Ryan Hunter-Reay may carry the colours of the Indy Racing League’s title sponsor Izod on his car and race suit, but he doesn’t have the funding to run the full season for them.
A confident win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach could go some way towards changing that.
The part-time Andretti Autosport competitor is that rare thing – an American open-wheeler who knows how to win races and has access to a car capable of matching his talent.
He said the experience of winning his second-ever race was “awesome”, and he dedicated the victory to his mother who died late last year.
“Over the last couple of laps, I started thinking a bit about my Mom. She was out there today – she passed along recently and this race is for her.
“This is a race that means a lot to me, this is the Indy 500 of street courses. I’ve been watching this race since I was a little kid, so this is like a home race for me.
“The car was just so much fun to drive today, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car. I was just in a great zone all day long and I truly think we were the fastest car out there, so we deserved this win.
“I have to thank Michael Andretti and IZOD for putting me out there. We’ve been working so hard on this IZOD car and on this team. To do this in our fourth race – we feel like we’re just getting started. This is a snowball that is just starting to roll.”
Hunter-Reay’s victory came when he leapt on a brief loss of speed by leader Will Power, who slowed when his car stuck in the wrong gear coming on to the long Shoreline Drive straight. The problem lasted barely a second and did not return, but it cost the championship leader dear.
Power said: “Overall, it was a good day, but on one lap I got stuck in first gear. I have no idea why that happened and I hope it doesn’t do that again because I slowed down. I was able to get out of it and speed back up, but it hurt my placement.”
Once Hunter-Reay was out front his only challenge came from Dreyer & Reinbold’s Justin Wilson, but the Englishman was forced to pit to replace his front wing after a controversial incident lapping backmarker Alex Lloyd.
Although Wilson fought his way back to second, partly with the help of a yellow flag caution period, he was never again close enough to challenge Hunter-Reay for the win.
Wilson said: “I was pretty livid. Alex was a lap down and he nearly took Ryan out a couple of times. Ryan had got past and I went to follow and got the door slammed in my face. I had to pit for a new nose and thought it was all over.
“But the team was great, it was a fantastic recovery. The car was still nearly perfect, as it had been all weekend, and we got a bit of a break with the yellow.
“To have a front wing change and to come back in finish second is an amazing day. Once more, we’re right there, finishing on the podium, and that’s exactly what we need to keep doing.”
Wilson’s team-mate Mike Conway, who crashed out early in last year’s Long Beach, had a successful run to 10th place, picking off a couple of other cars in the latter stages of the race.
But his advance was haled by Dan Wheldon, who was suffering from fuel pick-up problems during the final laps but gambled on staying out rather than losing a top-10 finish by pitting. The gamble paid off and he gave Panther their best result of the season to date.
Conway said: “The car was fine and most of the race we were just saving fuel, trying to get a few extra laps on people so we could jump them in pit lane. Each time we were able to do that and move forward, but because of the lack of yellows it didn’t really make for an exciting race and everyone was just trying to save fuel on every stint.
“We were able to gain one more position as we passed Dario, and after that it was hard to pass anyone because everyone around me was on the red Firestone Firehawk Alternate tyres. We did as much as we could have done today.”
Wheldon said: “We had a little bit of a fuel collector problem for the majority of the race and that made it difficult, but the No. 4 car was really, really good. I was still able to run extremely competitive lap times while saving fuel, and really enjoyed the race.
“I would probably say the position in which we finished doesn’t reflect how strong the car was today, but sometimes you have those races, and it was a really good one for us. It’s been a good season for us so far, and I think we just keep getting better and better.”
Dario Franchitti finished 12th for Ganassi and Lloyd was classified 19th.
The result leaves Power still leading the championship from Alabama winner Helio Castroneves, who was seventh at Long Beach. Wilson and Hunter-Reay move up to third and fourth ahead of Ganassi team-mates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Full standings here.
Next, after four straight road and street course, the IndyCar Series will run on four ovals – starting at Kansas and including the Indianapolis 500.
* In the Indy Light support race, James Hinchcliffe won from pole ahead of Charlie Kimball and championship leader JK Vernay. Martin Plowman was fourth behind Sebastian Saavedra.
Late damage to James Winslow’s front wing cost him a decent finish, dropping him to 12th but promoting Pippa Mann to a season-best eighth.
Dan Clarke was running at the end and was classified 13th, but was six laps down on the leaders. Stefan Wilson retired after 21 laps with an electrical fault.