The Grand Prix of Baltimore had all the make-up of a race that could bring drama, competition, and flat-out weirdness to the IZOD IndyCar Series and its championship. Baltimore’s place on the schedule as the penultimate race in the championship proved to be an important date for everyone involved.
The weekend began precariously for the IndyCars as a set of light rail tracks caused teams’ DW12s to become airborne for as much as seventy feet down a straightaway causing Race Director Beaux Barfield to install a chicane neccessitating drivers navigate around the problem area.
For an event that almost didn’t happen and rescued by Andretti Sports Marketing it became very important to competitors. Team Penske and Will Power looked like they were going to all but sew up the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship. All the signs were present with IndyCar competing on a street course, an avenue that Power has all but dominated since joining Team Penske full-time in 2010. The weekend at Baltimore started just how Team Penske had hoped when Power took the Verizon Team Penske car to the top of the starting grid winning the Pole Position and capturing one more point toward the championship. Everything was going to plan, until Race Day.
The race began in Power’s favor as he took the point and extended his lead in the very early stages and looked to be doing what Will Power does best. Everyone in the Paddock knew weather was going to be a factor with rain showers in the area and it was just a matter of when. The rain came about a third of the way to the race distance forcing drivers to pit lane to swap slick tires for rain tires.
The race turned difficult for Power when Team Penske elected to keep rain tires as the track dried costing Power valuable track position. Power’s closest championship rival, Ryan Hunter-Reay, used a risky strategy by keeping the slick tires through the rain to grab the lead. Hunter-Reay took advantage of a significant strategy miscue on the part of Team Penske and led much of the back-half of the race positioning themselves for a huge points day. A late-race restart with the No. 2 PPG Automotive Finishes car, driven by Power’s Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe, leading changed the entire scope of this race, and the championship. IndyCar utilizes double-file restarts on road and street courses where cars line up side-by-side. The restart zone is signified by orange cones, or a “cone zone”, wedged in the catch fence. The zone begins immediately after the chicane and when the green flag flew Hunter-Reay was lagging back behind Briscoe and jumped on the throttle passing Briscoe and taking the race lead while Power was, essentially, shoved out of the way relegating him to a sixth place result as Hunter-Reay captured the win shaving Power’s points lead to 17 going to the finale at Auto Club Speedway.
There has been immediate debate on whether Hunter-Reay’s treatment of the restart was within the rules or not. As the rule book is written, the restart was legal, however, it was not in the spirit of the rule and competition. They are called double-file restarts for a reason and by lagging back behind Briscoe coming to the restart allowed Hunter-Reay to accelerate a couple seconds before Briscoe and make the easy pass for the win. Regardless, what is done is done and the fight moves to Auto Club Speedway and it all comes down to 500 miles under the lights on September 15th. The real winners in this restart exchange are fans of IndyCar Racing. Yet again, the IZOD IndyCar Series takes its championship to the final race without any kind of “Chase” or “Countdown” system. When Auto Club Speedway opens for practice, two drivers will be fighting for the series title. It will be an epic race so make sure to tune in for this one!
CONGRATULATIONS RYAN HUNTER-REAY AND ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: WINNERS OF THE BALTIMORE GRAND PRIX