Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after starting the race on pole. The American held off a furious charge from Scott Dixon in the final five laps. It was the fourth straight runner-up finish for Dixon at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves joined them on the podium, with Charlie Kimball and Will Power rounding out the top five.
Andretti Autosport has now won the first two races of the season, although it was a day to forget for James Hinchcliffe. After winning the season-opening race two weeks ago at St Petersburg, Hinchcliffe was involved in an incident on the first lap when Oriol Servia and Graham Rahal made contact. He watched the majority of the race from his car as the race virtually went caution free.
Early in the race, Hunter-Reay was checking out. By the time he made his first pit stop on lap 24, he had a 12 second lead. Power got slightly off course at the start of the race and got shuffled back in the pack. The team changed his race strategy and went for a two-stop race. He had to save fuel for most of the day, which didn’t allow him to battle for the lead.
While it was a great day for Dixon and Kimball, it was another sour finish for their teammate, four-time series champion Dario Franchitti. His Honda engine suffered a broken header on lap 44, and his day was done. After his 25th place finish at St Petersburg, his hole to climb out of just got a lot deeper.
Hunter-Reay led the first 44 laps, but then Team Penske climbed into the picture. Ryan locked up his left front tire and slid into Helio, and their tires touched. Helio got by him, then by his teammate Power to take the lead. It looked as though Roger Penske was going to win his fourth straight race at Barber.
The third Penske car, driven by AJ Allmendinger in his IndyCar debut, had a great drive going for most of the day. He qualified tenth and was near the front most of the race until his final pit stop. He stalled the car on exit, and slid to the back. With 15 laps to go, Hunter-Reay got by Helio to take the lead for the final time. Dixon followed him and began to chase him down, but came up just short.
Castroneves is now the points leader after the first two events. Dixon is second and Hunter-Reay is third. Marco Andretti and Hinchcliffe give Michael Andretti three cars in the top five. The next race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21 at 4 PM ET on NBC Sports Network. Power won the race last year, and the 2011 winner, Mike Conway, will provide a field of 28 cars with the addition of Allmendinger.