IRL: Round 12 – Mid-Ohio – Aug 8

Dario Franchitti did all he could to maintain his championship prospects by taking the win at mid-Ohio – but he could do nothing about Will Power following him home in second, taking the Mario Andretti trophy for the road/street course sub-title of 2010 with a race in hand while also ensuring that his overall championship lead over Dario was only minimally cut back.

It was a messy start with the grid all over the place as the green flag came out; Ryan Briscoe struggled into turn 1 locking up but retained position, while it was Tony Kanaan who ended up worst off by leaving his braking too late and running off the track onto the grass, dropping to last place. It resulted in the team calling him in on lap 11 for a very early pit stop in the hope of converting the mistake into a strategic opportunity by placing him back out in clean air.

Up at the front it was polesitter Will Power ahead of Takuma Sato who had caught Dario Franchitti somewhat napping at the start to claim second; but immediately he was left desperately trying to fend off Franchitti and clearly didn’t have the pace to manage to do so indefinitely, and sure enough Dario finally made it cleanly back through on lap 5, leaving Sato with the prospect of now having to fight off Scott Dixon to retain the final podium position.

On lap 24, just after rookie JJ Hildebrand had run off onto the dirt and ceded two places to Vitor Meira and Graham Rahal, there was a more serious collision between Justin Wilson and EJ Viso that saw Wilson sent off the track with a broken left suspension that left the car skidding across the grass before coming to rest back on the side of the track, necessitating a full course yellow for recovery. Viso’s car was also doomed, although it made it back to the pits.

Although it was the very earliest point for drivers to consider coming in for fuel, everyone (bar Tony Kanaan) came in for their first pit stop of the day. Unfortunately mid-Ohio has the smallest pit lane on the IRL calendar, with incredibly cramped conditions as the pits were designed for a maximum of 26 cars but now had to accommodate 27. A collision was almost inevitable, and sure enough Ryan Hunter-Reay found himself in a Penske sandwich, with Helio Castroneves on the outside and Ryan Briscoe on the inside. The collision was most bruising for Hunter-Reay who was briefly thrown up into the air, but Castroneves made contact with the wall and even Briscoe sustained some contact. All three were able to continue, although Hunter-Reay returned to the pits for a new steering arm that dropped him down to the back of the field.

At the restart, Alex Tagliani – who had a huge stroke of luck pitting a lap before the yellow flag came out – led Alex Tagliani and Dario Franchitti who had got a better pit stop to leapfrog Will Power for position. Takuma Sato had experienced a more serious delay, a refuelling problem costing him vital seconds and dropping him six relative places for the restart. Anxious to make up the lost ground, Sato then overcooked it into turn 4 trying to overtake Dixon once the green came out, and ended up flying off onto the grass, through the gravel trap and into the tyre wall to put a more permanent crimp in his afternoon – a shame, after that excellent qualifying performance on Saturday that saw him start in a career-best third.

Jay Howard departed the track at turn 2 on lap 35, beaching the car and calling out the third yellow in quick succession. No one was pitting at this point, but the fuel saving behind the safety car was playing into Alex Tagliani’s hands a treat. It was proving less useful to Kanaan, who had to surrender second place on lap 44 for his second pit stop which put him back down to 21st position, and still needing another pit stop before the end of the race just like everyone else.

At lap 45, Tagliani was leading Franchitti, Power, Castroneves and Briscoe, with Simona de Silvestro an impressive sixth despite running in an older, heavier back-up chassis and having lost telemetry contact with the pits. She was able to hold off a racy Marco Andretti in seventh, with Scott Dixon now a disappointing eighth place after losing ground in the first round of pit stops.

After that flurry of yellows, the race now ran green for a lengthy period, taking the race up to lap 55 and the very limit for the cars to make a pit stop and make it to the end of the 85 lap race. Danica Patrick was first in, then Mario Moraes, but the first leaders to come in were Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

Next time around it was Alex Tagliani, who had managed to eke out the fuel to reset his pit stop strategy with the rest of the field and put him into a fine position to sneak a win. But Dario was still able to put in an extra four laps with the peddle to the metal in an effort to make up enough time to jump Tagliani. His plan was thwarted to a degree when he found himself held up by Milka Duno by almost a second (although Will Power had a bigger scare with her, nearly making contact as he tried to overtake her on the outside as she unsteadily crept around a long right hander). Dario was finally in at the end of lap 60, along with Power, and the extract time on-track paid off handsomely, the two emerging a massive distance ahead of the rest of the field headed by Briscoe who was now in front of Tagliani in 4th.

Graham Rahal managed to run off the track and across the gravel on lap 61, making the lightest of contacts with the tyre barrier but somehow managing to get underway back on track. Less lucky was newcomer Francesco Dracone who lost the back end of the Conquest #34 going into turn 9 a couple of laps later, leaving him beached on the edge of the gravel trap which brought out the fourth yellow of the afternoon.

The race got back underway despite a spin from Milka Duno at the back, and Scott Dixon got a good jump on de Silvestro to claim 6th as he continued to recover from his earlier poor pit stop. But the green was shortlived, with a fifth caution caused by the accident-prone rookie Dracone who this time had lost the car out of the final corner and spun, leaving it stalled across the main straightaway. While the car was refired, the field was directed to funnel through the pit lane behind the safety car.

The race got back underway with 14 laps remaining, the caution laps meaning that virtually everyone was now safe from problems with fuel reaching to the end. Dixon again proved himself the master of the restart, using the opportunity to overtake Ryan Briscoe for 5th place and set his sights on trying to overtake Tagliani for fourth, while further back Raphael Matos also got past Marco Andretti for 8th place. Matos quickly followed this up by swiping seventh from de Silvestro, as he proved to be one of the quickest cars out on track as the race entered its final ten laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay was also flying, taking tenth away from Bertrand Baguette as he continued to recover from that costly first pit stop.

But up front, nothing was about to displace the top three: Dario led Will Power and Helio Castroneves home without any further drama to chalk up his first mid-Ohio win (he was second back in 2007), with Tagliani riding that early pit stop stroke of luck to keep fourth from Scott Dixon. Dario’s victory made it a Ganassi hat-trick for the weekend, with Juan Montoya also taking the team colours to victory at Watkins Glen and Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas winning the Rolex Grand-Am race, but in IndyCar at least it’s looking more and more difficult to imagine the team preventing Will Power from claiming the overall championship with his incredibly strong and consistent run of form.

Still, five races to go, and as we all know – anything can happen in motorsport, and it usually does.

Race result

Pos Driver              Team              Time/Gap
 1. Dario Franchitti    Ganassi           1:54:32.2568s
 2. Will Power          Penske            + 0.5234s
 3. Helio Castroneves   Penske            + 4.0883s
 4. Alex Tagliani       Fazzt             + 5.6423s
 5. Scott Dixon         Ganassi           + 5.9150s
 6. Ryan Briscoe        Penske            + 6.5100s
 7. Raphael Matos       De Ferran Dragon  + 6.7518s
 8. Simona de Silvestro HVM               + 10.1451s
 9. Marco Andretti      Andretti          + 10.9555s
10. Ryan Hunter-Reay    Andretti          + 13.2344s
11. Bertrand Baguette   Conquest          + 14.8260s
12. Mario Moraes        KV                + 16.0461s
13. Alex Lloyd          Dale Coyne        + 16.5570s
14. Dan Wheldon         Panther           + 19.3518s
15. Vitor Meira         Foyt              + 20.0782s
16. JR Hildebrand       Dreyer & Reinbold + 20.2169s
17. Tony Kanaan         Andretti          + 25.4286s
18. Hideki Mutoh        Newman/Haas       + 26.5918s
19. Adam Carroll        Andretti          + 27.3302s
20. Graham Rahal        Newman/Haas       + 27.6341s
21. Danica Patrick      Andretti          + 28.2099s
22. Francesco Dracone   Conquest          + 3 laps
23. Milka Duno          Dale Coyne        + 4 laps

Retirements:

Jay Howard    Sarah Fisher       38 laps
Takuma Sato   KV                 28 laps
EJ Viso       KV                 22 laps
Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold  22 laps

IndyCar championship standings after race 12

Pos Driver               Pts
1   Will Power           461
2   Dario Franchitti     420
3   Scott Dixon          379
4   Ryan Briscoe         352
5   Helio Castroneves    340
6   Ryan Hunter-Reay     336
7   Tony Kanaan          304
8   Marco Andretti       266
9   Justin Wilson        262
10  Dan Wheldon          259
11  Danica Patrick       245
12  Raphael Matos        229
13  Alex Tagliani        228
14  Mario Moraes         221
15  Vitor Meira          220
16  Ernesto Viso         203
17  Alex Lloyd           187
18  Simona de Silvestro  179
19  Hideki Mutoh         179
20  Takuma Sato          152
21  Mario Romancini      149
22  Bertrand Baguette    138
23  Graham Rahal         137
24  Milka Duno           124
25  Mike Conway          110
26  Tomas Scheckter      63
27  Paul Tracy           61
28  Sarah Fisher         53
29  John Andretti        35
30  Ana Beatriz          33
31  Jay Howard           32
32  Adam Carroll         26
33  Ed Carpenter         20
34  Townsend Bell        18
35  Sebastian Saavedra   15
36  J.R. Hildebrand      14
37  Davey Hamilton       14
38  Bruno Junqueira      13
39  Francesco Dracone    12
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