Ryan Hunter-Reay ended Penske Racing’s win streak at Barber Motorsports Park by taking IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday. In earlier races on this 17-turn, 2.38-mile natural terrain road course it was often decided by fuel and pit stop strategy.
Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves had won every pole and all three races on the road course while Hunter-Reay’s best finish was 12th. But Hunter-Reay, who won the pole, held during one intense battle for position with both Penske drivers then held off Scott Dixon. Once Hunter-Reay got past Castroneves for the lead he still had to contend with the hard-charging Dixon, who has finished second each of the four years he has raced here.
“I was driving my tail off trying to stay in front of Dixon,” said Hunter-Reay, who did to claim his first victory of the season by .6363 of a second on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course. “He stayed really close,”
“I’m going to go buy a bridesmaid’s dress tonight and party pretty hard,” Dixon said. “It’s frustrating.” “Better than third,” quipped Castroneves. “Last year we made our own mistake to not win the race,” Dixon continued. “But it’s still good points. I think we’re second in the championship. I think Helio is leading. It’s good at the minute. “You know, it would really be nice to win at this place sometime.”
Charlie Kimball finished fourth for team owner Chip Ganassi to give Honda two cars in the top four. And four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti had another miserable race, dropping out with a broken header. He has finished 25th in each of the first two races this season. “We had a header problem on the Banana Boat car and that led to some electrical issues that took out the clutch,” Franchitti said. “The guys worked real hard to get the car back together. Tough day for us.” While the tide appears to have turned for Franchitti, Hunter-Reay delivered with a championship performance after a struck throttle foiled his race at St. Petersburg two weeks ago. He continues to compete at a high level and predicts even better things to come.
The victory was the 10th IndyCar win of Hunter-Reay’s career and the first since he won the Grand Prix of Baltimore last September. “(The victory) is excellent,” added Hunter-Reay. “It shows what we’re about. It shows that last year wasn’t a fluke. We really worked for it today. Unreal. I’m exhausted.” Hunter-Reay jumped 13 positions to third in the championship standings heading to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21. Castroneves holds a nine-point lead over Dixon.
Josef Newgarden in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car and Tristan Vautier in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car earned their first top 10s. AJ Allmendinger, making his series debut in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car, qualified 10th and finished 19th. “All in all, today was a good day,” Allmendinger said. “There are a lot of positives to take out of it. We had a good start and I thought I was pacing myself well. We could have had a top-10 day without the couple breaks against us. It was a good day with a bad stall and unfortunately after that point we were saving fuel so it made it tough to make up ground. But I know that I can compete with these guys and look forward to getting even better at Long Beach.”