Ryan Hunter-Reay forced teammate Alexander Rossi into a decisive mistake with nine laps to go Sunday in the second Dual at Detroit and drove on to a masterful victory.
Starting 10th in the DHL Honda, Hunter-Reay used a blinding pace to make his three-stop strategy work and put himself right back in the championship hunt.
After his final pit stop on Lap 53, Hunter-Reay found himself in second place but some six seconds behind leader Rossi. Then the 37-year-old veteran began running qualifying laps and started knocking off his deficit by a second a lap. With 10 laps left he was right on his Andretti Autosport teammate’s gearbox and as they braked for Turn 3 one lap later, Rossi locked up and slid into the runoff area. Hunter-Reay then coasted to the checkered flag to finish 11 seconds ahead of runner-up Will Power in his Verizon Chevy.
“After my second set of blacks (tires) I got in sync with the car and it did everything I needed it to do,” said Hunter-Reay after scoring his 17th career win and moving into fourth place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings. “I started that last stint with Rossi a straightaway ahead of me but I had such a good car and it was flying. I had great pit stops and strategy and drove my butt off.”
Rossi started on the pole and led 46 of the 70 laps before his mistake. “I don’t have anything to say,” the despondent Rossi told ABC after limping home 12th and dropping from first to third in the standings.
But Hunter-Reay had plenty to say about the outcome because he put relentless pressure on his teammate to claim his first win since Pocono in 2015.
“It was going to be a good fight but it’s a good thing I pressured him (Rossi) into it,” said Hunter-Reay, now only 31 points behind leader Power heading for Texas.
In a weekend dominated by Honda in qualifying (nine of the top 10 on Sunday) and results, Power did a yeoman job to salvage second and regain the point lead for Team Penske.
“I think it was all about qualifying,” said the Indy 500 winner who qualified third in the morning rain. “I guess in a way it was good it was wet because it helped us to get further up the grid. Had good pace on blacks and at the end of stints or halfway through, so that put us in a good position. I think that’s as much as we could get out of what we had today.”
Ed Jones started fourth and finished third in the NTT Data Honda, while teammate and Saturday’s victor Scott Dixon was fifth in the PNC Honda and moved into second place in the standings — only four points out of first.
“You know after the last two races things haven’t gone well for us so it was really important to get the momentum back and have two solid results,” said Jones, who finished sixth Saturday.
Graham Rahal overcame his Saturday accident to finish fifth in his backup United Rental Honda and front-row starter Robert Wickens had to settle for sixth in his Lucas Oil Honda.
“Mixed emotions today,” said Wickens, who led six laps. “When you start on the front row, you hope to be fighting for a podium. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find the balance to increase the tire longevity to compete. We committed to the three-stop strategy pretty early on and we took the lead for a little bit in the second stint, and I honestly thought things were looking pretty good. We had to pit a bit early which is how we lost out to Hunter-Reay, and then we just kept losing track position not coming out in clean air.
“Coming home in the Lucas Oil car P6, we can’t really complain… We qualified third on Saturday, second today, so you hope to at least finish in the top five both days. I think we are a little disappointed, but a good points weekend.”