After a race that had a little bit of everything, Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrated his perfect timing and a much-needed victory.
Will Power cursed the weather and his awful luck.
Hunter-Reay won the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday, charging to the front on a controversial restart to keep alive his hopes of capturing the IndyCar Series championship.
Power could have clinched the overall title with a second straight win in Baltimore on the 2.04-mile street course that winds through the heart of the city. But the pole-sitter finished sixth in a race that drew nine caution flags, was marred by rain and had eight drivers drop out before the finish.
“I’m still trying to catch my breath,” Hunter-Reay said. “Those restarts were crazy, crazy, crazy.”
The last restart came five laps from the conclusion of the 75-lap race. While front-runner Ryan Briscoe was waiting for the green flag, Hunter-Reay caught sight of it and took off, moving from second to first.
Briscoe claimed Hunter-Reay jumped the gun, but race officials ruled otherwise.
“Everyone had been going late,” Hunter-Reay explained. “The green flags were coming out before the leaders were accelerating, and I caught wind of that. So I just started to focus on the green flag instead of the guy next to me. Briscoe got jumped on that one, but the green flag was flying and he was sitting there in first gear.”
Briscoe was second, rookie Simon Pagenaud finished third and Scott Dixon came in fourth.
The victory put Hunter-Reay within 17 points of Power, who failed to hold a late advantage in points in 2010 and 2011 and is in position for yet another collapse heading into the final race of the year, on the oval in Fontana, Calif., on Sept. 15.
Hunter-Reay leads the series with four victories. He won three straight races on ovals at Milwaukee and Iowa and the street course in Toronto.
Power fell out of the lead around the 20th lap to make a pit stop for a change to rain tires, a concession to the drizzle that pelted several sections of the track. The other top three cars opted to stay on slick tires, so Hunter-Reay moved in front.
The rain quickly subsided, so Power pitted on Lap 28 to change back to slicks. That pushed Power back to 17th, and although he eventually worked his way back into first, that advantage disappeared when he made his final pit stop.
“Every weekend, we are not just the quickest, but by a bunch,” Power said. “And circumstances seem to prevent us from winning. Today, we lost it with the weather.”
Briscoe insisted that the rules require that the drivers pair off while waiting for the green flag, and he said Hunter-Reay was intentionally lagging behind.
“I was honestly just waiting for him to pair up because he came off the chicane and he was hanging back,” Briscoe said. “He accelerated from two car-lengths back before I accelerated, and that’s not how restarts work.”
That, however, is how they worked on this day.
“Definitely I jumped out and I’m happy about it,” Hunter-Reay said.
And now, the pressure is on Power heading to the finale in California.
Michael Andretti, owner of the Andretti Autosport Team of which Hunter-Reay is a member, said. “I think we got them worried, and we should have them worried if he’s not. We did exactly what we needed to do coming into this weekend.”
Power is up for the challenge.
“If we thought three races ago we would have a 17-point lead, we would actually be pretty happy, so that’s not bad,” he said.
Power even found a bit of humor in the situation.
“Good news is, if I take Hunter-Reay out in the last race, we crash out together, I win,” he said.
Dario Franchitti’s disappointing season took another hit on Lap 21 when he spun to a stop after his car was clipped from behind by Simona de Silvestro. The collision damaged the front of Silvestro’s car, and he eventually dropped out of the race.
Franchitti finished 13th.
Takuma Sato, who held the lead for a while, dropped out Lap 50 due to mechanical difficulties.
Sebastien Bourdais exited on Lap 32 with mechanical failure in the suspension. Bourdais was fourth in qualifying.