IndyCar – Alabama GP: Ryan in the Rain

indycar-2014-barber-ryan-hunter-reay-victory-laneNeither rain nor severe weather nor standing water stayed the drivers of the IndyCar Series from the swift completion of their appointed round at Barber Motorsports Park. Okay, it did a little as the race was pushed back by over two hours due to a severe rain storm and standing water.

When the race got going, it looked like Will Power was going to storm off into the distance and win his second race of the season. However, as it so often the case in inclement weather, the only person that can beat you is yourself. Power left the track early in the race which allowed Ryan Hunter-Reay to claim the lead and his first win of the season.

The race was originally supposed to start just after 3:00 PM EDT but was pushed back to closer to 5:30 PM after the track was hit with a monsoon. The delay allowed the weather to move through so the track was driveable, not just raceable, and for standing water to be cleared before the green flag. The planned 80 lap race distance was scrapped for a 100 minute timed race instead.

Power got out to a comfortable lead early in the running while the wet conditions made the running dicey back in the pack. Cars were all over the track with a few ending up running off the road or backwards. Up front, Power quickly stretched a comfortable gap with laps under 1:20 while everyone else was sliding around slower than that mark.

The Queenslander’s lead didn’t even last until halfway. Even though he was the fastest out of the gate, he managed to make one critical error at the hairpin. He locked up his left-front on the downhill approach and slid off the track, very nearly into the tyre barrier at the end of the runoff and relinquished the lead to Ryan Hunter-Reay.

RHR wasn’t really challenged from there. Pit strategy moved Sebastian Saavedra stuck it out on wets while everyone else went to slicks but he didn’t last very long on the point. As a dry line started to emerge, it became clear that RHR’s setup was the best one suited for dry conditions and he took advantage by storming away and taking the win.

indycar-2014-barber-podiumThe victory was Hunter-Reay’s first win of the season and second in a row at Barber. It also marks Andretti Autosport’s first win with Honda engines under the current engine formula. Marco Andretti quietly made his way to second for the first AA 1-2 finish since Iowa last year. Scott Dixon took his fifth podium in five Barber races but this time, he took his first 3rd place.

Simon Pagenaud scored his third-straight top five of the season with a fourth. Will Power recovered from his early off to round out the top five. Justin Wilson showed that he’s still got it with a 6th. James Hinchcliffe’s day was foiled by a refuelling problem that makes him this season’s unluckiest driver. He still managed to finish 7th. Josef Newgarden had the same problem has Hinch and finished right behind him in 8th. Tony Kanaan started last but had a TK sort of day by recovering to 9th. Charlie Kimball wrote off his primary car in the morning warmup but came through for a top ten in a Kimball sort of day.

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With all that’s going on over in Ukraine, I didn’t think that I would need to wedge it into an IndyCar post. After all, Formula One is going there in a few months so I can wax poetic then. However, the championship contender that is being affected isn’t in F1 but IndyCar.

indycar-2014-barber-aleshinThe key backer of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is one of the many Russians hit by US and EU sanctions and it could affect the team very quickly. SMP Bank (under the SMP Racing banner) sponsors Mikhail Aleshin’s #7 car. That money is also keeping the #77 of Simon Pagenaud afloat in an indirect way. But with SMP boss Boris Rotenberg subject to asset freezes by the EU and US, it has opened up a very real possibility that Schmidt Peterson’s key source of funding could dry up.

Rotenberg is considered to be in the “inner circles” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two have reportedly been friends since childhood. As such, he was one of the people hit with sanctions to reprimand Russia and Putin over their intervention and insurgency into eastern Ukraine to destabilize the region.

SPM hasn’t commented on these developments but we’ve already seen Pagenaud, a top contender for the championship and multi-race winner, go through a few sponsors this season. Without a steady sponsorship package, who knows if race to race deals with SMP Bank making up the gaps will keep the #77 on track.

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Cosworth hasn’t been in American open-wheel racing since Champ Car had its quote-unquote final race at Long Beach in 2008. Really, though, they haven’t really been involved since 2007’s final Champ Car season and left Formula One after the 2013 season when the V8 engines were phased out.

indycar-2014-barber-kanaan-engineIt looks like Cossie isn’t out of motorsports yet, though. The company has set its sights on returning to the American open-wheel ranks with a return to IndyCar. Cosworth announced in February that they were interested in coming back to IndyCar but wanted to partner with a manufacturer on a program. That’s one thing they didn’t have in Formula One as they were a bargain engine and gearbox supplier approved by the FIA to supply affordable engines to low-budget teams.

Cossie says that they have held initial talks with the series to return to competition and have held preliminary talks with some manufacturers about a partnership with more talks to follow in May. IndyCar’s rules require such a partnership. Currently, Chevy engines are manufactured by Ilmor while the ill-fated Lotus engines were built by Judd as best they could considering all the support they didn’t get.

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The next round of the 2014 IndyCar Series season is in just under two weeks’ time. It’s a rare Saturday road course race as the cars make their way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the IndyCar Series’ first time going the wrong way through Turn One. It’s the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course.

Well, we saw how a road course race in the rain turned out. If it’s a dry race, it could end up going all Will Power. It probably should go all Will Power. Juan Montoya has actually run this track before which should give him an early advantage. And I wouldn’t count out Mike Conway on a road course. He can flat-out wheel a race car. Oh, and there’s that Hunter-Reay fellow who does half-decent turning right.

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