IRL: Round 7 – Iowa Speedway, Iowa – 21 June

There were times when it seemed Iowa couldn’t string together more than five laps of green flag racing before the cautions came out. But then the race suddenly went green for the longest time, and one driver suddenly shone – all the way to the chequered flag.

At the start, Tomas Schecker got a flier as he put his foot down and stormed past the rather cautious cars in front of him. But there was an early yellow, for what looked to be two entirely separate spins by EJ Viso and Robert Doornbos off the same corner on the second lap as all the cars struggled to find grip on the completely green track after qualifying was rained off. Doornbos’ spin collected Ryan Hunter-Reay, breaking Doornbos’ front left suspension and putting both cars out although Doornbos was able to rejoin, 157 laps off the lead, to make up a few positions later on.

The second yellow was also quick in coming out, on lap 18, after Helio Castoneves and Scott Dixon tangled for the lead. Castroneves’ front wing sliced into the rear left tyre of Dixon’s car, bringing out the caution and allowing half the field to come in for a pit stop and new tyres – with Helio also getting a new front wing which took more time. Dixon’s puncture was taken care of but the impact had also caused long-term suspension problems that meant Dixon was not a serious contender as the race wore on.

That left Ryan Briscoe in the lead at the restart ahead of Tomas Scheckter, Marco Andretti, Dan Wheldon and Hideki Mutoh. But once again the green flag racing didn’t last long, this time a caution arising from a solo accident by Justin Wilson who put his evil-handling car into the wall on lap 33 after getting loose in turn 2, and this time those drivers who had stayed out in the previous two cautions, like Briscoe, decided to pit ceding the lead to Danica Patrick followed by Mike Conway, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and then Dixon and Castroneves.

This time we got to lap 55 before the fourth yellow of the day for a spin by Raphael Motos, following almost the exact skidmarks of the other crashes before him as it became clear that a bump in the track over the underground tunnel at turn 2 was destabilising the cars and causing problems. Now it was time for Danica, Dario and others to come in – including Helio, although Tony Kanaan, Dan Whelcon, Tomas Scheckter and Ryan Briscoe were all out of sequence for this one and took up the lead positions.

Finally there was some for some green flag laps after the fitful stop-start progression for the first quarter of the race. That allowed the drivers to build up a rhythm and lay down some rubber, which in turn improved the chances of fewer crashes. It meant that the long-time leader Tony Kanaan was the first driver to come in for a green flag pit stop on lap 106.

Kanaan exited the pit lane … and promptly lost control, spinning off turn 2 on lap 112 and hitting the wall hard. Despite still carrying his injuries from Indy, Kanaan seemed okay and was quick to climb out of the wrecked car, although not before uttering an obscenity over the car radio just as the TV coverage switched to it. Whoops. Cue copious apologies from the TV presenters! Kanaan was deeply unhappy at his continued run of depressingly bad luck for the last three years at Iowa, but appreciative of the fact that the spin had put the impact on his left side which meant the injuries from Indy on his right weren’t exacerbated.

The fifth caution of the day was ideal for the rest of the field, however, which had also been looking own the barrel of green flag pit stops. Everyone came in, and as the order was reshuffled we saw Ryan Briscoe take up the lead ahead of Franchitti, Wheldon, Mutoh, Scheckter and Castroneves. The field had been reduced to 13 with seven retirees.

At the restart, Franchitti quickly dispatched Briscoe for the lead, and Mutoh moved past Wheldon for 3rd, but Briscoe quickly came back at Dario and took the lead again a few laps later to eventually notch up the most laps led.

After such a caution-laden start to the event, you’d have had cause to think that the yellows would have continued to fly. Not a bit of it: the race ran green through to the chequered flag, including a whole green flag pit sequence that commenced on lap 196.

Whatever Dario Franchitti’s crew did in this last pit stop, he was untouchable for the rest of the race, quickly getting past Briscoe and this time making it stick. He annihilated the backmarkers, lapping his team mate Dixon as well as Scheckter and Castroneves – only the top four were left on the lead lap by the time the race was won. And Franchitti has a comfortable 5s lead over Briscoe as he serenely collected the chequered flag.

Also worth mentioning: Mutoh’s great run in 3rd, cheerfully uneventful but very effective as he easily saw off his more famous Andretti-Green Racing team mates; and Mike Conway finally having a good outing for the Dreyer & Reinbold outfit to finish 8th.

But there was no question this this race belonged to a Scot: not Dixon, but the real deal all the way from Scotland!

Race result

Pos  Driver             Team                  Gap
 1.  Dario Franchitti   Ganassi               250 laps
 2.  Ryan Briscoe       Penske               + 5.0132s
 3.  Hideki Mutoh       Andretti Green       +10.9769s
 4.  Dan Wheldon        Panther              +17.5807s
 5.  Scott Dixon        Ganassi              +   1 lap
 6.  Tomas Scheckter    Dreyer & Reinbold    +   1 lap
 7.  Helio Castroneves  Penske               +   1 lap
 8.  Mike Conway        Dreyer & Reinbold    +   1 lap
 9.  Danica Patrick     Andretti Green       +   1 lap
10.  Ed Carpenter       Vision               +  2 laps
11.  Graham Rahal       Newman/Haas/Lanigan  +  5 laps
12.  Marco Andretti     Andretti Green       +  6 laps
13.  Jaques Lazier      3G                   + 13 laps


     Tony Kanaan        Andretti Green       108 laps
     Robert Doornbos    Newman/Haas/Lanigan  58 laps
     Raphael Matos      Luczo Dragon         53 laps
     Mario Moraes       KV                   52 laps
     Justin Wilson      Coyne                33 laps
     Ryan Hunter-Reay   Foyt                 2 laps
     EJ Viso            HVM                  0 laps

Championship standings

Dario’s win pops him into second place in the championship, ahead of Scott Dixon, and Hideki Mutoh moves up two places into the top ten at the expense of Justin Wilson; but otherwise the order is fairly unchanged.

Pos Driver  Points
1   Ryan Briscoe        241
2   Dario Franchitti    238
3   Scott Dixon         226
4   Hélio Castroneves   212
5   Danica Patrick      189
6   Dan Wheldon         184
7   Tony Kanaan         162
8   Marco Andretti      159
9   Graham Rahal        145
10  Hideki Mutoh        142
11  Ryan Hunter-Reay    128
12  Ed Carpenter        126
13  Raphael Matos       120
14  Justin Wilson       119
15  Robert Doornbos     119
16  Mario Moraes        108
17  Will Power           99
18  Mike Conway          96
19  Ernesto Viso         85
20  Tomas Scheckter      80

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