Penalties Reshuffle Starting Order In Edmonton

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 21 2012

Ryan Hunter-Reay had won the pole in Edmonton and then had it taken away. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s celebration of his first IZOD IndyCar Series pole of the season was muted Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, when INDYCAR officials served him with a 10 grid-spot penalty for an unapproved engine change.

Hunter-Reay, winner of the last three races and the series championship leader, was one of five drivers slapped with grid-spot penalties by the sanctioning body heading into Sunday’s Edmonton Indy.

Hunter-Reay recorded a lap of 1 minute, 17.2338-seconds (103.664 mph) around the 2.224-mile, 13-turn City Centre Airport circuit during the Firestone Fast-Six shootout to claim his second career pole and first since 2004. The subsequent penalty is the result of an unapproved change of the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged Chevrolet V-6 engine that powered his victory on the Streets of Toronto two weeks ago.

“It was great we picked up a championship point for the pole, but too bad we will be starting 11th instead of first because of the engine change,” said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Dr Pepper Dallara/Chevy. “(The race) will be really interesting for everyone.

“I have a long way to go, even from 11th. Each car gets progressively more difficult as you get through it. It’s going to be a long day, tough to get up there. Hopefully we’ll get some strategy right, make some passes on the track and be there in the top-five towards the end.”

Four-time/reigning series champion Dario Franchitti – who ironically enough has started on-pole in each of Hunter-Reay’s victories – will now share Row 1 with Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe. Franchitti was 0.0108-seconds off Hunter-Reay’s pace while attempting to earn his 30th Indy-car pole during Saturday’s weather-affected session.

“It was fairly interesting, just dealing with the track drying in the second session; the first session it just started to rain a little bit,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. “So yeah, that made it pretty interesting. That third session, the big decision was go with new reds (soft-compound Firestone Firehawk tires), or go with scrubs, so we decided to go with scrubs and was just really trying to put a lap together there. I think we got within a hundredth or something but didn’t quite manage to put the lap together.

“The Target car is good again this weekend. It’d be nice to have a decent race because we’ve had some good qualifying performances but our races have…we’ve had incidents and all kinds of crazy stuff happening, so it’d be nice to have a day free of incidents and try to have a good result.”

Meanwhile, INDYCAR officials penalized Team Penske’s Will Power – who trails Hunter-Reay by 34 points in the championship – and Oriol Servia of Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 10 grid-spots for unapproved engine changes following qualifying. In addition, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Simona De Silvestro of Lotus-HVM Racing have incurred 10 grid-spot penalties for a sixth engine change.

The 75-lap race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 2 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (Channel 94 and Sirius 212).

Will Power dismisses the notion that with four-of-five remaining IndyCar Series races on road/street circuits, the 2012 driver’s championship is his to lose. Despite a 10 grid-spot penalty that will force him to start 17th in Sunday’s Edmonton Indy, Power reiterated he will be a player down the stretch.

Power, of Team Penske, will start Sunday’s event as a two-time winner (2009, 2011) in the four races run on the City Centre Airport circuit (old and current) under INDYCAR sanction. Still, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s three consecutive victories for Andretti Autosport have propelled the Floridian into the championship lead by 34 points.

There is familiarity in this position for Power, who exited Toronto trailing Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing by 55 points last summer. Completing the Canadian doubleheader in Edmonton with a victory, Power closed the gap to 38 points.

“I understand what I’ve got to do to win the championship,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet. “It’s still all about executing on the weekend and being mistake-free in the pits, on the track, strategy-wise – everything. It’s got to come together for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking, ‘Oh, shoot, this is going to be easy for me because it’s road-courses’… where in fact, it becomes very, very tough on road-courses to win just because of the competitive nature of this year.

“There’s no one dominant. There’s no one getting all the poles. There’s no one really winning all the road-course races. It’s really mixed-up.”

Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, third in the standings, has three runnerup finishes at Edmonton in the past four years. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, who turns 32 on Sunday, is in fourth place with two victories and a third at Edmonton.

Power qualified seventh Saturday when he covered the 2.224-mile, 13-turn City Center Airport circuit in 01:27.5666/91.432 mph but will start 17th after incurring that grid-spot penalty for an unapproved engine change.

“I feel as though we are one of the quickest out there, and when things go right on the weekend I think we are always on the podium or we win the race,” Power stated. “To win the championship, things have to go your way. Week-in, week-out, you’ve got to be knocking on the door. You’ve got to be up there with a chance to win every weekend and if you can’t do it, you accept what you’ve got and get the most out of it. You know, don’t try to force the issue and have a DNF. That’s how I see it; the guy that does that the best is going to win this year.”

Beyond Edmonton, Power has an average finish of 3.8 in the next three road/street course events over the past two years totaling five races (three victories and a runnerup finish the highs). Hunter-Reay has an average finish of 7.8 (third-place at Mid-Ohio in 2011 the high) over that span.

Fuel-related problems plagued Mike Conway for a second consecutive race weekend in Canada, where the A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver will start 25th and last in Sunday’s Edmonton Indy.

After finishing in the top-three during both of Friday’s practice sessions, Conway’s chance for a Firestone Fast-Six appearance evaporated in the first round of qualifying due to fuel pressure glitches that arose toward the end of Saturday morning’s practice. Foyt’s team went through the fuel system and replaced the fuel pump as a precaution. But the fuel pressure problem worsened during qualifying and Conway only ran one lap before his Honda V-6 engine began cutting out. The team tried adding more fuel in a quick attempt to fix the problem to no avail.

“We tried lots of things to fix it before qualifying, including replacing the fuel pump, but obviously it didn’t get fixed,” said Conway, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda. “They’re going through everything again now to find the problem. It’s disappointing because we had a good car and were quick all weekend. We definitely had the pace to be up there in the front.”

Recall that Conway’s third-place finish in the Honda Indy Toronto on July 8 came gift-wrapped with a $15,000 fine and loss of 10 entrant points when a post-race tech inspection by INDYCAR officials found the Dallara DW12’s fuel cell beyond the maximum capacity of 18.5 U.S. gallons.

“We felt the discrepancy in the size of the fuel tank was enough that it potentially could have provided a track position advantage, and the penalty is reflective of that,” Will Phillips, vice president of technology, INDYCAR, said when the violations of Rule 14.7.2 (Fuel System) were announced.

A Foyt Enterprises spokesperson noted the tank was approximately two-tenths of a gallon over the limit and the crew did not perform a capacity check in Toronto because that road-course car always had measured below the limit. The spokesperson added the tank did not factor into the race outcome, which saw a Foyt driver earn a podium for the first time in 43 events.

Two weeks earlier, Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports finished third at Iowa Speedway but was fined $5,000 for competing with a fuel cell that technical inspectors determined had a capacity of 18.55 gallons.

Firestone Indy Lights pole-sitter Carlos Munoz regained the lead on Lap 17 of 40 following a Lap 14 pit stop to have rain tires replaced with slicks and went on to victory in Saturday’s Edmonton 100. It was the first series win for the 20-year-old Colombian in the No. 26 Team Dialy-Ser car fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the No. 27 Team AFS car, was 8.3453-seconds back and Esteban Guerrieri finished third in the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb Agajanian car. Guerrieri, the 2011 race-winner who notched his seventh podium of the season, holds a 27-point lead over Saavedra in the driver’s championship.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 21 2012
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