INDYCAR: Franchitti, Power take one win apiece at Texas

Dario Franchitti won the first of the Firestone Twin 275 double header races at Texas Motor Speedway, but his arch rival for the title Will Power immediately struck back by winning the second – thanks to a crucial piece of pure dumb luck in the intermission.

Race 1: Ganassi duo too good in first Texas race

It’s the first double-header event seen in the CART/IndyCar history for three decades, and the first time that the running order for the second event has been set by blind draw: expectations were high for an unusual and entertaining night of racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

The sun was still above the horizon when the green flag dropped for race 1, but the lights were on at the track and the sparks made quite a sight as they flew from under the fuel-laden cars as they grounded through the first turns of the race.

Dario Franchitti quickly asserted himself and took the lead from ALex Tagliani, but Tag wasn’t about to go anywhere and spent a long time close behind Dario seeking a way back to the front.

Behind him, Will Power was battling with a surprisingly assured Takuma Sato – at one point, Power’s front wing made visible contact with the rear right tyre of Sato’s car but fortunately neither wing nor tyre were harmed by the encounter.

Further back, Indianapolis 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand was struggling and falling back through the field, at one point banging wheels with Charlie Kimball, the backmarker whose presence had sparked JR’s exit to the wall on the final corner of the Indy 500. Hildebrand was not at all happy tonight with the running of his Panther Racing car, and was one of the first cars to come in for fuel and tyres before lap 40.

Danica Patrick was also in early on lap 43 complaining of understeer, but most of the leaders made it a little further with Power in on lap 50 having managed to pass Tagliani for second, Franchitti in the from the lead on lap 51 and Scott Dixon in next time around.

By the time the pit stops had cycled through, Dario was back in the lead and now had a comfortable 3.6s lead over Dixon on lap 58, with the race going blisteringly fast with an average speed of that point of nearly 217mph, and already half over just 20 minutes into proceedings.

It was just as well that this was going to be a double-header, because the absence of any cautions and the pace that the Ganassi duo was setting threatened to lap pretty much everyone by the end of the race: by lap 75, still with no yellow, Dario put Tony Kanaan a lap down leaving only 12 cars on the lead lap – although Kanaan then fought back and briefly unlapped himself, such was his determination not to drop off the lead.

The lack of incident on track left many wondering whether everyone was taking it easy to make sure they were in a fit state to make it through to race 2, but KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser said it looked pretty no-holds-barred and scary to him: “We talked about it, but doesn’t look like it from here!” he said.

The race was now getting to the last 25 laps and no one could make it full distance without an extended yellow, so a second round of pit stops was required. JR Hildebrand was first in on lap 91, but the leaders had not yet come in by lap 97 when suddenly Charlie Kimball got a bad push and took off up the track, collecting fellow rookie Wade Cunningham on the way to the wall. Sadly, that meant that Cunningham’s car was crunched – and it was the car that had powered Dan Wheldon’s win at the centennial Indy 500 two weeks early, meaning that piece of automotive history was now rather shop-worn. However, both cars were expected to be repaired in time for race 2.

The resulting caution gave everyone the opportunity to come in for tyres and a final amount of fuel – Ganassi presumably taking extra care not to cut things too tight and risk running dry as happened embarrassingly often at Indianapolis in May. Dario beat Scott off pit road, but Kanaan had the best pit stop of all and emerged off pit road in front, effectively unlapping himself once the wave arounds went ahead.

That left Franchitti and Dixon leading Power, Tagliani, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Vitor Meira, Graham Rahal and EJ Viso as the top ten for the restart: this time, Dario didn’t seem to have the same edge he’d enjoyed earlier in the race and he found Dixon and Power sticking right up close on his rear wing; Tagliani was also not far back, and the lead four quickly pulled away and made the final 10 laps a private but fierce battle among themselves.

Dario resorted to push to pass to protect his track position and did all he could to make sure Dixon was never given a chance of taking the inside line, but even so Dixon looked to have the momentum as he slingshot off turn 4 on the final lap and he came within just a few feet of pulling it off – a 0.0527s winning margin for Dario being in the top 25 all-time closest finishes in IndyCar.

Dixon admitted afterwards that he’s done all he could, but that there had ben no way past his team mate; Will Power was equally clear in conceding that he just didn’t have enough speed to take on the Ganassi cars in that first race, and of the top three he was the one looking most hot and bothered in the late Texan evening heat – but he was quickly reenergised by drawing a third place start for the second race of the evening, while Dario Franchitti was stuck down in 28th
and Scott Dixon in 18th.

But perhaps the most worked up driver in the field was Danica Patrick, who finished in 16th position but was furious with Jay Howard, who twice appeared to run up the track and pinch her against the wall in a way that she clearly felt had come close to causing a dangerous accident. She was on the team radio telling the Andretti Autosport team that if Howard did it again she was going to sort him out – and it sounded like she meant it Richard Childress-style at that.

After a brief victory lane celebration for the #10, the cars returned to pit road so that the crews could start making the changes that the drivers wanted for the second, now-nighttime race while the drivers headed to the stage to perform the blind draw for their starting positions.

The night was only half done!

Race results

1. #10 Dario Franchitti 114 laps 54m 47.2787s Running
2. #9 Scott Dixon 114 laps + 0.0527s Running
3. #12 Will Power 114 laps + 0.2064s Running
4. #77 Alex Tagliani 114 laps + 0.4109s Running
5. #5 Takuma Sato 114 laps + 1.4174s Running
6. #6 Ryan Briscoe 114 laps + 1.4337s Running
7. #59 EJ Viso 114 laps + 2.1127s Running
8. #14 Vitor Meira 114 laps + 2.5355s Running
9. #38 Graham Rahal 114 laps + 2.8146s Running
10. #3 Helio Castroneves 114 laps + 4.3388s Running
11. #82 Tony Kanaan 114 laps + 4.7842s Running
12. #8 Paul Tracy 114 laps + 7.0114s Running
13. #26 Marco Andretti 113 laps + 1 laps Running
14. #19 Alex Lloyd 113 laps + 1 laps Running
15. #88 Jay Howard 113 laps + 1 laps Running
16. #7 Danica Patrick 113 laps + 1 laps Running
17. #22 Justin Wilson 113 laps + 1 laps Running
18. #67 Ed Carpenter 113 laps + 1 laps Running
19. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 113 laps + 1 laps Running
20. #06 James Hinchcliffe 113 laps + 1 laps Running
21. #2 Oriol Servia 112 laps + 2 laps Running
22. #24 Ana Beatriz 112 laps + 2 laps Running
23. #4 JR Hildebrand 112 laps + 2 laps Running
24. #27 Mike Conway 112 laps + 2 laps Running
25. #18 James Jakes 112 laps + 2 laps Running
26. #78 Simona de Silvestro 111 laps + 3 laps Running
27. #11 Davey Hamilton 109 laps + 5 laps Running
28. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 97 laps + 17 laps Running
29. #99 Wade Cunningham 92 laps Contact
30. #83 Charlie Kimball 91 laps Contact

Intermission: Race 2 qualifying draw

After the first of the two races at Texas Motor Speedway, the starting order for the second was made by a blind draw which saw Tony Kanaan start from pole and Dario Franchitti from 28th.

It might have been three decades since the last time IndyCar or its predecessors have run a double-header race event, but it’s absolutely the first tim that the starting grid for the second of the two races has been decided by lottery rather than by continuing with the finishing order of the first.

That led to the somewhat odd spectacle of the drivers coming up onto a temporary stage in reverse order of how they finished, to make a blind draw for their race 2 starting position. The way it worked was that the drivers were confronted by a wall of “tyres”, one of which they chose and spun round to reveal the grid number on the rear of it. In others words, this was IndyCar meets The Price is Right!

Charlie Kimball was first to make his choice and netted eighth place on the grid, and then Wade Cunningham selected his tyre and revealed number two on the back of it meaning he started from the outside of the front row of the grid. Tony Kanaan would go one better and was jubilant to net his easiest-ever pole position.

By the time the last three took to the stage, only one decent position was still up for grabs – and Will Power immediately stole it, meaning he would start form third. When Scott Dixon then took 18th place, it left Dario Franchitti trying to put a brave face on his worst case scenario – having to start form his worst-ever grid position of 28th while his chief championship rival had an almost assured win from the second row.

Qualifying order for race 2

1. #82 Tony Kanaan KV Racing Technology
2. #99 Wade Cunningham Sam Schmidt Motorsports
3. #12 Will Power Penske
4. #38 Graham Rahal Ganassi
5. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
6. #3 Helio Castroneves Penske
7. #14 Vitor Meira Foyt
8. #83 Charlie Kimball Ganassi
9. #06 James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas
10. #67 Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher
11. #34 Sebastian Saavedra Conquest
12. #6 Ryan Briscoe Penske
13. #88 Jay Howard Rahal/Schmidt
14. #8 Paul Tracy Dragon
15. #24 Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold
16. #77 Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt Motorsports
17. #2 Oriol Servia Newman/Haas
18. #9 Scott Dixon Ganassi
19. #19 Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne
20. #7 Danica Patrick Andretti Autosport
21. #4 JR Hildebrand Panther
22. #78 Simona de Silvestro HVM
23. #18 James Jakes Dale Coyne
24. #11 Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold
25. #5 Takuma Sato KV Racing Technology
26. #27 Mike Conway Andretti Autosport
27. #26 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport
28. #10 Dario Franchitti Ganassi
29. #59 EJ Viso KV Racing Technology
30. #22 Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold

Race 2: Luck of the draw gives Power Texas 2 win

Will Power pulled third place from the blind draw that decided starting positions the second race of the Firestone Twin 275 double header event, and put it to ideal use.

When Will Power finished race 1 in the heat of the late Texas day, he looked hot and bothered. But the moment he pulled out “3” in the blind draw setting starting positions for the second race of the night, he was bouncing around and celebrating as if he’d already won.

And the truth was that he pretty much had, especially when Scott Dixon pulled out “18” leaving Power’s key rival for the 2011 IndyCar title, Dario Franchitti, with the only remaining grid position not yet drawn – 28th place, virtually at the very back of one of the series’ largest grids outside of the Indy 500 in years. It didn’t help that he had used up his “push to pass” in race 1 holding off Dixon and Power for his win.

Power was also aided by the presence of Wade Cunningham ahead of him on the outside of the front row of the race 2 grid: Cunningham wasn’t just a rookie in his first ever weekend of IndyCar activity, he was also consigned to a backup car that he’d never driven before after he had managed to damage his race car (the same car piloted by Dan Wheldon to the dramatic Indy 500 victory two weeks ago) in an accident with Charlie Kimball in the first event of the evening.

Cunningham did the only thing he could do in the circumstances at the restart: and stayed well out of the way.

That left Kanaan taking off like the proverbial scalded cat with Power in hot pursuit after seeing off a challenge from the fast-starting Ryan Hunter-Reay, but further back the field compressed and went multi-wide as a consequence of the mixed-up order. That suited Power just fine, because stuck behind this road jam were the two Ganassi cars.

By contrast, Power quickly found himself supported by both of his Penske team mates, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe easily finding their way through to the front of the field while Hunter-Reay was engaged in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Graham Rahal.

Dixon was son also on the move through the field, but Dario – from ten places further back – was slower to gain positions, having added extra downforce during the interval in order to help handling through traffic as opposed to the open air of the lead that he had enjoyed in race 1. The difference in circumstances was clear, with Kanaan showing the inverse of the situation by running in the lead at the same sort of 213mph speeds that Franchitti could now but dream of attaining.

But Kanan in turn was no match for Power, and finally on lap 41 after a prolonged period of pressure Power finally managed to pull off the pass on the KV Racing Technology car and claim the lead for the first time in the evening. That meant Dixon and Kanaan led Castroneves and Briscoe, with Scott Dixon up to fifth place having got around Hunter-Reay and Rahal.

In a repeat of the pattern seen in race 1, JR Hildebrand and Danica Patrick were among the first cars to come in for their first pit stop of the evening around lap 45 – again, still well short of any hope of being able to run the full race distance of 114 laps without a further stop. Danica had been suffering from terrible understeer in the early laps of the race and had to continually lift, resulting in her being passed by both Mike Conway and EJ Vison in the course of lap 27 alone.

The main bulk of the field came in between laps 51 an 54, with Dario Franchitti one of the last to come in but still needing a hefty dose of yellow to have any hope of eking out his fuel – and given Ganassi’s recent history of fuel management, probably not too wise to press it to the absolutely limit in any case.

After the pit stops, it was a Penske lock-out at the front: Power still held the lead, with Helio and Ryan Briscoe his wing men in second and third holding off Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon; Dario Franchitti was still down in 15th place, not making the sort of progress he would have hoped for in the colder conditions of nighttime. By contrast, Marco Andretti had started alongside Dario on the grid in 27th and was not up in eighth place, a gain of 19 positions. Where Dario was struggling in traffic, Marco was conversely saying that the #26 was great in traffic but struggling in clear air – go figure.

Dixon was showing he was much faster than Power’s cohorts, closing the gap and passing both Penskes on lap 74, closing up on Power himself after the leader was held up by the about-to-be-lapped traffic of James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson running side-by-side ahead of him. But once Power finally broke through, he scampered away and disappeared, making the traffic work perfectly for him, while Dixon was suffering from having overworked his tyres to make up all those positions and was now struggling with a loose race car.

As the race entered its final 25 laps, there had been a complete absence of yellow flags and everyone was starting to have to consider when to make their final pit stop: early or late, tyres or no tyres? A mixture of strategies played out, but it turned into a disaster for Graham Rahal who pushed too far and ran dry, dropping down to the apron to crawl his way back to the pits – only to nearly get collected by Will Power who was moving to the apron to enter pit lane for his own scheduled stop on lap 106.

Fortunately Power’s reflexes were true and he avoided the slower car, pitted – and came back out in the lead, giving Dixon no sign of weakness on which to pounce on fresh tyres. And Rahal made it back to pit lane without triggered a caution, which was bad news for Franchitti who badly needed a yellow flag no matter how brief in order to close up the cars and give him a chance to make a strike for the front.

No caution came: in fact this was the first IndyCar race to ever run caution-free at Texas Motor Speedway (and the first caution-free IndyCar race since the 2009 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.) Franchitti had made it up to 15th place by lap 85 and pressed on to take seventh place by lap 114, but by then he had run out of laps to work with: the chequered flag was out, Power had won, and it meant a critical points advantage gained by the Aussie over the Scot in the IndyCar title battle.

Franchitti could have been forgiven for souring on the idea of a blind draw deciding the starting grid for race 2, but in truth the people with the most to complain about the format were the fans: the lottery did a brutally perfect job of spacing out the main title rivals through the field and meant that we never got a genuine on-track battle between them, which is what everyone really wanted to see. While the blind draw experiment was worth trying, it also clearly now needs fine-tuning: even a completely inverted starting order would be better and arguably more fun and fairer on all concerned, seeing all the race 1 leaders have to battle their way up from the back row in race 2.

“You could see it sort of trickling down with the draw that it wasn’t looking too good for us,” said Dixon afterwards. “Obviously, myself starting from 18th and Dario 28th, it’s a huge deficit when the competitor for the championship starts third and with not too much competition in front of him. ”

But splitting the former 550k long (and dull) endurance race into two short, almost sprint race-type affairs was a marked improvement and added genuine interest and space to proceedings, and the large crowd seemed to endorse the new format as a hit with fans.

And certainly Will Power had no complaints with finally managing to clinch his first ever oval win. “This means so much to me and the boys,” said Power. “We’ve been chasing this for so long. It was a fun race and great day. It was a good battle with Kanaan at the start and then Dixon came on strong. This is what we need for the championship!”

“The two-race format made things interesting and hopefully good for the fans,” agreed Marco Andretti. “It would have been nice to have had a better draw than starting 27th, but we were able to make up all the ground on the track we could,” he said, after falling back in the later stages of the race and had to settle for 13th place by the end.

Whether the twin-header will be back again next year at Texas – or any other venue come to that – remains to be seen.

Race results

1. #12 Will Power 114 laps 48m 08.9739s Running
2. #9 Scott Dixon 114 laps + 0.9466s Running
3. #6 Ryan Briscoe 114 laps + 4.6524s Running
4. #3 Helio Castroneves 114 laps + 9.5738s Running
5. #82 Tony Kanaan 114 laps + 14.3723s Running
6. #26 Marco Andretti 114 laps + 16.9488s Running
7. #10 Dario Franchitti 114 laps + 18.4374s Running
8. #7 Danica Patrick 114 laps + 18.5558s Running
9. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 114 laps + 21.7976s Running
10. #59 EJ Viso 114 laps + 24.0923s Running
11. #14 Vitor Meira 114 laps + 24.6397s Running
12. #5 Takuma Sato 113 laps + 1 laps 1.3842s Running
13. #8 Paul Tracy 113 laps + 1 laps 3.8160s Running
14. #77 Alex Tagliani 113 laps + 1 laps 3.8642s Running
15. #2 Oriol Servia 113 laps + 1 laps 4.1051s Running
16. #67 Ed Carpenter 113 laps + 1 laps 4.3280s Running
17. #27 Mike Conway 113 laps + 1 laps 4.8183s Running
18. #4 JR Hildebrand 113 laps + 1 laps 10.0966s Running
19. #06 James Hinchcliffe 113 laps + 1 laps 13.2919s Running
20. #88 Jay Howard 113 laps + 1 laps 13.8785s Running
21. #22 Justin Wilson 113 laps + 1 laps 17.0934s Running
22. #24 Ana Beatriz 113 laps + 1 laps 25.1956s Running
23. #83 Charlie Kimball 112 laps + 2 laps 6.3076s Running
24. #19 Alex Lloyd 112 laps + 2 laps 6.6572s Running
25. #11 Davey Hamilton 112 laps + 2 laps 14.2536s Running
26. #99 Wade Cunningham 112 laps + 2 laps 22.7651s Running
27. #78 Simona de Silvestro 111 laps + 3 laps 2.3193s Running
28. #18 James Jakes 111 laps + 3 laps 7.0898s Running
29. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 111 laps + 3 laps 9.5770s Running
30. #38 Graham Rahal 104 laps + 132.1385s Running

Championship standings

Pos Driver               Pts   Pos Driver               Pts
1.  Will Power          239    22. Sebastian Saavedra   72
2.  Dario Franchitti    218    23. Raphael Matos        67
3.  Scott Dixon         169    24. Ana Beatriz          67
4.  Oriol Servia        165    25. James Jakes          65
5.  Tony Kanaan         159    26. Dan Wheldon          59
6.  Ryan Briscoe        146    27. Sebastien Bourdais   44
7.  Graham Rahal        136    28. Paul Tracy           44
8.  Alex Tagliani       135    29. Ed Carpenter         39
9.  J.R. Hildebrand     125    30. Bertrand Baguette    30
10. Takuma Sato         118    31. Alex Lloyd           29
11. Marco Andretti      117    32. Tomas Scheckter      28
12. Vitor Meira         117    33. Jay Howard           27
13. Mike Conway         114    34. Davey Hamilton       26
14. Helio Castroneves   111    35. Simon Pagenaud       24
15. Danica Patrick      111    36. Townsend Bell        21
16. Simona de Silvestro 102    37. Buddy Rice           20
17. Justin Wilson       100    38. John Andretti        16
18. James Hinchcliffe    92    39. Pippa Mann           15
19. Charlie Kimball      89    40. Wade Cunningham      10
20. Ernesto Viso         88    41. Bruno Junqueira       4
21. Ryan Hunter-Reay     85
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