Faced with a 10th-place starting position and the prospect of their championship rival running up front all day, Andretti Autosport and driver Ryan Hunter-Reay needed to do something big on Sunday in order to keep the American's title hopes alive.
The opportunity came early on in the Grand Prix of Baltimore when rain began to fall on the two-mile street circuit and one of the AA drivers, Marco Andretti, stuffed his car into the tire barriers at Turn 1 on Lap 19. Shortly after, most of the leaders pitted for wet tires, including points leader Will Power.
Hunter-Reay, however, was told to stay out on the damp course with his dry slick tires in an attempt to move up the scoring chart -- and to take advantage when the rain would stop shortly afterwards.
"I can't describe how nerve racking that is when it rains on a street circuit and you're on slicks and you know the championship is on the line; and if you get through this thing, you're going to have a great race," said Hunter-Reay, who went on to win and cut Power's lead to 17 points going into the season finale on Sept. 15 at Fontana, California.
"We thought that it was just going to sprinkle and that I would have to live through a little bit of a wet track and hopefully, that sprinkle would end, and it did. We never came in for rain tires. I think that was absolutely critical to our win today."
In addition, his team owner Michael Andretti indicated the decision was partly based on his team's hunch that another yellow flag would come after the race had already seen three of them in the first 20 laps.
"We thought if we could get through one restart and basically get to three or four corners -- because we thought there was going to be another yellow right away -- let's just go for it," said Michael. "And we told Ryan, 'Just keep it on the track, don't try to beat anybody, but just keep it on the track and I think if we do that, it's going to go yellow again and then it's going to have time to dry out.' That's actually what happened."
Indeed, shortly after Hunter-Reay took the restart green on Lap 21 as the leader, Dario Franchitti was spun out in Turn 1 by Simona de Silvestro to bring out the fourth caution period of the afternoon. That gave Hunter-Reay and Andretti the time they needed while the track dried up.
RHR eventually flipped to a different set of alternate 'red' slicks on Lap 23, but Power (who eventually finished sixth) was forced to head to the pits on Lap 27 and finally ditch the now-useless wet tires -- costing him tons of track position.
In hindsight, it became clear in that moment that Hunter-Reay was going to do some sort of damage to Power's points lead. The only question was how much.
Now, one last, 500-mile battle awaits outside of Los Angeles in two weeks -- and Hunter-Reay has the momentum.
Quotes were taken from yesterday's post-race press conference.