After Ryan Hunter-Reay won a Verizon IndyCar Series race for the first time in 43 starts, he celebrated by taking a dip in the James Scott Memorial Fountain at Belle Isle Park.
Hunter-Reay raced to victory in Sunday’s second half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader, winning by 11.3549 seconds over Will Power. It was the 17th Indy car victory for the Floridian and first since a win at Pocono Raceway in August 2015.
“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. “I’ll always put the 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back and forth every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast and jumping in the fountain.”
CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY LEAR: Race 2 official results
Relying on a three-stop strategy so he could drive aggressively in the No. 28 DHL Honda, Hunter-Reay was nearly eight seconds behind Andretti Autosport teammate and pole sitter Alexander Rossi following the final round of pit stops with 17 laps remaining. Reeling off laps at near qualifying pace – Hunter-Reay posted the five fastest race laps chasing down Rossi – he quickly closed the gap and forced the 2016 Indy 500 winner to lock up his tires on two occasions.
The second tire lockup came on Lap 64 of 70 on the 2.35-mile temporary street course, with Rossi sliding into the Turn 3 runoff area and Hunter-Reay zooming into the lead. Hunter-Reay wasn’t challenged thereafter, while Rossi was forced to pit for new tires and finished 12th after leading a race-high 46 laps.
“It was a pretty disappointing day considering we led the most laps and started on pole,” Rossi said. “For sure, we didn’t have the pace for Ryan; he was just on another level.
“Unfortunately, with less than 10 laps to go, our luck changed. We’re not really sure what happened. We’re going to investigate to see if something went wrong because it was a very abnormal issue to have when we hadn’t experienced anything remotely similar all weekend.”
Hunter-Reay became the sixth different driver to win in eight Verizon IndyCar Series races this year. During post-race ceremonies, he waded into the 93-year-old Scott fountain, laid down in the shallow water and enjoyed a sip of champagne to top off the victory.
“When we started that last stint, Rossi was more than a straightaway ahead of us,” Hunter-Reay said. “I couldn’t even see him. I just put my head down and this thing was flying.
“That was going to be a heck of a fight at the end, but good thing we pressured him into it and we’re here in victory lane. It’s awesome, this car deserves to be where it is right now. That was a heck of a car, heck of a strategy, great work in the pit lane and I drove my rear end off.”
Power was pleased to finish second in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, in the race that team owner Roger Penske’s group operates. It also came a week after Power’s career-cementing victory in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“I feel like this was about as good as we could get, given how fast Hunter-Reay was,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “There was just no way anyone was going to beat him. … I feel like with what we had, that’s the most that we could have got out of that race, so very happy.”
Ed Jones tied his career best by finishing third in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Jones’ teammate, Scott Dixon, finished fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda a day after winning Race 1 of the doubleheader.
“We had the pace where we were,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to get by Will, but it was a great job by the team the whole weekend. Scott winning the race (Saturday) and then me on the podium today, we’re just aiming to bring the team forward.”
Sunday’s race had only a single full-course caution, tying the record for fewest at an Indy car race on Belle Isle. Spencer Pigot spun and stalled in Turn 5 on the opening lap after contact from Santino Ferrucci.
With the second-place finish, Power exited the Detroit weekend with the championship lead after eight of 17 races. The Australian leads Dixon by five points, Rossi by 11, Hunter-Reay by 31 and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden by 39.
The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600 on Saturday, June 9. The race airs live at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.