Detroit — The skid, under pressure from a pursuer hard on the throttle, proved most costly for Alexander Rossi, in the second race of the Detroit Grand Prix Sunday.
With Ryan Hunter-Reay chasing down the race leader and IndyCar series leader Rossi on lap 64 of the 70-lap race, Rossi locked his front left brake, shortly before approaching turn two of the Raceway on Belle Isle.
A bit of rubber off the driving surface of the car is not the only thing that went up in smoke.
So did Rossi’s lead in the race and the series.
When he entered the turn, Rossi suddenly slid off the track, allowing both Hunter-Reay, the race winner, and Will Power, the new leader for the 2018 IndyCar championship, to accelerate past him.
Compared to the other drivers, Hunter-Reay drove a rocket.
He raced his Honda-powered Dellara chassis to the nine fastest laps of the race.
“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, it might have been my best race,” said Hunter-Reay, in his 14th season in IndyCar.
Rossi may have heard footsteps, as Hunter-Reay approached.
“I don’t know what happened,” Rossi said, after he climbed out of the Honda-powered car of the Andretti Autosport team, which won both poles in the dual Detroit Grand Prix but failed to win either race. “I’ll have to talk to the guys.”
Rossi was unable to negotiate a turn, which may have been due to a lack of traction related to a punctured tire that locked up and dragged along the surface.
Rossi entered the race, leading the series, after finishing third Saturday.
Touted as a talented racer in his early seasons in IndyCar after some races in Formula One, started from the pole for the fourth time in his Indy career.
He won the previous three.
And he looked like he was about to cruise to victory, before Hunter-Reay began gaining on him, after stopping later in the pits, on tires six laps younger than Rossi’s.
“He wasn’t even on the same straightaway as I was when I started that stint,” Hunter-Reay said.
“And, I didn’t even know there was anyone up there. I just put my head down, and all of a sudden there was a car in the distance up in that straightaway, and I could see I was closing on him.
“So, once I had that rabbit in front of me, I knew I was quicker and I figured if I could get to him with 10 or 15 laps to go, I had a chance at it,” he said.
Hunter-Reay put the nose of his car on about the gearbox of his Andretti Autosport teammate, Rossi, with about 18 laps left.
“And from there, I was just trying to see where am I catching him, you know?” he said. “On what corners is he weaker?
“I found that turn one and two was the place that I was catching him, quite a bit. I felt that, as I was closing on him, at some point this would be exposed.
“I knew I was getting there, because I kept getting that little bit of frontend lock on him,” Hunter-Reay said.
“That kind of started opening the door. And then, I went in.”
With the puncture, Rossi ran off in Turn 2.
The dramatic switch in fortunes put Power in second place at the end of the race and in the championship lead, as he leaves town and heads to the Texas Motor Speedway, next week, where the Chevrolet powered cars of Team Penske are likely to be far more competitive.
It helped Chevrolet and Team Penske skirt disaster, during a weekend in which they race in their own backyards, effectively, and in the sight of the world headquarters of General Motors, just down the Detroit River.
“Yeah, I feel like this was about as good as we could get, given how fast Hunter-Reay was,” said Power, the winner of the Indianapolis 500, last week and 2014 IndyCar champion.
“There was just no way anyone was going to beat him.”
He talked about the struggles for Team Penske and Chevrolet this weekend.
After the manufacturer of the racing engines turned the table on Honda earlier this season, Detroit proved trying.
Only three Chevy-powered cars finished in the top 10 Saturday, and none in the top six. Power finished seventh. And while four made it Sunday, only one, Power again, finished in the top six.
“We just seemed to struggle a little bit on full tanks and cold tires but very happy with the result,” Power said.
“You know, I feel like with what we had, that's the most that we could have got out of that race, so very happy.”
After Hunter-Reay and Power, Ed Jones, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, rookie Robert Wickens, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top 10.
Rossi finished 12th.