Apr 14, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Leaving the track last night after the Verizon IndyCar Series’ second race of the 2014 season, it hit me – Ryan Hunter-Reay’s passing attempt on Josef Newgarden Sunday wasn’t just a typical passing attempt.
It was part of a pattern that sees one of the series’ most complete drivers opt to make, to me at least, an out-of-body type decision when it comes to this race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Many regard Will Power as the out-and-out fastest driver and Scott Dixon as the most complete driver in the field, but it’s hard not to include the 2012 series champion in the discussion for either of those two categories.
When it comes to Long Beach in particular, move RHR ahead of Dixon and infinitesimally close to Power in that Q rating. On the streets of Southern California, since he switched to Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay always enters as one of the favorites.
The record in the last four years at Long Beach prior to Sunday: started second, and won in 2010. In 2011: started second, retired (P23) due to a gearbox issue. 2012: started 13th (qualified third but had a 10-spot grid penalty for an engine change) and ended sixth (time penalty added for avoidable contact with Takuma Sato after ending third on the road). Last year: started second, retired (P24) due to contact and a rare unforced error.
The 2010 win though was a career-defining moment for RHR. He’d been through a seriously rough stretch throughout 2009, needing to complete two last-minute deals just to race and on a personal note, losing his mom due to colon cancer. It was a win that helped solidify his future at Andretti Autosport, with the win turning a six-race deal into a full-season one.
Yet on-track, in this race since that 2010 win, I’ve seen a burning desire from RHR more than at almost any other track – save for maybe Milwaukee, where he’s won the last two years – to not only be the best, but possibly attempt things outside his comfort zone.
And that occasionally leads to trouble. Unnecessary trouble, at that.
Take the 2012 incident between he and Sato, for instance. It was the last lap, in a battle for third, where Hunter-Reay charged down the inside of the left-handed Turn 6 and made contact with the-then Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver. There wasn’t much room for the maneuver, as Sato left enough room but not enough for a reasonable side-by-side attempt to where RHR could successfully pass.
That’s the art of defensive driving; if RHR backs off there, he gets fourth place points and a reasonable chunk to take into the next race. Instead, he went for it, made contact, and got docked several positions. Ultimately it was a net 7 point loss, but considering Hunter-Reay only won the 2012 title by 3 points, those were crucial.
Last year, he came into Long Beach as defending series champion. But in the race, trying to extend the gap, he over-stepped his boundaries and made a mistake when he nosed into the Turn 8 wall. He owned it, though, and that was a good sign.
Flash back now to yesterday. Hunter-Reay dominates most of the first half from pole, and pretty much would have the race in the bag after the second round of pit stops. He approaches Newgarden entering Turn 4; at best, an overtake will only happen if it’s a leader approaching lapped traffic, not an actual lead pass attempt.
RHR had options. He could have held back and opted to wait until either of Turn 6, where his move on Sato failed to work two years earlier; Turn 8, where he made the unforced error in 2013; or Turn 9, the second consecutive 90-degree right hander at the end of the Seaside Way back straight where passing frequently occurs.
In any of those three spots, Newgarden’s cold tires would still not have been completely up to temperature, and Hunter-Reay could have afforded a simple, standard type maneuver with likely, no consequences. And the race lead.
Instead, he opted to channel his Ayrton Senna and go for a gap that he thought existed – even though it was pretty much Newgarden’s corner – and admitted as much in his post-race interview.
The end result was a completely unnecessary accident that took him and his teammate out and pissed off his team boss and race strategist. It ended the races of the guy whose team had beat the Andretti squad on pit stops thanks to pitting a lap later, and a handful of others who had nowhere to go in the fracas.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is a champion, a gentleman, a philanthropist and one of IndyCar’s all-around best drivers. But that doesn’t provide him an out-clause after making one of the least champion-worthy moves I’ve seen in a long time.
And maybe because it occurred at Long Beach, it was destined to occur anyway.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
This weekend is the first without a NASCAR race since mid-July.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
For the last time in 2014, we round up all of the action in the paddock as Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 world champion for the second time.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
It’s not enough to beat McLaren in the constructors’, but a great result nevertheless for Hulkenberg and Perez in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Lotus laughs rather than cries after a fitting end to its challenging 2014 season.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Quite a drive from Daniel Ricciardo, primarily aided by start on primes.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:15 PM EST
After winning four world titles with Red Bull, Vettel is bound for Ferrari in 2015.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
On a great day for British motorsport, Prince Harry and British Prime Minister David Cameron send their congratulations to Hamilton.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Alonso is set to join McLaren in 2015 after five years with Ferrari.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:15 AM EST
An engine failure cost Rosberg the chance to emulate his father and become F1 world champion.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:56 AM EST
Second and third for Massa and Bottas caps an incredible 2014 season for Williams.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:13 AM EST
British driver wins his second F1 championship in Abu Dhabi as title rival Nico Rosberg fails to finish in the points.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:45 AM EST
An engine failure for Nico Rosberg leaves Hamilton free to win the race under the lights in Abu Dhabi and clinch his second world title.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
F1′s feeder series comes to a close in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:45 AM EST
The third tier single seater series comes to a close in Abu Dhabi, with Alex Lynn winning the championship.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:15 AM EST
Nico Rosberg will lead the grid away for the 11th and final time in 2014 later today.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:45 AM EST
Nico Rosberg and Lewi Hamilton’s date with destiny awaits in Abu Dhabi today.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:30 AM EST
Spaniard responds to comments made by Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci earlier this week.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
The 2014 Formula 1 season has been a sensational one, but the championship will finally be decided today in Abu Dhabi. Will it be Lewis or Nico?
Nov 23, 2014, 5:48 AM EST
Changes made to the cars overnight warrant another penalty for Red Bull.
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday 0
- Hamilton calls second title victory “the greatest day of my life” 0
- Hamilton clinches second F1 world title by winning Abu Dhabi GP 2
- The Final Showdown: Hamilton and Rosberg prepare for one final battle in Abu Dhabi 0
- Vettel and Ricciardo to start Abu Dhabi GP from pit lane 0
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday 0
- Red Bull drivers excluded from qualifying in Abu Dhabi 2