TORONTO — Flat oval, banked oval or street course, the Midwest or Canada: Ryan Hunter-Reay is proving he can dominate anywhere on the IndyCar circuit.
Hunter-Reay became the first American-born driver in six years to win three straight IndyCar races, taking the Honda Indy Toronto under caution Sunday. In the process, he took over the series points lead and, with five races left, finds himself in position to become the first American to win the title since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.
“Three in a row, I don’t know what to think about this,” Hunter-Reay said. “We just need to really enjoy it. It’s nice to have realized that we’re in this position. And this is what I’ve always wanted. But now we have to take hold of it and go get it done.”
Starting from the sixth position, Hunter-Reay took the lead for good on the 57th lap. He then managed to avoid a series of pileups following a restart on the 82nd lap of the 85-lap race.
The trouble began when Sebastien Bourdais was sent into the wall by Charlie Kimball on Turn 1. A few seconds later, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Simon Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti became entangled in two crashes on Turn 3.
Hunter-Reay made it through the first turn, just beating Kimball to the corner and holding him off before the yellow flags came out. Kimball was second, followed by Mike Conway.
“That’s Toronto,” Hunter-Reay said. “Turn 3 is mayhem corner.”
Hunter-Reay’s had success in Toronto, having finished third in each of the past two seasons on the narrow, twisting 1.75-mile street course. And he also has the advantage of having Andretti Autosport team owner, Michael Andretti, who holds the course record with seven wins.
“What can I say, I love Toronto,” Andretti said.
As for the roll his driver’s on, Andretti said: “I think he’s a real factor in the championship. He’s really strong on these types of tracks as well. He doesn’t have a weakness when he’s driving.”
Coming off wins at Milwaukee and Iowa, Hunter-Reay joined the late Dan Wheldon among Andretti drives to win three straight races. Hunter-Reay is the first American to win three straight since AJ Allmendinger in 2006, whose third victory also came in Toronto.
And Hunter-Reay continued his surge up the standings, moving 34 points ahead of Will Power, who finished 15th, and 46 ahead of Helio Castroneves, who moved into third place after a sixth-place finish.
The winning streak also means three consecutive victories for Chevy engines, which leads the manufacturers’ points race. Chevy has won seven races, with Honda winning the other three.
Kimball and Conway enjoyed career-best finishes after starting in the middle of the pack.
After starting 13th, Kimball got lucky being in the pits when the first of three cautions came up. And he had enough gas and good enough tires to make a run at the end, jumping into second place by passing Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud.
Kimball, however, couldn’t beat Hunter-Reay to the first turn on the restart. And he had more worries, finding himself in the middle of Conway and Bourdais attempting to squeeze through a turn that was made more slippery because crews didn’t have time to sweep up the rubber on the track.
“I think everybody was in a bit of a tight spot there because they didn’t sweep,” Kimball said. “Mike steamed up on the inside of me. I didn’t think there was room.”
Bourdais saw things differently.
“Too many idiots, that’s for sure,” Bourdais said, before focusing his displeasure on Kimball. “He shouldn’t be standing on that podium, he doesn’t deserve it.”
There was plenty of disappointment to go around.
Franchitti, the defending champion and pole winner, continued to struggle. The Scot finished 17th, in part because of a dreadful first pit stop in which he stopped too far from the wall. That cost him extra time as a crew member had to move his car closer because the fuel hose couldn’t reach.
Power ran into trouble on the 56th lap and finished 15th. He had contact with Josef Newgarden on the course, and it was enough to damage his front wing, which eventually fell off and slashed his left tire. That forced Power back into the pits.
Power then pitted again five laps later to have his new front wing adjusted.
“Just a tough break,” said Power, who’s also won three in a row this season. “It’s going to be a tight finish with five races to go.”
Hometown favorite James Hinchcliffe finished 22nd after his engine failed. He had been running fourth 28 laps in.
Hinchcliffe had no luck with his engines this week. He qualified ninth, but an unapproved engine change on Friday forced him to start 19th.
“We had a mechanical issue and started losing power in the engine, and it’s too bad,” said Hinchcliffe, who grew up outside of Toronto. “It’s a heartache to go out early here.”
Scott Dixon’s run of engine troubles continued. He was the first driver out of the race when his engine failed seven laps in.
That was a big blow in several ways for Dixon, who entered third in the points standings. He also entered the week having used up all five of his approved engines for the season. His next change will be unapproved, forcing an automatic 10-spot penalty in the grid in his next race.
The series takes a week off and will stay in Canada for its next race in Edmonton on July 22.