Hunter-Reay scores first win of the year, leads Americans 1-2-3-4 at Iowa
Ryan Hunter-Reay kept Andretti Autosport’s astonishing streak of Iowa wins alive with a superb victory at the 0.875-mile oval, the No.28 Andretti-Honda holding off CFH Racing-Chevrolet’s Josef Newgarden by half a second to the checkered flag.
It was Hunter-Reay’s first win in a year, his third at Iowa Speedway since 2012, and Andretti’s sixth consecutive at this track. The 2012 champion also led an American 1-2-3-4 in the heartland, as Sage Karam drove an aggressive, on-the-edge-race to claim his best finish for Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevy with third, and Graham Rahal took fourth for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda, despite a cut tire throwing off RLLR’s pit sequence, and another long pit stop due to a gearbox problem that sent him a lap down.
Said Hunter-Reay: “It felt like we had something (tonight). It certainly was going to be tough to beat them today, but this No. 28 DHL Honda was on rails at the end and I was driving the snot out of it. It was loose and I just kept my foot to the floor. I was barely having to lift at the end. It was a lot of work in the cockpit. This one we really had to work for, this was a hard one. After such a tough season, it was great to be back in Victory Lane."
The effect of Rahal's problems became clear afterward when he explained: "We had a heck of a night – the right rear went flat and then the car decided to just not shift. So we went from about lap 60 with it stuck in sixth gear. Unfortunately we went down a couple laps there and got lucky with that yellow at the end, but really just soldiered through this thing.
"It’s a shame because this Steak ‘n Shake Mi-Jack car was capable of winning tonight. We passed (Ryan) Hunter-Reay on the long run and I thought we’d be able to be right there, but she was jammed in sixth and we couldn’t seem to get it out. I tried to power-cycle the car on the back straight but just couldn’t get it to do anything.”
Rahal’s dogged persistence was worthwhile as he’s now moved to second in the championship standings after a disastrous night for most of his title rivals. Juan Montoya posted the first retirement as he crashed his Team Penske entry into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 10 with a suspected suspension failure, and Scott Dixon had what he described as "a weird problem with the right rear axle" that necessitated a long behind-the-wall stop that left him 37 laps down, in 18th place. Meanwhile Will Power and Helio Castroneves came home 10th and 11th for Team Penske-Chevy.
In the early stages of the race, it appeared only polesitter Castroneves and Newgarden had the pace to battle with the Ganassi duo of Tony Kanaan and Dixon, and they did so vigorously. It took until lap 60 of the 300 lap race for Kanaan to build a one-second advantage over his pursuers. Behind these dominant four, however, the Andretti quartet of Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Justin Wilson were climbing into the top 10, gradually knocking Power down the order.
Following the first round of pit stops and after the out-of-sequence cars – led by back-row starter Sebastien Bourdais of KV Racing – had pitted, Castroneves and Newgarden led Kanaan and Dixon, with Karam fifth ahead of the Andretti cars, Rahal and Power. Newgarden surged into the lead soon after one-third distance and held that spot for 20 laps until Castroneves repassed for P1, only for Newgarden to retake it on lap 159. Meanwhile as Kanaan and Dixon started to feel extreme pressure from behind as Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Rahal made their presence felt.
When a charging Charlie Kimball crashed out of 10th on lap 171, everyone got a chance to pit, which is when Rahal’s horribly long stop occurred as the car just seemed unable to accelerate out of its pitbox. Dixon also suffered a tardy stop, and when Kanaan’s car died soon after the restart and Castroneves fell down the field – from which he’d never truly recover – Hunter-Reay saw racing’s equivalent of the parting of the Red Sea. Up ahead, only Newgarden lay between him and a long-awaited victory.
Hunter-Reay’s final stop, on lap 240, came some nine laps before Newgarden’s and those fast extra laps on fresh rubber proved crucial to jumping Ryan ahead of Josef. Despite a sixth caution period as Takuma Sato hit the Turn 2 wall, RHR was able to hang on to the lead quite comfortably.