Ryan Hunter-Reay came out on top for the third consecutive race. Courtesy of Firestone Racing/Photo by Dennis Ashlock
After three wins in a row, Ryan Hunter-Reay is now officially white-hot.
The Andretti Autosport driver continued his current rampage in the IZOD IndyCar Series on Sunday by winning the Honda Indy Toronto after surviving a restart with three laps to go. Even more importantly, Hunter-Reay is now sitting atop the standings with five races to go.
He'll be taking a 34-point lead in the championship over Will Power to Edmonton, Alberta in two weeks after Power and a number of other title contenders had bad days in "Toronto The Good," making for one of the bigger points swings of the season so far.
"There's a championship run going on right now," said Hunter-Reay, now the first American driver to lead the IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 (Hornish would win the title that year). "I'm a part of it as much as everybody on this team is and they did excellent pit stops. They gave me the car to win today.
"We had it when it mattered again -- at the end. We don't need to win the beginning of the race. We need to win the end and it's been such a pleasure...Today, we had the right strategy, we had the right race car, we had the good pit stops, and I did it on the track."
It appeared that Hunter-Reay was going to cruise to victory, but fate decided to make him work for it instead.
With five laps remaining, Josef Newgarden attempted to pass Simon Pagenaud on the inside at Lake Shore Boulevard. But when Pagenaud threw a block on the rookie, Newgarden was forced to lock up and slid right up to the tire barriers at Turn 3 while Pagenaud went on.
Pagenaud would eventually get a 30-second penalty for his block, but that came long after Newgarden's team owner Sarah Fisher fumed on her pit box as the yellow was brought out. With that, Hunter-Reay's lead of almost eight seconds on Charlie Kimball was erased.
"I'm thinking '20 laps, 10 laps, still no yellow. There's no way this thing can go green the whole thing,'" Hunter-Reay recalled. "Then, boom, the yellow comes out."
But Hunter-Reay was able to stay ahead of the pack on the restart, which was marred by multiple incidents. At Turn 1, Kimball was pushed by Mike Conway into Sebastien Bourdais, who skidded into the tire barriers while the other two kept going. More chaos ensued at Turn 3, where Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti crashed on the straightaway near the turn and multiple cars got stacked up in the corner itself.
Out came the yellow again to mark the end of the race.
"It was unfortunate to finish under yellow," Hunter-Reay said. "I would have liked the fans to have seen a green finish, but that's Toronto. Turn 3 is Mayhem Corner, so..."
As for Kimball, who carried the banner for Chip Ganassi Racing on Sunday while teammates Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal all failed to see the checkered flag, he was happy to earn his first IndyCar podium finish -- but was also looking for more.
"It's good for my confidence," Kimball said. "It's good for the team's confidence. I think we're building both car and driver together. We have the foundation built, now it's time to get the results. But it's all about moving forward and learning from here rather than relying on this to continue to keep my career moving.
"Second's good. A win's better."
Conway's third-place run marked a return to the podium for the first time since winning at Long Beach in 2011. The Englishman was especially keen on getting a solid result for his car owner, A.J. Foyt, after having gone through multiple rough patches this year.
"[Foyt] wants to win as much as everyone else," Conway said. "It's quite funny. That just makes me want to win even more. I mean, this podium is for A.J. today. Happy to get this result. Obviously, we want to win and he does as well."
Fourth place went to Tony Kanaan, who made up 13 positions en route. Oriol Servia also climbed up the pylon to claim fifth place after beginning from 14th.
Meanwhile, as Hunter-Reay, Kimball and Conway celebrated in Victory Lane, several title hopefuls saw their chances take a hit.
First up for trouble was Dixon, who came into Sunday in third place in points, but only got in seven laps before a mechanical issue sidelined him for the rest of the race. Dixon later said that he thought it was the engine, and if he's right, that means a 10-spot grid penalty for Edmonton as he would have to go to his sixth engine of the season; INDYCAR rules say that teams can only have five "fresh" powerplants per season.
Not too long after, Toronto's own James Hinchcliffe -- far and away, the fan and media darling this weekend -- also suffered mechanical gremlins and was forced to get out of the car after 28 laps.
"It's a heartache to go out early here," said Hinchcliffe.
Then came the biggest hit of all for points leader Will Power, who stayed out in the race lead while the majority of the field pitted early. When caution came out on Lap 24 for Rahal wrecking in Turn 1, he had to give up the point for service and found himself in mid-pack afterwards.
His day got worse when a piece of his front wing broke off and went under his left front tire, puncturing it and forcing him to go back to pit road. He initially took tires only on Lap 57, but had to change the wing three laps later and went a lap down. He finished 15th.
Now, for the first time since his win at Long Beach in April, Power is looking up in the standings instead of looking down.
"We did a good job on fuel but unfortunately, we stayed out and got caught," the Australian said afterwards. "I really enjoy racing here, just a tough break.
"It is going to be a tight finish with only five races to go."
It's certainly looking like it.
IZOD IndyCar Series
Honda Indy Toronto -- Race Results
Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out
|1. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Chevy, 85, Running
|2. (13) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Honda, 85, Running|
|3. (11) Mike Conway, Foyt-Honda, 85, Running|
|4. (17) Tony Kanaan, KVRT-Chevy, 85, Running|
|5. (14) Oriol Servia, Panther+DRR-Chevy, 85, Running|
|6. (7) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 85, Running|
|7. (15) JR Hildebrand, Panther-Chevy, 85, Running|
|8. (24) James Jakes, Coyne-Honda, 85, Running|
|9. (9) Takuma Sato, KVRT-Honda, 85, Running|
|10. (16) Alex Tagliani, Herta-Honda, 85, Running|
|11. (18) Rubens Barrichello, KVRT-Chevy, 85, Running|
|12. (8) Simon Pagenaud, SHM-Honda, 85, Running|
|13. (20) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, -1 lap
|14. (4) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, -1 lap
|15. (2) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, -1 lap
|16. (22) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, -1 lap
|17. (1) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, -1 lap
|18. (21) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, -1 lap
|19. (12) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, -2 laps, contact|
|20. (23) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, -4 laps
|21. (3) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, Lap 67, Contact|
|22. (19) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, Lap 28, Mechanical|
|23. (10) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, Lap 23, Contact|
|24. (25) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Lotus, Lap 9, Mechanical|
25. (5) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, Lap 7, Mechanical
|Winner's average speed: 95.787 mph
|Time of race: One hour, 33 mins, 26.5096 secs
|Margin of victory: Under caution|
|Lead changes: Five