Lewis on IndyCar: Hunter-Reay ends the Penske streak

Andretti Autosport remained perfect on the year Sunday when defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay snapped Penske Racing’s winning streak at Barber Motorsports Park.

Barber Motorsport Park just outside Birmingham, Alabama is a beautiful racing facility; however it’s very difficult for IndyCars to pass on the track that was originally built for motorcycle racing. So you’d think that with his capturing the pole position for this past weekend’s event Ryan Hunter-Reay simply maintained the spot he started with to capture the win.

Well if you did think that you’d be wrong.

The Andretti Autosport driver did start from the best spot on the grid but he fell back from the lead during the race. There was nearly a calamity of contact with Helio Castroneves that could easily have knocked them both out, but fortunately they were both able to continue.

RHR took the top spot away from Castroneves with fewer than 15 laps remaining on a lovely passing move and began to build a lead. Scott Dixon also passed Castroneves and cut into that lead and ran down Hunter-Reay forcing him to drive a perfect race to the end to ensure his first series win since Baltimore last year.

When I spoke with Hunter-Reay just after he got out of the car in victory circle the toll of a warm afternoon in the car on a challenging race track was clearly visible. He earned the victory.

Fan favourite James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, ON. had a weekend completely opposite of his victorious St. Petersburg race. Struggling with the handling of the car on Friday Hinch managed only a 20th place qualifying effort, partly due he said to being impeded by Will Power. He was hit from behind on the first lap suffering damage and while being towed in to pit lane a tire fell off and he was left stuck in the middle of the course to wait for the next caution period. That caution never came and Hinchcliffe remained there for the entire race.

If only Hinch had brought his mobile phone in the car with him the same way Brad Keselowski had at the Daytona 500 last year, the “twitterverse” would have loved the commentary from inside the cockpit of his car and it would have been great for the Izod IndyCar series.

Dixon maintained his consistency and for the fourth consecutive year claimed a second place finish and joked afterwards that he was going out to purchase a bridesmaids dress.

The Penske duo of Castroneves and Will Power had solid days with third and fifth place finishes respectively.

Other notable finishes include Marco Andretti who claimed a seventh place result. Significant because after a podium finish at the season opener Marco has two top ten finishes. He had three all last year. His off season dedication to improving his performance is showing early positive results.

Rookie Tristan Vautier showed he has the tools to drive fast but a few mistakes during the race dropped him from his third starting spot and he wound up tenth. Still a good result and the thing to note about Vautier is he learns from his mistakes and rarely repeats them. Keep an eye on him this year.

After a driving error in round one Dario Franchitti suffered a mechanical failure at Barber. Too early to draw a serious conclusion of a season gone wrong, but let’s hope the Scot’s bad luck is all behind him now.

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