DETROIT (AP) — Mike Conway went from watching to winning IndyCar events in a week, less than a year after backing out of an oval race and wondering when he’d get another shot.
“Amazing,” he said.
The British driver dominated the first of two races at the Detroit Grand Prix, finishing nearly 13 seconds ahead of defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay on Saturday.
“What a weekend for Conway to show up” Hunter-Reay said.
Conway’s margin of victory set a race record, beating the 12.2-second cushion 1999 winner Dario Franchitti had over Paul Tracy, and making team owner Dale Coyne seem as if he’s the smartest guy in the Motor City. Conway’s only other IndyCar win was at Long Beach in 2011.
Coyne picked Conway to drive one of its two cars this weekend — after Conway helped tend his father’s garden in England during the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday — and wasted no time offering him another opportunity.
“You want to go to Toronto now?” Coyne asked Conway after the race.
Yes, he does because the Streets of Toronto race in July suits his road-racing preference.
Conway chose not to race in last September’s season finale at Fontana because he’s uncomfortable racing on ovals. He had serious leg and back injuries after a 2010 crash at Indianapolis and wrecked there again in 2012.
In his only other IndyCar race since then, he qualified fifth and finished 25th this year at Long Beach for Bobby Rahal.
“I knew it would be hard to make something possible for this year,” Conway said.
The open-wheel series is running a second, full-length race in the same weekend for the first time Sunday when Conway will start up front for the first time in his career.
If Conway can finish first again, he’ll get a $50,000 for the sweep.
“You can get a new suit,” Coyne cracked.
“I can get my name stitched on it,” he responded with a grin.
Justin Wilson finished third and was thrilled for Conway, his Dale Coyne Racing teammate, for winning just four days after finalizing a deal to race in Detroit.
“I think it’s just a really cool story,” Wilson said.
Scott Dixon finished fourth and Helio Castroneves was fifth, putting him No. 1 in IndyCar points just ahead of Hunter-Reay.
Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan was 13th after starting 19th in the 25-car field.
Marco Andretti, who put his famous family atop the standings for the first time in more than a decade earlier in the week, finished 20th and made at least one other driver very angry.
Sebastian Saavedra hit a tire barrier on lap 33 after Andretti ran him into a wall.
“It’s just frustrating to see that Marco keeps doing these dirty moves and as usual nothing is done to him,” said Saavedra, who extended his middle fingers toward Andretti when he passed by on his next lap. “It’s just a very frustrating day.”
It was for AJ Allmendinger, too.
After it was announced that he’s going to run two NASCAR Nationwide road race for Penske Racing, he failed to finish a lap after getting squeezed between Scott Dixon and Wilson.
“It’s just my fault,” he said. “I feel bad.”
Allmendinger, and the rest of the drivers who didn’t win, will have a chance to bounce back in Sunday’s race on the 2.36-mile Belle Isle street course that held up much better than it did last year.
Dixon won last year’s Detroit Grand Prix marred by pot holes and grooves that stopped the race for a little more than 2 hours and shortened the 90-lap race to 70.
To avoid embarrassment and create more opportunities to pass, Roger Penske’s Michigan-based company and Chevrolet invested nearly $2 million to improve and reconfigure the track.
It looked like money well spent.
Drivers had opportunities to make more moves and Conway took advantage right away and pavement stayed in place.
“It was much better passing for sure,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a big difference.”
Conway went around E.J. Viso, who started first, heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap to take his first lead since a race in Edmonton on July 24, 2011.
Hunter-Reay took a turn with the lead as well from lap 23 to 43, but couldn’t prevent Conway from getting inside of him on lap 44.
“I thought I was turning some decent times at the time and he was still under my gearbox at every corner,” Hunter-Reay recalled. “It was a good, clean pass. And once he got by me, he was gone.”
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