he was straight back on me. That was a tough race. No fuel saving. We just ran hard and had good pit strategy.”
Rahal has not won a race since 2008 when he was driving for Newman/Haas. Graham joined his father’s team last year, but had a disappointing season finishing 18th on points with only two podium places. This year Rahal enjoys backing from the National Guard reputed to be IndyCar’s biggest sponsor. But Rahal has had a rough start to the season so it was encouraging for him to have a strong race.
“I thought I was finally going to get the monkey off my back today,” Graham said. “I knew I had a car that was as quick as (Power). I knew I had one opportunity on the restart and he blocked me, which I would have done too. But we put on a charge and caught him. We’re going to win one. We’re going to do it. I can promise you that. One of these days we’re going to get that monkey off my back. It’s coming soon.”
Championship leader and Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay started at the back of the field after smacking the wall in qualifying. Smart pit strategy helped him make it into the middle of the field, but he crashed on the last lap after attempting to outbrake team-mate Marco Andretti for 10th place.
The following day was all about Castroneves who led most of the way and was in control in the race’s closing stages, pulling away from team-mate Power in a couple of late-race restarts. “Our car was spot on,” Castroneves grinned. “Yesterday was frustrating because we knew what a good car we had. But today we made it, wow! Finishing second in the Indy 500 made us so hungry. I wanted it so bad and it’s great to win here at my boss’s track.”
Charlie Kimball drove a strong race on Sunday to finish third, fighting off a last-lap challenge from James Hinchcliffe. The latter almost hit the wall as he tried to outbrake Kimball, losing a place to Scott Dixon, who did a tremendous job to come through the field after starting Sunday’s race from the back.
Hunter-Reay was entirely out of luck on Sunday, crashing in the morning’s qualifying session and starting the race from the back row beside Dixon. Ryan had to stop early with a punctured tyre, but played the full-course yellows right to get himself into the top ten before crawling into the pits in the closing laps when his shift actuator failed. So it was a bad weekend for Hunter-Reay who lost his championship lead to Power and Castroneves. “Nothing we did worked this weekend,” Ryan grimaced.
After seven of this year’s 18 IndyCar races Power leads Castroneves by 19 points with Hunter-Reay another eight points behind. The only other championship contender is Simon Pagenaud who’s fourth in the championship trailing Castroneves by 79 points.