IRL: Race 9 – Camping World GP, Watkins Glen – July 4

IndyCar celebrated July 4th by declaring independence from the ovals for a while, with a trip to the historic and gorgeous road course of Watkins Glen. And the switch from ovals to road courses is by no means simply cosmetic, as it is a totally different skill set: drivers who had been struggling on the ovals were suddenly in their element.

Will Power seems equally at home on both types of tracks, leading a Penske 1-2-3 at the start and making no mistakes in converting that to a safe early race lead. Helio Castroneves, on the other hand, seemed less happy with things, losing second place on the first lap to his team mate Ryan Briscoe and then getting overtaken by Dario Franchitti a few laps later.

Scott Dixon was on the rise from the start, making up for a slightly disappointing 7th place in qualifying by quickly dispatching Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson and then harrying his team mate Franchitti for 4th. Once Dario passed Helio, Dixon was left with the task of emulating him – but on his attempt to pass he just slightly mistimed his move and caught Helio’s rear left tyre with his front wing end plate which flew off. Dixon needed to pit for a new front wing; Castroneves was even more badly hit, limping back to the pits with a puncture for a new set of tyres.

The first caution of the race (caused by Alex Lloyd catching the back of Dan Wheldon, sending Wheldon into a spin that stalled the car while Lloyd seemingly suffered suspension damage that put him out of the race soon after) came at just the right time for most of the field to make their first pit stops: Dixon stayed out after his earlier forced stop so he led the race for the first time ahead of EJ Viso (who started from the back after missing qualifying due to a heavy crash in practice), Alex Tagliani and Castroneves who were similarly going off-sync; then came the cars that had stopped, led by Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, and Raphael Matos getting a better stop and pipping Franchitti to 7th place.

Another quick yellow was avoided after Mario Romancini spun shortly after the restart, but after rolling backwards across the track and narrowly avoiding getting hit by the remainder of the pack he was able to keep the car going and rejoined albeit in 22nd. Further back, Dan Wheldon was entertaining the crowd as he tried to recover from his earlier spin, having avoided going a lap down after his earlier spin and now pulling off a nice move on Danica Patrick (never happy on road courses) and later benefiting from a wobble by Hideki Mutoh as he climbed back through the positions.

Dixon and Castroneves finally came in just shy of the mid point of the 60 lap race, returning the lead of the race to Will Power who still led from Briscoe, Matos and Franchitti. Series returnee Paul Tracy – after competing with his inimitable hard nosed style against rookie Adam Carroll making his début – decided to follow suit a couple of laps later and changed his own pit stop strategy to fit in with this out of sequence strategy.

The leaders were now relying on a two-stop strategy, which meant running until lap 40; but Power, Briscoe, Matos and the majority of others came in a lap earlier on lap 39, leaving Dario Franchitti virtually alone in stretching fuel that extra crucial lap. But as the pit crew went to work, the track went yellow for an accident involving Simona de Silvestro who got loose into the turn 7 right hander, wobbled and finally lost it into the armco barrier on the outside, two hits putting some serious crumples into the bodywork.

The safety car meant that all those cars who pitted slightly early should be able to stretch to the finish; it was time for those off-sync like Dixon, Castroneves, Tracy and Viso to throw in the towel and pit as well, and as all the stops worked their way through it was Ryan Briscoe who emerged as having had the best second and final stop, leading the field ahead of Will Power and Dario Franchitti who had managed to leapfrog Matos with his one lap later stop. Dixon was down in 12th, just ahead of Castroneves. The biggest winner was Dan Wheldon, who had been pitting just behind Franchitti when the yellow came out and who returned to the track an impressive 5th place and good to go to the end of the race with no further stops. In the end, he lost 5th to Mario Moraes in the closing laps, but finishing sixth after his trials and tribulations was a rewarding outcome for Wheldon.

Rivalling Wheldon in the ups-and-downs stakes for the day was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started from 16th place, fought his way up the positions only to then stall the car in the pits and plummet to last place on the lead lap. He picked himself up and did it all again, finally ending up an impressive 7th place just behind Wheldon by the time the chequered flag came out.

At the restart, Power dispatched Briscoe with breathtaking efficiency down the back straightaway and into the bus stop chicane to retake the lead, and a couple of laps later Franchitti pulled off a near-identical move at the same spot on Briscoe to claim second and push the poor Aussie down to third place. Further back Ryan Hunter-Reay was using all his power boost to climb to eighth, while Scott Dixon was on a determined charge to make up lost ground and swiftly passed Romancini and Mutoh to return to the top ten, as racing got serious: with no more pit stops to strategize over, all the talking had to be done on the track, and the drivers were going for it.

It looked like we were set for a final duel between Power and Franchitti for the win, but it didn’t happen: instead, Franchitti’s handling started to go away dramatically as his tyres degraded badly, leaving him hanging on for dear life ahead of Briscoe. Finally the inevitable happened – Franchitti ran wide at the end of the penultimate lap, onto the kerbing, and the brief loss of power was all Bricoe needed to slingshot past him on the start-finish straight as the white flag came out. Franchitti had to settle for third.

That left it a Power-Briscoe victory, a Penske 1-2 that shattered the team’s mild “jinx” on this circuit. It provided a neat Aussie 1-2 as well, but more importantly it was another huge step forward for Will Power, who is building what is looking to be an unassailable lead in the 2010 IndyCar championship.

Race result

Pos  Driver               Team               Gap
 1.  Will Power           Penske             60 laps
 2.  Ryan Briscoe         Penske             + 1.2181s
 3.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi            + 1.4573s
 4.  Raphael Matos        De Ferran Dragon   + 5.3454s
 5.  Mario Moraes         KV                 + 9.3229s
 6.  Dan Wheldon          Panther            + 9.7523s
 7.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti           + 10.5003s
 8.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi            + 12.0546s
 9.  Helio Castroneves    Penske             + 12.9834s
10.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold  + 13.5635s
11.  EJ Viso              KV                 + 18.7591s
12.  Hideki Mutoh         Newman/Haas        + 20.2279s
13.  Marco Andretti       Andretti           + 26.6965s
14.  Paul Tracy           Dreyer & Reinbold  + 27.7310s
15.  Takuma Sato          KV                 + 28.8774s
16.  Adam Caroll          AFS/Andretti       + 29.3624s
17.  Alex Tagliani        Fazzt              + 35.3753s
18.  Bertrand Baguette    Conquest           + 36.5350s
19.  Vitor Meira          Foyt               + 36.9869s
20.  Danica Patrick       Andretti           + 38.2675s
21.  Tony Kanaan          Andretti           + 38.6700s
22.  Mario Romancini      Conquest           + 1 lap
23.  Milka Duno           Dale Coyne         + 3 laps

Retirements

     Simona de Silvestro  HVM                38 laps
     Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne         22 laps

IndyCar championship

 
Pos   Driver               Points
1     Will Power           327
2     Dario Franchitti     295
3     Scott Dixon          287
4     Ryan Briscoe         280
5     Helio Castroneves    273
6     Ryan Hunter-Reay     251
7     Tony Kanaan          241
8     Justin Wilson        211
9     Dan Wheldon          211
10    Marco Andretti       201
11    Danica Patrick       190
12    Raphael Matos        174
13    Vitor Meira          172
14    Alex Tagliani        169
15    Mario Moraes         161
16    Ernesto Viso         157
17    Alex Lloyd           146
18    Hideki Mutoh         136
19    Mario Romancini      125
20    Simona de Silvestro  121
21    Takuma Sato          112
22    Mike Conway          110
23    Graham Rahal         95
24    Milka Duno           92
25    Bertrand Baguette    89
26    Sarah Fisher         53
27    Tomas Scheckter      36
28    John Andretti        35
29    Ana Beatriz          33
30    Ed Carpenter         20
31    Jay Howard           20
32    Townsend Bell        18
33    Paul Tracy           16
34    Sebastian Saavedra   15
35    Adam Carroll         14
36    Davey Hamilton       14
37    Bruno Junqueira      13
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