LOUDON, NH- AUGUST 14: Dario Franchitti, driver of the #10 Nikon Target Chip Ganassi Dallara Honda, leads the pack at the start during the IZOD IndyCar Series MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on August 14, 2011 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
The return of the IZOD IndyCar series to New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon certainly filled up the highlight reel tape.
Heck, they might even have to devote an extra DVD to it in the IndyCar post-season collection. And use a couple of those black censor bars to make it viewer-friendly.
Thrills, spills, separate crashes by the two championship leaders (one of which did not officially happen), controversial retroactive officiating and an obscene gesture each would have been worthy by themselves. When the rain steadied in pace, and the red mist dissipated, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport was left parked at the front of the remaining field on pit lane with an unconventional but deserving first victory of the season.
"It was a strange day," Hunter-Reay reflected. "But sometimes racing is strange."
Strange events over the course of a race weekend is normal. But the sheer amount of weirdness on the 1.025-mile oval was far beyond the ordinary. The race started with a bang as Mike Conway bounced off the turn two wall and collected Graham Rahal on the first lap and ended with a bigger bang as Will Power jumped out of his wrecked car at the start-finish line and flipped off race control. And somehow, Power was fifth in the official box score.
Hunter-Reay prevailed over Oriol Servia, Scott Dixon and rookie James Hinchcliffe in a wet and wild finish that still had the participants and officials sorting out exactly what had happened in the hours after the race. Series officials rushed in damage control mode with an explanation that was at times more confusing than the actual event. The final attempted restart was stricken from the race ledger and a red flag concluded the Movethatblock.com 225 with drivers in pit lane as rain increased to a steady level.
Just another day at the track? Hardly.
“It's tough, it's tough to get it right. And that's why all the drivers really respect this place,” said a beaming Hunter-Reay, who savored the fifth win of his IndyCar career. “If you ask anybody here, they'll say this is one of the toughest ovals they've ever been on in their life.”
Championship leaders Dario Franchitti and Will Power would certainly agree. Both drivers' cars left on a tow hook, from the middle of the front straight
Franchitti dominated the early part of the race from his pole position, at some points streaking out to a lead of over seven seconds as he threaded his way through lap traffic that was a factor throughout the afternoon to lead 115 of the first 117 laps. But a lap 118 restart found Franchitti spun backwards into the inside wall on the front straight after a tail to nose collision with Takuma Sato. It was the first time Franchitti was not running at the finish of an IndyCar in 53 races. J.R. Hildebrand also collided with E.J. Viso in an attempt to avoid Franchitti.
"He (Sato) kept coming up and I don't know what he was going to do. He had a very clear view of where I was and he kept coming up," Franchitti said. "We had a good race car overall and we were strong all weekend. It is really unfortunate for Team Target. He started coming up into me before the restart. I really don't know what he was thinking."
Sato agreed. To disagree. He was contrite for ruining Franchitti's race, but not sure of the blame assignment.
“I want to see the replay, it was difficult to judge what happened. I should have given him a bit more space on (the restart) but it was running in the middle of the road and it seems to be that he was coming in my lane,” Sato said. “Having said that, there's no excuse I should have given a bit more space and unfortunately we tumbled.”
With the door open for a new leader, Hunter-Reay seized control, as he carved the Sun Drop-Circle K car through the field and led until lap 165, when he ceded the position to Dixon. Power and Sato also cycled through spots at the front until Hunter-Reay retook the point on lap 192. He led when the second moisture caution of the race was thrown on lap 206.
The big one, at least in IndyCar terms occurred on the attempted restart at the end of the race on lap 217. As the field approached the start-finish line, Danica Patrick accelerated out of turn four and spun on the damp track. She slid sideways laterally across the middle of the field, and collected Power, Sato and Ana Beatriz in the process.
"That was definitely my mistake. I got on the throttle and it came around. I take full responsibility for that one and the mess that it created," Patrick said. "I was one of many people who thought that we shouldn't be going green. I was like 'what are we doing? What are they doing' I left it in first gear and not getting traction. I'm one to finish races and be smart and get through it all, but it was slippery out there."
A furious Power stormed out of his wrecked car and while stompng across the pit lane paused and flipped a Kenny Powers-style double middle finger salute directly at the race control booth above the grandstand. It was a grand theatrical obscene gesture that ABC fortunately captured in High Definition glory.
“I know I lost my temper – absolutely- that was probably the angriest I've ever been, because we begged not to restart the race, because the last thing I wanted to do was do some damage to my body or the car, but it was probably $100,000 worth of damage for no reason,” a more contrite Power said at the Penske hauler “We begged them. If it was the track officials that said the track was okay, they're not in the car. Us the drivers – all the drivers were screaming on the radio to (not restart)”
Every driver on the track at the time agreed that the green flag should not have been thrown, even those that escaped the carnage. Servia was temporarily shown as the leader after beating Hunter-Reay into turn one, but that was quickly erased once the replay was viewed and the restart was stricken from the history books. The drivers were unanimous in the feeling that race control should not have been restarted because of the perilous track conditions, but somehow that message did not make it to race control.
“It was a bad call, there's no two ways about it. I understand why they wanted to do it, that no fans want to see a race finish under caution,” Hinchcliffe said. “But at the end of the day you're putting drivers and cars at risk for TV figures.”.
Oddly enough, the race control staff agreed and wiped the restart off the record, with a red flag for more rain officially halting the race at 215 laps completed..
IZOD IndyCar Series
MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225
LOUDON, N.H. - Results Sunday of the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.025-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
Note: Tentative - subject to resolution of any protests or appeals.
1. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
2. (2) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
3. (7) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
4. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
5. (13) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
6. (15) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
7. (8) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 215, Running
8. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 214, Running
9. (10) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 213, Running
10. (19) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 212, Running
11. (25) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 212, Running
12. (17) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 212, Running
13. (14) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 211, Running
14. (21) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 210, Running
15. (24) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 210, Running
16. (26) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 209, Running
17. (9) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 202, Running
18. (20) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 176, Mechanical
19. (16) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 137, Mechanical
20. (1) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 118, Contact
21. (11) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 118, Contact
22. (3) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 109, Contact
23. (18) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 109, Contact
24. (22) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 109, Contact
25. (12) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 0, Contact
26. (23) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 0, Contact
27. (27) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda,0, Did Not Start
Winners average speed: 112.030
Time of Race: 01:58:01.5843
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 6 Cautions for 66 Laps
Lead changes: 7 among 6 drivers
Franchitti 1 - 72
Briscoe 73 - 74
Franchitti 75 - 117
Hunter-Reay 118 - 164
Dixon 165 - 166
Power 167 - 178
Sato 179 - 191
Hunter-Reay 192 - 215
Point Standings: Franchitti 443, Power 396, Dixon 370, Servia 308, Kanaan 295, Briscoe 277, Andretti 270, Hunter-Reay 261, Rahal 240, Sato 238