Hunter-Reay Made Big Splash With Detroit Victory

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 5 2018

Ryan Hunter-Reay made good on his promise to take a dip in a Belle Isle fountain after winning Sunday’s Race No. 2 of the Detroit Grand Prix. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fulfilling a “frigging” promise made Saturday to a local news crew, Ryan Hunter-Reay cooled his heels after winning Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix by taking a dip in the refurbished James Scott Memorial Fountain at Belle Isle Park.

I bet there haven’t been many people in there,” Hunter-Reay joked Sunday after breaking a 43-race Verizon IndyCar Series winless streak with a determined drive that overhauled Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi. “When I had an interview for second (after Race 1 Saturday), when I was second with the local news, they said, ‘So, if you win this thing tomorrow, are you going to jump in?’

“I’m like, ‘Yes, I’ll jump in, I want to win that bad.’ Of course, first thing I got out of the car were those two guys that I said, ‘Yes, I’d jump in the frigging fountain.’ I got right in, no problem.”

Hunter-Reay prevailed by a massive by 11.3549-seconds over Will Power, one week removed from the Australian’s first victory in the 102nd Indianapolis 500. It was the 17th career victory for Hunter-Reay and first since August 2015 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. “I’ll always put the 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back and forth every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast _ and jumping in the fountain.”

Hunter-Reay became the sixth different driver to win in eight series races this year.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had one fast Andretti Autosport Honda on Sunday.

During post-race ceremonies, he dutifully waded into the 93-year-old Scott fountain, lay down in the shallow water and enjoyed a sip of champagne.

Hope that helps your overnight ratings, local guys. And now, don’t be shocked if Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage sets up a plastic wading pool in Victory Lane…just in case Hunter-Reay wins Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 in Fort Worth.

Hunter-Reay has made 11 starts on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval with a best finish of second to Team Penske’s Castroneves in the Firestone 550 in 2013. Hunter-Reay started third in that event and led a career-best 35 laps around TMS. Hunter-Reay started 13th and finished 19th in last year’s Firestone 600, a 248-lapper won by Power on a repaved and re-configured layout.

Relying on a three-stop strategy so he aggressively could drive his No. 28 DHL Honda, Hunter-Reay was nearly eight seconds behind pole-sitter Rossi following the final round of pit stops with 17 laps remaining. Reeling off laps at near qualifying pace _ Hunter-Reay posted the five fastest race laps while chasing Rossi _ he quickly closed the gap and forced the 2016 Indy 500 winner to lock up his brakes on two occasions.

The second lockup came on Lap 64 of 70 on the bumpy, 2.35-mile/14-turn temporary street course, with Rossi sliding into the Turn 3 runoff area in a cloud of white smoke as Hunter-Reay scooted into the lead. Hunter-Reay wasn’t challenged thereafter, while Rossi was forced to pit for fresh Firestone tires. The Californian finished 12th after leading a race-high 46 laps.

“My engineer, Ray (Gosselin), was telling me on the radio the whole time, ’We have to qualify the whole time, we have to be the fastest car on the racetrack.’ So that’s what we did today,” Hunter-Reay said. “Some of those stints in the middle, I’m on the opposite side of the racetrack but I’m going faster than the leaders at that point, but we’re catching them, we’re catching them. This is really going to work if you keep doing the 75-(second) lap times or the (1)-minute-15-(second) lap times. Just kept my head down, and then after the last stop there was nobody in front of me and they said, ‘Alex is the leader.’

After years without a victory, Sunday’s win in Detroit was especially sweet.

“And Ray got on the radio and said, ‘You’re going to catch him by the end of the stint, just keep your head down.’ So I just went for it, just kept doing low-75s, and little did I know there was a car on the straightaway and then there was a car halfway down, and then it was…and then we just closed the gap until I was right up his gearbox with 11 or 12 to go, and I think we were strong enough there to potentially expose a weakness.

“That (No. 28) car definitely ended the race where it should be, and that’s in Victory Lane. My engineer, Ray _ he wanted this race as bad as me. We’ve won a lot of races together. We’ve been working together since 2011 and we’ve won a lot together, so this recent dry spell has really had us both a little eager.”

Hunter-Reay said his adrenaline level accelerated when he finally caught a glimpse of Rossi’s No. 27 Ruoff Home Mortgage car down the end of a straight. But RHR also acknowledged that he was in relentless pursuit of a teammate.

You can’t take a teammate out,” said Hunter-Reay, a 47-year-old native and resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “You’ve got to be very careful how you race him. Alex has done a great job, no doubt a future series champion. My job is to make sure it’s not this year. He’s definitely done an amazing job, and he’s been great to work with. We work really well together.

“Yeah, I’m just happy we got the win, and hopefully we can challenge him for a championship this year. Hopefully it comes down to the wire, No.28 DHL team on top at the end.”

Power, meanwhile, saved face for the General Motors camp with his second place result in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet on a weekend otherwise dominated by corporate rival Honda. The event on The Raceway at Belle Isle Park, operated by Roger Penske’s organization, is run with GM’s Renaissance Center tower looming in the downtown background.

“I feel like this was about as good as we could get, given how fast Hunter-Reay was,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “There was just no way anyone was going to beat him. I feel like with what we had, that’s the most that we could have got out of that race, so very happy.”

Ed Jones tied his career-best by finishing third in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Jones’ teammate, four-time series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, finished fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda a day after winning Race 1 of the doubleheader.

“We had the pace where we were,” said Jones, a native of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to get by Will, but it was a great job by the team the whole weekend. Scott winning the race (Saturday) and then me on the podium today, we’re just aiming to bring the team forward.”

Sunday’s race produced only a single full-course caution, tying the record for fewest at an INDYCAR-sanctioned race on Belle Isle. Spencer Pigot of Ed Carpenter Racing spun and stalled his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet in Turn 5 on the opening lap after contact from American teen-ager Santino Ferrucci, making his series debut in a Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Paysafe Honda.

With his second-place finish, Power will return to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this week with the championship lead after eight of 17 races. Power, who toured the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys lavish The Star complex last Wednesday in Frisco, Texas, leads Dixon by five points, Rossi by 11, Hunter-Reay by 31 and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske by 39.

“We’ve had a pretty good year,” Hunter-Reay said. “We finished second twice, fifth here and there and we’ve been in the top-five a lot, so we’ve been strong. And like I say, I think maybe with the universal aero kit we have a better shot at contending for the championship like we did when it was a spec aero kit back in 2012, ’13, ’14.

“Absolutely, I’m on that page and I hope this is the first to a string of wins. You never know when it comes, you know, and 2012, what, we won Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto back-to-back. Going into the Milwaukee race I didn’t expect for that to happen but you’ve got to be ready for it, and that’s where we are. Hopefully we can keep that rolling.

“Yeah, I just have to keep chipping away at it…keep chipping away, chipping away. If you keep finishing in the top-three, top-five, top-three, top-five, wins _ that’s how you challenge for a championship. So that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Saturday’s DXC Technology 600 _ billed as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” _ will air live at 8 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 5 2018
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