Posts Tagged ‘alex tagliani’

The action on track on the streets of Toronto during Sunday afternoon was spectacular and fierce enough, but it paled next to the verbal fall-out that followed.

Safe to say that Will Power is not a happy man this morning.

The normally laid-back Australian was incandescent after his hopes of a good race in the Honda Indy Toronto ended with two collisions – one with his main title rival Dario Franchitti that punted him into a spin through turn 3 that all but wrecked his hopes of a win, and the second with Alex Tagliani that put paid to hopes of any sort of finish whatsoever.

It was Dario to whom he directed most of his anger, however.

“I’ve always raced him clean and he always races me dirty,” Power told TV reporters the minute he was out of the car. “He did the same at St. Pete: he drove me into the wall and I didn’t say anything. He did it again today.

“Does anyone ever penalise this guy? He’s as dirty as you like,” he went on. “It was such a dirty move … He’s the guy that mouths off about everyone and whines about everyone, and he’s the guy racing dirty who never gets a penalty from IndyCar. It’s just not right.

“I’m not surprised he didn’t get a penalty, he never gets a penalty,” he vented. “IndyCar won’t penalize them because Chip Ganassi goes up there and gives it to them. It’s just wrong.”

For his part, Chip Ganassi – the car owner of Franchitti’s #10 – denied that he’d known about any penalty, made any protests or taken any action to have one overturned.

Rumour and misinformation about the penalty-that-never-was was the fuel to the fire raging in pit lane. With TV broadcasts and IndyCar’s official Twitter feed both reporting that Franchitti had been handed a stop-go penalty for spinning Power on lap 57, the news that he hadn’t gave the impression that the team had successfully appealed to have it reversed – which would have been all-but unprecedented if it had been the case.

Trouble is, it was based on a misapprehension. There was no penalty and never had been, and the media sources had jumped the gun when they had heard that the stewards (who included driving legend Al Unser Jr and IndyCar official Tony Cotman) were simply reviewing the incident – after which they duly concluded that no penalty was needed for what they deemed a racing incident.

“Between Franchitti and Power, there was never a penalised issue to either driver,” Unser pointed out. “Franchitti was underneath Will, and there was no penalty assessed to him based on what we saw.”

Franchitti had obviously been briefed over the ream radio about the raging controversy as he made his way to victory lane, and was immediately conciliatory: “Obviously, there was contact with Will. If he’s p*ssed off, he’s quite right to be p*ssed off,” he said in typically robust language. “I’ll take more than 50% … But he has to take at least 50% of the blame. He left me a lane and then he came down,” he said, adding: “It was like he opened the door for me to pass and then closed it – too late.

“I braked as late as I could, and he went a little bit deeper but as a result of that he went wide,” he explained. “Will started to crowd me, and unfortunately the wall came out, I couldn’t get further to the right because there was a wall there … I tried to get out of it but I couldn’t.” He added: “I have to say if I was him I’d have been steamed too, but hopefully when he watches the replay he’ll see it was a racing incident.”

It didn’t seem likely. “Hey princess thanks for that nice tap today–appreciate it,” Power posted sarcastically to Franchitti on Twitter in the evening. “I did watch it and could not have raced you any cleaner —- P*SSED!”

Defending his decision to look down the inside of Power into turn 3 in the first place, Franchitti insisted that it’s part and parcel of being a racing driver. “If you’re not going to make any moves at all, you’re going to sit in whatever position you started in. But, yeah, crazy day here in Toronto!”

Despite the diplomacy, the idea that he was a “dirty racer” clearly stung Franchitti. “I believe if you ask anyone in the paddock, they will tell you that is not how I race … I think I’m known in the paddock as not someone who drives dirty, so I’m not really sure what he’s talking about,” he said. “I understand he’s upset, but hopefully when he cools down he’ll reassess that … If he doesn’t, I have no control over what he thinks. I’m going to continue to race the same way I’ve raced since I’ve been in North America.”

For this part, Power shot back: “I don’t know if it will change the way I race him, I’m just disappointed in the guy … If that’s how he wants to win a championship, good on him – he can have it.”

A few laps after his clash with Franchitti, Power was out altogether after being hit through turn 5 while overtaking Alex Tagliani.

“Pretty typical of him, Tagliani’s just a w*nker, he’s always been a w*nker,” said a disgruntled Power once he’d stopped venting at Dario. “We were just trying to get the best result possible before Tag hit me from behind. It’s very tough to have two DNFs in a row. All I can say is we’ll keep working hard and hopefully come back strong at Edmonton.”

“I am sure Will is pretty upset … The contact with Will was also a shame,” said Tagliani in response. “I tried to pass him a couple of times in turn three. He was blocking a bit, and then I made a move on the inside [and] it got tight.”

Tagliani himself ended up out of the race shortly afterwards when contact with Danica Patrick – who was avoiding a spinning James Jakes – sent him into a roll where the car was only prevented from completely overturning by the way it went vertical against the wall and bounced back right-side-up.

“I felt a big knock on the right rear, and we were up in the air,” said the local favourite. “It’s disappointing.”

Danica was already fuming over an early run-in with Takuma Sato who ploughed into the back of her car shortly after she had overtaken him, which wrecked both their afternoons. As she left pit lane, she directed an ironic thumbs-up at Sato who was still getting repairs, and on the radio called him an “idiot … that was a hard hit!”

Tony Kanaan was also fuming after being the victim of the race’s first of eight full course cautions when he was spun in turn 3 by Ryan Briscoe, and he had some unequivocal gestures for the Penske driver when the field circulated past the scene of the accident. “It was so stupid, he had plenty of room, I don’t know what he did,” said Kanaan. “I guess when your team mate is winning a lot and you’re not, you’re feeling the pressure,” referring to Briscoe’s disappointing form compared with that of Will Power in the same hardware.

Then there was Graham Rahal, who looked set to claim an impressive third place late in the race until he was spun out by Ryan Hunter-Reay. “I just got hit,” said Rahal afterwards. “I’m really ticked and I’m trying to control my emotions. That’s not like Hunter-Reay, but I guess some people strap on their helmets and lose their brain.”

“Graham got way out into the marbles there, and then he started coming across, and there was more than enough room for two cars, and I got up in there, I already had my momentum, I was coming to the corner,” said Hunter-Reay in response. “And he just came straight across. He had to know I was there.”

Rahal in turn had been the subject of anger from Hunter-Reay’s team in pit lane when it appeared he together with his Ganassi stable team mates Franchitti and Scott Dixon were “throwing” the double file line-up formation in order to extend the caution period – which was critical to Rahal’s chances of making it full distance on fuel.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense,” said team owner Michael Andretti of the aborted restarts that prolonged the cautions. “They’re obviously doing it on purpose so that he gets it on fuel. One time is okay, twice you [should be] in the back … It’s unfair.”

“There was nothing bad going on there,” insisted Franchitti who was trying to line up alongside Rahal for the restart. “He couldn’t run the outside of [turn] 10 in the marbles, so he was taking my lane, and I couldn’t get on the outside of 11, so I couldn’t get alongside him. I tried it once and almost smacked the fence down. We were doing our best, the restarts were tough just because of the marbles on them.”

Chip Ganassi denied any conspiracy and said that he’d had to go over to Rahal’s crew to explain the problem to them, after which the restart proceeded normally.

But relations even seemed strained within the extended Ganassi family, with Dixon not taking too kindly to the upstart Rahal getting in the way of the serious business, calling the young American driver “a pain in the ass” and adding that Rahal “got his just desserts” when Hunter-Reay spun him out.

“I was alongside [Rahal] going down the back straight and then the kink comes and he just comes right across,” said Dixon of an earlier incident that had aggrieved him. “If I didn’t brake, it would have been a massive crash.”

“I am not going to make it easy for people to get by me … I raced them hard, and I raced them clean,” said Rahal of his run at the front with Franchitti and Dixon late in the race. “I’m on Chip Ganassi’s team for a reason, and I want to win races,” he pointed out, adding: “These guys are supposed to be teammates … I find it shocking that they continue to make comments about me.”

And the recriminations just reverberated on and on: there was some Canadian-on-Canadian action between veteran legend Paul Tracy and young rookie James Hinchcliffe who banged wheels midrace in an incident that saw Tracy save a dramatic spin and avert yet another full course caution.

“I am not going to back down if I think it’s my corner,” Hinchcliffe insisted afterwards, showing he was made from the same tough stuff as the hard-headed Tracy. “We all know what Paul is like, but I have to make sure everyone knows I am going to hold my ground. It was a racing incident, but if I were in his position, which I was later in the race, I made it out.”

Later on, Marco Andretti tried an ill-advised lunge down the inside of turn 1 during the penultimate restart and ended up spinning Oriol Servia, which caught up multiple cars including Hinchcliffe and briefly blocked the track entirely: “Marco is an aggressive driver, but he’s always raced me clean,” Servia said. “But today, I think he just had a bad sleep or something.”

Marco did receive a penalty for avoidable contact, as did Tagliani for the hit on Power and Danica Patrick for the accident involving Tagliani and Jakes. Mike Conway was also penalised for steaming into the back of Ryan Briscoe during a midrace restart. “I have to apologize to Ryan for ruining his race; completely a brain fade on my part,” Conway said afterwards.

Which brings us back to the question of why there was no penalty for Dario Franchitti for the accident that gives him – intentionally or not – a vital upper hand in the IndyCar championship battle at a crucial moment, which he now leads by 55pts. Is Power right that IndyCar regards Franchitti as “untouchable” and too big to penalise?

Simmering in the background was a lot of ill feeling left over from Milwaukee, when Dario Franchitti clipped a tyre laid out on the edge of Will Power’s pit box and sent it flying despite a mechanic having a foot on it to keep it in place. With Takuma Sato getting a penalty earlier on for hitting pit lane equipment many pundits had expected Franchitti to get the same, which would have put paid to what proved to be his eventual win.

On the night, IndyCar decided there were mitigating factors and enough “reasonable doubt” to make a penalty inappropriate: Power’s crew had laid out the tyres prematurely and to the very limits of the pit box, seemingly intending to squeeze Franchitti’s entry more than previous pit stops; the Penske team should arguably also have been penalised for the mechanic illegally standing on pit lane equipment in the first place; and at the end of the day no harm was done to either personnel or to Power’s own race. Where these good reasons not to award a penalty – or excuses after the fact?

The Power/Franchitti clash seems to have fallen into the same category of “some blame on both sides” as far as IndyCar is concerned, with Power’s initial move opening a gap sufficient to give Franchitti reason to go for it – and the fact that he then thought better of it and tried to pull out of the overtake would also have been considered.

But it’s likely to leave a lot of people fuming in pit lane, in what’s already been a notably ill-tempered IndyCar season to date. Surprisingly it’s the normally affable Franchitti who has been at the centre of most of it, with his outspoken heated criticism of the way that the blind lottery for the grid of the second Firestone Twin 275k race at Texas Motor Speedway was a “joke”, to angry accusations that Helio Castroneves was up to his “usual blocking crap” at the Milwaukee Mile.

Inevitably the whole idea of double file restarts – which has been a running sore ever since IndyCar insisted on their introduction at the season opener at St Petersburg, Florida – is also in the frame as a prime target.

“The double-file starts were nuts,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was like a free-for all. You had that tight first turn that’s really as slick as glass on a restart, so everybody is sliding through trying not to hit. Then you get through turn two and your rear end steps out. Then you have a long, six-gear straight where everybody gets a draft on each other, then you’ve got to shut it down to first gear [in three.]”

So is this season simply getting very bad tempered and too aggressive? Are the double file restarts to blame? Is the quality of driving in the series just not up to par this season? Or is it just a case that all publicity is good publicity and races like Toronto help IndyCar muscle into the headlines usually dominated by NASCAR (in the US) and F1 (everywhere else)?

“You know, I don’t know why,” admitted Franchitti when asked in post-race interviews at Toronto. “I think maybe one reason – and I’m just spit-balling – is that it’s just so close right now, to get that advantage is so difficult that maybe people are taking bigger risks.”

It would be nice to finish with an optimistic note that at least the next IndyCar outing will be a calmer, saner affair. Unfortunately it’s the second leg of the series’ Canadian mini-series at Edmonton City Center Airport, and the one thing that it’s not particularly known for is calm, peaceful, uneventful racing. In fact, compared to Edmonton, it’s Toronto that can often be relatively quiet …

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A crash-filled street race in Toronto saw angry words flying almost as often as bodywork and debris, as Dario Franchitti claimed a controversial win after he spun Will Power mid-race.

Dario Franchitti won the Hondy Indy Toronto on the streets of downtown Toronto, but it will surely be one of the most controversial wins of his motor racing career, with angry words flying from his title rival IndyCar rival Will Power after the two made mid-race contact.

The start of the race was relatively benign despite the double file start, with Will Power taking up the lead from pole position ahead of Scott Dixon and Mike Conway getting the better of Dario Franchitti for third. It certainly didn’t hint at the chaos and storms that were to follow, and it wasn’t until lap 3 that we saw the first full course caution of the day.

That was sparked when Tony Kanaan took a wide line into turn 3, which Ryan Briscoe took as an invitation to try a move down the inside line. He wasn’t able to hold it close enough to the apex however, and when Kanaan turned into the corner there was contact that spun Kanaan around and sent him into the outside wall rear-first. The suspension damage terminated the #82’s involvement in the race, but Briscoe escaped with merely a precautionary visit to pit lane for a new nose.

Kanaan said he was ‘Very, very disappointed,” adding: “It was so stupid, he had plenty of room, I don’t know what he did … I guess when your team mate is winning a lot and you’re not, you’re feeling the pressure.”

Racing resumed on lap 6, and there was another incident on track two laps later when Takuma Sato – having been overtaken for 20th position by Danica Patrick down the start/finish straight – then misjudged his braking into turn 3 and ploughed straight into the back of the GoDaddy.com #7, punted them both off into the run-off area. Fortunately the run-off allowed track marshals to work under waved local yellows rather than a full course caution, and both Danica and Sato were eventually able to get back underway and limp back to the pits for repairs. Danica was out first and directed an ironic thumbs-up at the KV Racing pit box where the team were still working on Sato, while over the radio she made her feelings known to her own team: “Idiot … that was a hard hit!”

The race settled down after this, with Dario getting past Conway at the restart to retake third place. The next significant development was Oriol Servia coming into the pits early for his first stop of the day on lap 14 in a bid to move to an off-sync strategy from the leaders. This was on the very edge of being able to complete the 85 laps with only one further pit stop for fuel, and Servia was clearly hoping for a timely caution to assist his campaign.

The same tactic was soon picked up by others, with Marco Andretti in next time around, and Ryan Briscoe – already circulating near the back after his clash with Tagliani and with nothing to lose – followed suit next time around, and then Paul Tracy on lap 19 and Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap 22. What had started as a minor sideshow distraction was now starting to become potentially a major problem for the leaders, as a full course caution at this point would see them all dive into the pits – and come out behind these early stoppers who were beginning to add up.

The worry grew when potential front-runners Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani came in on laps 23 and 24 respectively: if they were gifted the lead by a timely yellow then it would be very difficult to dislodge them again. Finally on lap 27 it was Dario Franchitti who blinked among the leaders and headed into pit lane. It seemed an especially canny move by the Scot given that Power and Dixon were now coming up on the back of James Jakes to lap the Dale Coyne car and were being held up.

And then just as Dario was back up to full speed, the caution that the leaders who had yet to pit feared came out on lap 31: Tagliani was into the tyre wall at turn 3, after Helio Castroneves misjudged his braking into the corner and locked up, running into the side of the #77 that was trying to make the turn. Both cars were recovered and made it back to pit lane for lengthy repairs by their respective teams.

Power had reason not to be happy with his Penske team mate, who not for the first time this season had caused a highly unhelpful caution. Power and Dixon were among those who were obliged to pit at this point, while Dario Franchitti stayed out and assumed the race lead for the first time that afternoon.

As the race resumed on lap 37 with a lot of jostling and minor collisions but no major crashes: Franchitti fended off an assertive Oriol Servia followed by Justin Wilson, Ryan Hunter-Reay and local boy James Hinchcliffe; Power led those who had just stopped, but was now mired down in 11th place just ahead of Dixon and Conway, with the likes of Briscoe, Vitor Meira, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand in the way ahead.

The first green lap saw Dixon make contact with Hildebrand as he forced his way past, the rookie just able to keep it off the tyre wall in turn 3; a lap later and Canadians Paul Tracy and James Hinchcliffe found themselves going into turn 5 side-by-side. Tracy is not known as a driver who backs off from any fight, and young rookie Hinchliffe is apparently made of similar stuff so neither driver would give up, the cars banging wheels and Tracy coming out of it the worse with a spin that he was just able to save although damage to the front wing from the initial contact would send him into pit lane but without the need for yellow flags.

Instead the next caution was for James Jakes who had spun and stalled in turn 9. That allowed Graham Rahal to head for the pits for new tyres after apparently sustaining a right rear puncture on the sharp edge of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s front wing; surprisingly Hunter-Reay opted not to pit at the same time despite clear damage to that front wing, preferring instead to hold on to the track position that he had gained from his early pit stop strategy.

And initially it seemed to be the right move, with Hunter-Reay able to follow Justin Wilson through when the Englishman made a lovely move on Oriol Servia for second place, forcing Servia off the racing line so that he then lost pace on the marbles which were seriously building up by this stage. But a few laps later and the wing’s condition had worsened, Hunter-Reay had fallen down to seventh place and finally he conceded defeat and pitted on lap 47. It looked as though the Andretti team had made a horrible mistake with the gambit.

Or – maybe not. The very next lap saw a major multiple-car accident in the increasingly notorious turn 3. It was sparked by Paul Tracy – possibly still with some damage after his earlier contact with Hinchcliffe – locking up and running into Vitor Meira on the straight leading down into the corner; Sebastian Bourdais was immediately behind them on the road and had no where to go but into the side of Tracy as he spun, while Charlie Kimball tired to avoid the accident and ran into the barrier on the other side, leaving only a car’s-width gap in the middle of the track for the rest of the cars to make their way through. Fortunately all cars were able to get back underway, although Tracy needed a lengthy visit to the pits for repairs.

With 36 laps to go till the end, it was a no-brainer that everyone now had to come in for their final pit stops – which potentially fell beautifully for those who had just been into the pits such as Graham Rahal, who assumed the lead, and Hunter-Reay who now found himself in 5th place after that suddenly-fortuitous fluke stop for a wing change at just the right moment. Dario Franchitti resumed in sixth place ahead of Justin Wilson, Will Power and Scott Dixon, Power having had a flying pit stop thanks to having less fuel to take on board after his more recent stop than Franchitti and Wilson.

Franchitti had a poor restart and was passed by Justin Wilson, and that broke Dario’s momentum just enough for Will to pounce and get past him as well. The two were still running together when Mike Conway ran into the back of Ryan Briscoe and shunted them both off into a run-off area.

“I have to apologize to Ryan for ruining his race; completely a brain fade on my part,” confessed Conway. “Going into the turn, I tried to take my time and get to the inside, but it seemed to choke up a bit. There was nowhere to go. It was kind of a slow incident but it broke the left side suspension. End of a tough day for the team.”

Like the earlier Sato/Patrick accident in the same spot, this was dealt with under local waved yellows; but the next caution was out on lap 57 anyway. And the reason for it was a clash between the two main title contenders, Dario Franchitti and Will Power.

From Dario’s point of view, Power seemed to run wide into turn 3 and leave a gap down the inside which was just too tempting to pass up. By the time Franchitti realised that he’d misjudged the opportunity and tried to back out of it, it was too late and Will turned into the apex and made contact with Dario on the inside: the Penske came off worse and was thrown into a spin.

He got the engine going again and rejoined once all the cars had gone past, but it was a bitter blow for Power’s title chances. And given that it had been Dario that had done the deed – seemingly deliberately in Will’s eyes – he was spitting fire. “We were working our way back toward the front and we got past Franchitti. We went into the corner and I gave him room and then he just drove into me.”

Word came down that the incident was being referred to the track stewards for a possible penalty for the championship leader, and for several minutes confusion reigned. The race restarted and Dario started moving his way back up the running order again, and everyone waited for him to come in and serve the stop-go penalty.

Except – there was no penalty. There never had been. When the race stewards (who included Al Unser Jr and IndyCar’s Tony Cotman) reviewed the collision they determined that it was a racing accident and deemed no penalty applied after all. “I understood he was going to get penalized but then there was no call – I just don’t understand that,” said Power in the confused aftermath of the race.

“I’m not surprised he didn’t get a penalty, he never gets a penalty,” Power said in the heat of the moment. “It was such a dirty move … I’m really disappointed in Dario, I always race him clean, he always races dirty. The guy that mouths off and whinges about everyone, he’s the one who’s dirty.”

Unser was unmoved by Power’s fury and accusations of IndyCar favouritism toward Dario, who many deemed should have been penalised at last month’s Milwaukee race after hitting pit lane equipment (a front tyre laid out in Power’s pit box).

“Between Franchitti and Power, there was never a penalised issue to either driver,” Unser pointed out. “Franchitti was underneath Will, and there was no penalty assessed to him based on what we saw.”

Drivers always say that the one thing they want from officials is consistency, and in this case if Franchitti had been penalised for this move then why not Briscoe for the first turn 3 incident that put Kanaan out, or the accident that saw Castroneves hit Tagliani? Having taken no action on those or any of the other collisions so far, it would have been harsh and deeply inconsistent to suddenly serve one to Franchitti for an even more marginal call. But the incident did certainly leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, and tempers were suddenly boiling over up and down pit lane.

For his part, Dario was apologetic the minute he stepped out of the car at the end of the race. “Obviously, there was contact with Will. If he’s p*ssed off, he’s quite right to be p*ssed off,” he said in typically robust language, accepting that when it came to assigning blame “I’ll take more than 50%” but that Power was not exactly blame-free in the accident either, having opened the door initially.

“I braked as late as I could, and he went a little bit deeper but as a result of that he went wide,” he explained. “Will started to crowd me, and unfortunately the wall came out, I couldn’t get further to the right because there was a wall there … I tried to get out of it but I couldn’t.

“I have to say if I was him I’d have been steamed too, but hopefully when he watches the replay he’ll see it was a racing incident.” Adding that he “”didn’t want to win that way”, Franchitti said that “I see it as a racing incident” and pointed out that “IF you’re not going to make any moves at all, you’re going to sit in whatever position you started in. But, yeah, crazy day here in Toronto!”

Worse was to come for Power. Racing resumed on lap 61 but less than five laps later it was back under full course caution again – and Power was once more at the centre of things. He was passing Alex Tagliani through turn 5 when he clipped the front of the #77, which threw Power’s car up into the air at an angle before sending it into the wall and tyre barrier on the outside. This time Power’s #12 Verizon car was too badly damaged to continue in.

“Pretty typical of him, Tagliani’s just a w*nker, he’s always been a w*nker,” said a disgruntled Power once he’d stopped venting at Dario. “We were just trying to get the best result possible before Tag hit me from behind. It’s very tough to have two DNFs in a row. All I can say is we’ll keep working hard and hopefully come back strong at Edmonton.”

“The contact with Will was also a shame,” said Tagliani in response. “I tried to pass him a couple of times in turn three. He was blocking a bit, and then I made a move on the inside [and] it got tight.”

Of the final 20 laps, 12 of them were run under cautions – which was just as well for some of the drivers like Rahal and Hunter-Reay who had come in for their final pit stops. In fact tempers were now running so high – with much of it directed at Dario and his team – that some were accusing Chip Ganassi of conspiracy by getting his three drivers at the front (Franchitti, Dixon and Rahal) to deliberate failing to line up out of the final corner in order to extend the yellow.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense,” said Michael Andretti of the aborted restarts that prolonged the cautions. “They’re obviously doing it on purpose so that [Rahal] gets it on fuel. One time is okay, twice you [should be] in the back … It’s unfair.”

Chip Ganassi denied any such dark arts and said that he’d had to walk over to Rahal’s pit crew and explain to them that the #38’s line was forcing Franchitti onto the dangerous bumps and marbles off the racing line and that they needed to make more allowance to play fair.

“I don’t think Graham was doing anything crazy,” insisted Dario. “There as nothing bad going on there, but he couldn’t run the outside of [turn] 10 in the marbles, so he was taking my lane, and I couldn’t get on the outside of 11, so I couldn’t get alongside him. I tried it once and almost smacked the fence down. We were doing our best, the restarts were tough just because of the marbles on them.”

Next time around was more successful and the race duly went green at last. And then it went yellow seconds later: Danica Patrick tapped the back of James Jakes into turn 3 and spun him; she reacted quickly and manoeuvred around him but in doing so managed to clip the back wheel of Alex Tagliani who was passing the scene of the accident on the outside line. The wheel-on-wheel contact shot Tagliani’s right hand side up into the air, and the car even went over the 90 degree vertical and would have overturned if had not then made contact with the wall and safety fence which propped it up and bounced it back right-side-up onto the track again. Tagliani was out but Jakes was sent on his way and Danica made it back to pit lane as well where she needed a spare front wing from Marco Andretti’s stock of spare parts in order to rejoin the race.

“I felt a big knock on the right rear, and we were up in the air. It’s disappointing,” he said. “First, I got knocked out with Helio and then at the end by Danica.”

“It piles up so bad at the hairpin there, and everybody is just running the inside,” said Patrick of the initial contact with Jakes that set off the accident. “Unfortunately, the line is so much further to the inside with the bumps nowadays that it’s causing pileups.”

There was one more accident still waiting to happen at the next restart on lap 76: Marco Andretti tried cutting down the inside of turn 1 only to run into the back of Oriol Servia, sending the #2 spinning into Justin Wilson who was minding his own business on the outside. Hildebrand, Hinchcliffe and Kimball also arrived at the scene in the immediate aftermath, and the mess blocked the track so completely that the field had to take to the run-off service road to bypass turn 1 when they came through behind the safety car.

In what green flag racing there was, it was a simple matter for Franchitti and Dixon to get past the slower cars that were having to think fuel-first, and Rahal was spun out by late contact in turn 3 during the final restart with Hunter-Reay which put an end to Chip Ganassi’s hopes of a team 1-2-3. For a few laps the remaining Ganassi duo made a race of it, Dixon looking particularly feisty and willing to go aggressive on his team mate in the final six lap green flag stint in order to get the win, but ultimately he backed off – either accepting that it wasn’t going to happen, or perhaps the pit crew had been on the radio with a quiet word that absolutely not not include the phrase “team orders”.

Even so, is there just a hint that the fractious atmosphere of Toronto was seeping into the Ganassi camp? “It’s frustrating because these street races are part luck, you know. Will and I were one and two, then [the caution came out] and the #10 car gets it everytime. I’ll call back on the radio and say, ‘Let me guess who’s leading: the 10 car’,” he said with a slight edge to his light-hearted tone. “Good on him, they make good strategy.”

It had been his plan to make the early pit stop rather than Dario, and he seemed confused if not outright irritated at what had changed once the race got underway. “For us we knew what the window was, we discussed it in the morning, we were going to pit early. But obviously they split the strategy with Dario and he pitted early, and left me out to put some pressure on Will, which that didn’t work.”

Franchitti was in maximum diplomacy mode, and after making peace overtures to Power over their on-track clash he then sent out olive branches to his team mate as well. “You see how good Scott’s been all weekend, Scott’s was dynamite all weekend,” he said, talking up the ongoing battle for the IndyCar championship between the three of them. “Will was very strong, we know that, I don’t take anything for granted. That lead could go down in one week, so we’ll just keep pushing.”

Despite Dario’s caution about the title battle, it’s been a very good few weeks for him in the championship. Today’s mayhem meant a second successive “did not finish” for Power after he crashed at Iowa two weeks ago, and the two races leave him 55pts adrift of Franchitti. Meanwhile, the rows and controversies sparked off by this race will doubtless reverberate down the next few weeks – including the inevitable question about how much the controversial double-file restarts contributed to the mayhem we saw.

It’ll be interesting to see who is still speaking to whom going into the second Canadian race at Edmonton in two weeks time.

Race results

1. #10 Dario Franchitti 85 laps 01:56:32.1501s
2. #9 Scott Dixon 85 laps + 0.7345s
3. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 85 laps + 6.0144s
4. #26 Marco Andretti 85 laps + 7.5671s
5. #14 Vitor Meira 85 laps + 9.0117s
6. #19 Sebastien Bourdais 85 laps + 9.3114s
7. #6 Ryan Briscoe 85 laps + 9.8735s
8. #4 JR Hildebrand 85 laps + 14.1750s
9. #59 EJ Viso 85 laps + 14.7843s
10. #78 Simona de Silvestro 85 laps + 15.7603s
11. #24 Ana Beatriz 85 laps + 16.8992s
12. #2 Oriol Servia 85 laps + 19.8736s
13. #38 Graham Rahal 85 laps + 21.3123s
14. #06 James Hinchcliffe 84 laps + 1 laps
15. #22 Justin Wilson 83 laps + 2 laps
16. #8 Paul Tracy 82 laps + 3 laps
17. #3 Helio Castroneves 81 laps + 4 laps
18. #18 James Jakes 81 laps + 4 laps
19. #7 Danica Patrick 79 laps + 6 laps
20. #5 Takuma Sato 79 laps + 6 laps

Retirements

21. #83 Charlie Kimball after 77 laps Contact
22. #27 Mike Conway after 76 laps Contact
23. #77 Alex Tagliani after 71 laps Contact
24. #12 Will Power after 66 laps Contact
25. #34 Sebastian Saavedra after 43 laps Contact
26. #82 Tony Kanaan after 2 laps Contact

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

An amazing final 25 laps of the Indy 500 saw the favourites falter and one unlikely name after another look set to win. One heartbreaking crash later, it was a Brit on victory lane.

If you’d asked the bookies, Scott Dixon was pretty much a lock for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 victory; or if not him then his Ganassi team mate Dario Franchitti.

They looked quietly confident throughout the whole of practice week, and would surely have locked out the top two spots on the grid if not for a puzzling fumble with insufficient fuel on their final pole shootout runs, so it seemed that it was a just matter of time before the true natural order was restored come the race start.

Just as expected, Dixon got a flying start and easily passed polesitter Alex Tagliani at the start of the race, but once again Tag showed that he and the Sam Schmidt Motorsport team were not to be underestimated. He wasn’t going anywhere, and on lap 8 he stole the lead straight back from the race favourite and stayed there.

A couple of drivers toward the back were not so happy. Paul Tracy was into the pits early: “We had some type of issue going on with tyre vibration. We picked up a really bad vibration in the first stint, and then I started sliding and brushed the wall. We decided to fix the WIX car, get it back out there going … We wanted to run it all day, pick up as many spots as we could and not end up in 33rd.” The Dreyer & Reinbold team did indeed get Tracy back out and he ran to the end, albeit the last of the runners and 25 laps down.

Simona de Silvestro was another backmarker to have early handling problems leading her to brush the wall and damage her suspension: “I made contact with the wall in turn 1, and it bent the upright and the rear suspension. It didn’t feel real good, and we realized that the upright was bent.” There would be no fairy tale reward for her courageous comeback from the huge crash she suffered during practice week that left her qualifying despite badly burned hands. She would finally call it a day on lap 44.

Before that, Takuma Sato became the first retiree of the 2011 race when he got up too high on the race track and skated into the wall in turn 5. “I couldn’t see that the car was inside of me, and by the time I got into turn 1, it was full speed and the car was there and I had to lift,” he explained. “I wasn’t supposed to be hanging on that way, and it is very disappointing. I really wanted to finish the race.”

During the pit stops that ensued, Will Power got a nasty shock when he pulled away from his pit box only to have his left rear tyre suddenly fall off: the tyre changer had been frantically signalling a problem, but his warnings had been missed. Power would have to go round a full lap and come in again for a new set of tyres, and that put him off the lead lap – a set-back from which he was never to recover. “That was it for the day. We just had to try and fight our way back,” he said after finishing 14th.

And then it was time for the first double file restart the Indianapolis 500 had ever seen: and they almost got away with it, if only EJ Viso hadn’t tried to go three wide into turn 1. “I was running with Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe, and I believe that James Hinchcliffe missed a gear and he lost his momentum out of turn 4,” he explained. “Graham Rahal went on the inside, and I went on the outside. Then when we were approaching turn 1, I got hit on my rear left tire and it spun me.”

It was Hinchcliffe who had made contact with him: “[EJ] got into us, we got hit and had to come in and save the car from going into the wall on that one,” he said. Viso spun off into the wall with a nasty crunch, enforcing a rapid return to a second caution.

Dixon had got ahead of Tagliani before that second caution, and at the restart Tag returned the favour and went ahead again for a lap. But the Sam Schmidt Motorsports car then dropped back to second as the meat in a Ganassi sandwich: Dixon in the lead, Dario Franchitti running in third ahead of Oriol Servia. Tagliani lost his rhythm and fell back, and Servia’s speed was no match for the Ganassis and he too lost positions during this stint. It seemed to be coming together very nicely indeed for Chip Ganassi, with one of his junior team drivers Graham Rahal also figuring strongly and one of the biggest gainers of the early part of the race.

Green flag pit stops had just started to cycle through on lap 62 when Jay Howard emerged from pit lane – only to suddenly have his right rear tyre fly off, in a more dramatic version of Will Power’s earlier mishap. The loss spun him into impact with the inside wall, robbing him of the chance to get the car back to the pits for new tyres. He was out of the race.

It turned into a remarkably good stroke of fortune for Dario Franchitti, who had entered pit lane just before it was closed for the caution and therefore able to take his stop as normal – a break which saw him take over the lead of the race from Scott Dixon. Danica Patrick, on the other hand, was stuck out on the race track with her #7 running on fumes. She had to resort to a “splash and dash” mercy run and then make a second proper stop when the pits finally properly opened for business, but it wasn’t helping her campaign.

It was also not a helpful stop for Tony Kanaan, who had been running strongly up in the top six during this stage of the race. But when he came into pit lane he had the misfortune of trying to pull into his pit just as Pippa Mann pulled out of hers, and she blocked his access. In F1 terms it was “unsafe release” and the responsibility of the team to give her better direction, but that was no consolation to Kanaan.

At the restart on lap 70, the top six order was Franchitti, Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell and JR Hildebrand. The latest attempt at a double file restart was messy (and occasionally three-wide) but without incident, although Dixon cruised past Franchitti for the lead and Tagliani took third from Wheldon. The top five quickly pulled out a gap of some 3s over the rest.

Further back, Ryan Hunter-Reay had been running in 15th in his transplanted AJ Foyt Racing entry, but on lap 79 he got to high up and gave the wall a light tap that broke his rhythm and dropped him to the back of the lead lap in 24th.

As the race made it to the midway point it was time for another cycle of green flag pit stops – and once again, they were incomplete when the fourth caution of the afternoon came out. This time it was James Hinchcliffe who went into the wall in turn 1 on lap 101: “Sorry, boys,” he said over the radio, sounding truly gutted for his pit crew.

“At that point, we were driving on borrowed time after what happened with Viso,” he admitted. “We were just about to pit; the tires were just starting to go off. Bertrand [Baguette] got a good run on me, and I was really just trying to let him go. I backed off early and was giving him the corner but unfortunately got a little bit in the grey [marbles]. With how worn the tires were, at that stage of the stint I was just a passenger.”

Once again the yellow had come out just after Dario had made it into the pits for his scheduled stop; once again, Danica was caught out and had to bring in her #7 for a mercy splash-and-dash and come back for a proper stop when pit lane was properly open.

The pit stops had left Dario in the lead ahead of Oriol, Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter, with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon in fifth and sixth at the restart on lap 107, which was even messier than before but IndyCar was clearly in no mood to waste everyone’s time and patience on waving off restart attempts if it could be helped. Helio Castroneves was also in the lead pack, but as lapped traffic – until he promptly got past Dario to unlap himself and put himself temporarily back on the lead lap after all.

Was this a sign that Penske were suddenly starting to show some form at long last? As it happened – no, it was more a sign that Dario was suddenly far less comfortable during this part of the race, the set-up just no longer to his liking as the afternoon warmed up and broke into the 90s Fahrenheit. Servia sensed the weakness and passed Dario for the lead on lap 114, promptly going on to put Helio a lap down again after all.

Dario seemed to adapt and on lap 132 he was strong enough again to retake the lead, but pit stops were looming and he was mightily pleased to get in and have a whole raft of adjustments dialled in to to the car for the final third of the race. This time for once, the pit stops cycled through without a caution interrupting proceedings.

Instead, one came on lap 148 – and sadly it was for the exit from the race of the well-liked polesitter Alex Tagliani, who slid the Sam Schmidt Motorsports #77 onto the marbles and into the wall at turn 4 while dealing with JR Hildebrand. Tag had been dropping down the running order since the midpoint of the race and had already looked a spent force as far as the race win went.

“We had a really good, balanced car early on. It was nice to drive it,” he said. “Then all of the sudden, it became very loose. I couldn’t really get it back on track … In one of our pit stops, we thought we fixed it, but we didn’t. It’s a shame, because early on the car was so good I thought we had a shot at it all race long. But we kind of lost the car at some point; very curious.”

With only 50 laps to go now, fuel strategies were starting to come into focus. Most of the cars stayed out of pit lane, but Marco Andretti and Townsend Bell opted to come in, dropping them to 10th and 11th respectively; that left the leading top six lined up in the order Franchitti, Dixon, Servia, Wheldon, Kanaan and Hildebrand, with Danica Patrick running in seventh.

Dario didn’t even bother pretending to abide by a double file restart when things got underway again, and just shot off into the lead as fast as he could. But it proved to be a short-lived green flag, with another caution coming on lap 158 when Townsend Bell – who had been unusually inconsiderate of other cars on the track during the day and lucky to escape without any collisions so far – finally rode to the end of his luck.

He pinched down on the #6 of Penske’s Ryan Briscoe into turn 1, and Briscoe had no where to go except into the #99. Bell was sent up into the wall and Briscoe followed, the Schmidt Racing car making an unwilling crumple zone for Briscoe’s own impact.

“I’ve got to see the replay, but it seems like somebody hit me in my left rear, I think it was Ryan,” said Bell. “I saved it in turn 1 and whammo, it got me again and pinned me in the wall.”

Briscoe denied it was his fault, but was forgiving toward Bell at the same time: “I saw Townsend brush the wall in turn 4. Everyone was going down the inside. I was just following through on the inside into turn 1,” he explained. “I just think he didn’t know I was there, and he just came down and pinched me. As soon as we made contact, the wheels interlocked. And that was it.”

Pit stops followed, but with 40 laps still to go it was too far to make it on a single final tank of gas – everyone would have to pit again. Except that on the very last lap of the caution period, two cars decided to dive into the pits and get a late extra top-up of fuel in a bid to make it all the way to the flag after all, now it was just 36 laps away.

Stunningly, one of those cars was the race leader – Dario Franchitti. Surely he wouldn’t be throwing his strong lead away and dropping to 12th on a Hail Mary risky stunt? And yet the only driver who decided to follow his lead was the 23-year-old rookie from California, JR Hildebrand. This was either a brilliant, race-winning move for Dario (and potentially an assured second place for Hildebrand in his first Indy 500, too) – or it was throwing away his chance of a third Indy 500 there and then. Only time, and another 26 laps, would tell.

After a race that had looked so stable and as if it was floating serenely toward the inevitable Ganassi win with the only outstanding question being which one of Scott or Dario would come out top, suddenly the whole race was thrown into escalating chaos. Whoever you thought would win, suddenly all bets were off.

Servia led at the restart, but then he was passed by Graham Rahal who led for six laps – and on such a historic day as the centennial Indy 500, how great was it to have a name with such resonance to the sport as Rahal back on top of the leaderboard, however briefly. Then Dixon came back and took the top spot for another seven laps.

On everyone’s mind was the inescapable fact that all of these cars needed that extra splash of fuel to make it to the end of the race, and on lap 177 Dan Wheldon fired the starting gun on those desperate make-or-break visits to pit road; Rahal and Servia came in the next lap and Dixon was in the lap after that, which handed the race lead to none other than Danica Patrick for only the second time in her Indy 500 career.

She kept the lead for ten laps, but she was now suffering with increasingly severe vibration problems that were making the car near impossible to drive. “Bad enough to come in?” enquired her pit crew: Danica was silent, wishing that she could stay out and hope for a miracle caution, but ultimately having to take to pit road 11 laps shy of the finish.

And into the breach came Bertrand Baguette, the Belgian racer that no one had even thought was in with the slightest chance. Could it possibly be the biggest upset of the decade – could Bertrand really pull this off? He certainly wasn’t afraid of running flat-out, and the idea of fuel conservation didn’t seem to have entered his mind. He didn’t have the secret of ever-lasting gas tanks, did he?

He came tantalisingly close, and built up a huge lead of 10s over Dario Franchitti in second place. Baguette was running at 218mph compared with 208mph for Dario, but none of that mattered if the #30 couldn’t make it to the finish line. It seemed that Ganassi’s cunning last-second splash-and-dash at the end of the last caution had done the trick and that the Scot was about to get his third Indy 500 title.

Except Franchitti’s lap speed was falling … and falling … And now it was no longer just fuel conservation, but worst-case scenario: the lack of any further late-race cautions meant that he wasn’t going to make it full race distance either, except by crawling round so slowly that everyone else would get to stream past him. His Indy dream had well and truly disappeared before his very eyes.

If Franchitti couldn’t make it, then clearly JR Hildebrand – the only other driver to pit for a top-up at the same time as Dario on lap 164 – wouldn’t make it either. It didn’t matter that he took the lead with three to go when Bertrand finally had to concede defeat and head to pit road, because obviously he too was about to run dry.

Except the rookie kept on coming. And coming. And still coming. He took the white flag and started his final 2.5 mile circulation, and surely even if he ran dry now he was still far enough ahead of the late stoppers led by Dan Wheldon? It seemed impossible to believe that he now wouldn’t make the finish line in first place and claim a famous, historic win in the centennial event – a true rookie win=.

He kept on coming, and the crowd kept on cheering the prospect of an All-American victory on the ultra-patriotic Memorial Day weekend. Up ahead the only fly in Hildebrand’s ointment was the slow traffic of Charlie Kimball, but Hildebrand kept up high to make sure he gave his fellow rookie enough room, not wanting to startle him and cause any crashes the last time through turns 3 and 4.

He went high … and he kept on going higher. Once on the marbles he was gone and into the wall on the exit of turn four, just yards now from the famed yard of bricks marking the start/finish line. It was agonising: the impact against the wall had wrecked the car, there was no way of steering and no power, yet still the car ground its way over the remaining distance, clawing its way forward like some dying animal determined to get its offspring to safety.

It made it; the #4 slid all the way down the track and finally came to a halt on the entrance to turn 1. The only problem was that the process had been agonisingly slow, and before the wreckage could manage to get itself over the finish line there had been a blur of orange and white go past.

Unbelievably, Dan Wheldon had taken the chequered flag first, and would head to pit lane to drink the traditional glass of milk and don the winner’s laurel.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw him hit the fence,” said Wheldon. “I just carried on by. As Bryan [Herta, car owner] says, you have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point, I knew it was mine.”

It was a horrible moment for Hildebrand, who had been holding his destiny in his own hands when he made the error that cost him the most famous of race victories possible. No one could quite believe it, and for a time rumours flew that Panther would appeal the race result on the grounds that Wheldon had overtaken Hildebrand under caution – a strict racing protocol no-no. Two hours later, an official review of the video and photographic evidence proved that the caution had not in fact been out when Wheldon passed Hildebrand’s crushed car; and IndyCar officials made clear that even if this had not been the case they would still rule that the Panther was too “wounded” to be legitimately protected by the yellow flags.

Wheldon’s victory was confirmed: the British driver who had been left without a regular season drive in IndyCar in 2011 had come almost out of nowhere to claim his second Indy 500 title, after two consecutive years of finishing second (all of them in different teams) and also with a third and a fourth to his name in ten starts overall in this famous race – quite a record.

Dan Wheldon couldn’t quite believe it, and the tears streamed down as he climbed out of the car. Team owner Bryan Herta couldn’t believe it either: while Wheldon’s track record here is undeniable, no one expected him to be seriously in with a chance to win the race with a start-up team, even one run by a motor racing great like Herta.

“We came here to win,” said his car owner Bryan Herta, who was a driver here in 2005 when Wheldon won his first Indy 500. “We always said we came here to win … But we actually won!”

And as celebrations overran victory lane, spare a thought for the young man standing in disbelief next to a wrecked car, running his fingers through his hair, wondering exactly how he’d managed to not get a couple of dozen yards down the road in time.

“I made a judgement call catching up on the #83 [Kimball] and I thought I don’t really want to slow down behind him,” said Hildebrand. “I’ve been able to make this move on the outside before and so I went to the high side and because it was at the end of the stint I got up in the marbles and that was it.”

“We came here with a rookie driver and everybody says we’re going to have trouble and everything, but I can tell you that he did a great job,” said Hildebrand’s Panther team owner John Barnes. “He drove to a fuel number I didn’t think was going to be attainable. We’re so proud of him and the people at Panther and the crew.”

Amazingly, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan came across the line in third and fourth, while Scott Dixon was restored to fifth after initially being shown in sixth place, as he was inadvertently passed under that final caution by Oriol Servia who was duly returned to sixth place.

“Between Dario and myself, we had this one pretty well covered,” lamented Dixon, scarcely believing that all that quiet Ganassi domination had unravelled in the last 25 laps. “It just didn’t go our way. I definitely leave here thinking that I should have won my second 500.”

But this moment right now was about the winner – Dan Wheldon. “You can think I’m giving you the media cheesy line, but it’s not like that,” he said “The people that form this team, the relationships that we’ve all kind of bonded very quickly, has been extremely good. With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske’s organisation and Chip Ganassi [but] I don’t think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race.

“It’s a fantastic day. I just love Indianapolis. I really do. I love Indiana. It’s been so good to me, so good to my career. But to these guys for giving me an opportunity, it’s tough to beat these big teams. This is a Cinderella story.”

Let’s hope that “happy ever after” includes a full time deal for Wheldon. And while we’re at it, let’s use one of our three wishes for a bright and winning future for the richly deserving JR Hildebrand, too, as between them these two drivers gave us one hell of a climax to the centennial Indy 500.

Race results

1. #98 Dan Wheldon William Rast – Curb/Big Machine 2:56:11.7267s (200 laps)
2. #4 JR Hildebrand (R) National Guard Panther Racing + 2.1086s
3. #38 Graham Rahal Service Central + 5.5949s
4. #82 Tony Kanaan GEICO – KV Racing Technology – Lotus + 7.4870s
5. #9 Scott Dixon Target Chip Ganassi Racing + 9.5434s
6. #2 Oriol Servia CDW/Telemundo + 8.8757s *
7. #30 Bertrand Baguette The RACB/Aspria RLL Special + 23.9631s
8. #07 Tomas Scheckter Team REDLINE Xtreme – Circle K + 24.3299s
9. #26 Marco Andretti Team Venom + 25.4711s
10. #7 Danica Patrick Team GoDaddy + 26.4483s
11. #67 Ed Carpenter Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing + 27.0375s
12. #10 Dario Franchitti Target Chip Ganassi Racing + 56.4167s
13. #83 Charlie Kimball (R) Levemir and Novolog FlexPen + 1 lap
14. #12 Will Power Verizon Team Penske + 1 lap
15. #14 Vitor Meira ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing + 1 lap
16. #22 Justin Wilson Z-Line Designs/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing + 1 lap
17. #3 Helio Castroneves Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske + 1 lap
18. #44 Buddy Rice Fuzzy’s Vodka/Panther Racing + 2 laps
19. #19 Alex Lloyd Boy Scouts of America + 2 laps
20. #36 Pippa Mann (R) Conquest Racing + 2 laps
21. #24 Ana Beatriz Team Ipiranga/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing + 3 laps
22. #43 John Andretti Team Window World + 3 laps
23. #41 Ryan Hunter-Reay ABC Supply/DHL/Sun Drop + 3 laps
24. #11 Davey Hamilton HP/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing + 7 laps
25. #23 Paul Tracy WIX Filters/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing + 25 laps
26. #99 Townsend Bell Herbalife Schmidt Pelfrey Racing Lap 157 Contact
27. #6 Ryan Briscoe IZOD Team Penske Lap 157 Contact
28. #77 Alex Tagliani Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Lap 147 Contact
29. #06 James Hinchcliffe (R) Sprott Newman Haas Racing Lap 99 Contact
30. #88 Jay Howard (R) Service Central Schmidt RLL Racing Lap 60 Contact
31. #78 Simona de Silvestro Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lap 44 Handling
32. #59 EJ Viso PDVSA – KV Racing Technology – Lotus Lap 27 Contact
33. #5 Takuma Sato Monavie-KV Racing Technology – Lotus Lap 20 Contact

* = Oriol Servia demoted to sixth after being found to have passed Scott Dixon after the final yellow came out.

How the starting grid for the 2011 centennial anniversary Indianapolis 500 will line up at noon on Sunday, May 29.

Alex Tagliani claimed pole position in a shortened top fine pole shootout late on Saturday afternoon for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, which saw the two Ganassi cars run short on fuel which meant Scott Dixon narrowly missed taking the pole and Dario Franchitti

A rain-interrupted Sunday qualifying session washed the track clean and help ensure that none of the top 24 qualifiers from Pole Day were troubled by the events of Bump Day, which meant that Simona de Silvestro was not required to take to the track again with her hands still painful from the burns injuries sustained on Thursday.

Bump Day was nearly rained off before Danica Patrick could make an attempt at getting into the race, but the weather cleared and she went on to set one of the fastest times of the day just behind Paul Tracy. In doing so she put her Andretti Autosports team mate Marco Andretti on the bubble, and when Alex Lloyd delivered the coup de grace an hour later Marco was forced to go out as the final gun sounded, resulting in him bumping another of the Andretti team mates – Ryan Hunter-Reay – off the grid in order to reclaim his own spot.

Row 1
1. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt Motorsports
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi
3. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas

Row 2
4. Townsend Bell Sam Schmidt Motorsports
5. Will Power Team Penske
6. Dan Wheldon Bryan Herta Autosport

Row 3
7. Buddy Rice Panther
8. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher
9. Dario Franchitti Ganassi

Row 4
10. Takuma Sato KV Racing Technology
11. Vitor Meira AJ Foyt Enterprises
12. JR Hildebrand Panther

Row 5
13. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas
14. Bertrand Baguette Rahal Letterman Lanigan
15. Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold

Row 6
16. Helio Castroneves Team Penske
17. John Andretti Petty/Andretti
18. EJ Viso KV Racing Technology

Row 7
19. Bruno Junqueira AJ Foyt Enterprises
20. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold
21. Jay Howard Rahal/Sam Schmidt Motorsports

Row 8
22. Tomas Scheckter KV Racing Technology/SH
23. Tony Kanaan KV Racing Technology
24. Simona de Silvestro HVM

Row 9
25. Paul Tracy Dreyer & Reinbold
26. Danica Patrick Andretti Autosport
27. Ryan Briscoe Team Penske

Row 10
28. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport
29. Charlie Kimball Ganassi
30. Graham Rahal Ganassi

Row 11
31. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne Racing
32. Pippa Mann Conquest Racing
33. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold

Did not qualify

Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti
Raphael MatosAFS
Mike ConwayAndretti
James JakesDale Coyne
Sebastian Saavedra Conquest
Ho-Pin TungSchmidt/Dragon
Scott SpeedDragon

Everyone assumed that the Indy 500 pole would go to Penske or Ganassi. But Alex Tagliani had different ideas and delivered the prize to Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Alex Tagliani had been fast all week (whenever weather permitted the practice sessions to go ahead), but still no one saw him coming. Everyone just assumed the Sam Schmidt Motorsports would be brushed to one side once the big guns of Team Penske and Ganassi got serious.

In the end, Pole Day saw Penske and Ganassi get serious – only for them to fumble the ball, leaving Tagliani a very worthy if surprising pole winner for the centennial Indianapolis 500.

“I think I’ll be pinching myself until I go to bed,” said Tagliani, understandably. “I wanted this one so bad!

“It’s been an amazing team effort. We have a great group of people, and the additions with the other cars. I had good input from Townsend and Dan and it’s been nice to work as a big group this week.”

It was Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ first Indianapolis 500 pole, in his 10th year as a team owner and just months after he decided to move into IndyCar full time by buying out the FAZZT team of which Tagliani was a co-owner. “This is a reward for Sam as well,” said Tagliani. “He got involved and helped to continue it. He’s an amazing team leader and this is a great result for him. I hope there’s more to come.”

The polewinners’ celebrations to one side, it was a moment of cold, hard reflection for the big guns who had failed to fire.

Ganassi’s blunder had been the most public and the most embarrassing, when during the pole shootout they failed to give either of their two drivers – Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti – sufficient gas to get around the four laps of the Speedway that comprise a single qualification attempt. In Dixon’s case the dame was limited, with Dixon losing pace on the final lap but still maintaining a high enough overall average to take second place on the grid alongside Tagliani.

It was far worse for Franchitti, who ran out of fuel much earlier in his qualifying attempt and consequently never set a time during the pole shootout, which means he will start from ninth place having previously been sitting in third place behind Tagliani and Dixon when showers caused the curtailment of the main qualifying activity for the top 24 positions.

Small wonder, then, that Dario was seen stalking back to his trailer with his helmet on, not wanting to speak to anyone. Finally word emerged via Twitter: “Well, that sucked!! Ran out of fuel ending the 3rd lap….. Didn’t trim enough for a pole run but p3 was on… Again!!!” He did however add his congratulations to Tagliani and Sam Schmidt, as well as consoling with Dixon.

The usual format for the pole shootout had been amended by IndyCar officials on the fly after a showed cut short the main qualifying session by 23 minutes and threatened to cause the top nine pole shootout to be abandoned altogether. The track was dried with just enough time to fit it in – but limiting the drivers to just one qualification attempt each. It was this all-or-nothing late change that did for Dario.

Alongside Tagliani and Dixon on the front row next Sunday instead will be Oriol Servia for Newman/Haas Racing, showing that the team that many had believed was in terminal decline is back with a vengeance.

“The car was great. It felt better than I expected. I am just very, very happy with the car,” said Servia. “We really thought we had a shot at a decent time, but you never know – you see some guys who were expected to be super-fast who were not. So it can happen to you. The winds changes; it gets warmer. I am just really happy.”

It’s the first time since 2005 that cars from three different teams are on the front row – the first time since 2004 that a Penske Racing car didn’t qualify on the front row – and shows just how wide open the race is going to be next week. Certainly far from the Penske/Ganassi grudge match everyone had assumed.

Penske’s failure to fly was less dramatic that Ganassi’s, but still extremely surprising. Will Power is their highest-placed representative and the only one of their three drivers to make it through to the pole shootout (Helio Castroneves is back in 16th, his lowest qualifying position in 11 starts) but Power could nonetheless only manage the middle of the second row in fifth place, sandwiched between Townsend Bell and Dan Wheldon – names that no one expected to feature so highly in the running order.

Despite being a former Indy 500 winner, and finishing second in the race in the last two years, many had expected Wheldon’s return to the race in the Bryan Herta Autosport entry to struggle to even qualify, but in fact they put the big names to shame.

“To be honest, the speed is a testimony to this team,” said Dixon. “It’s not me; the guys have done a fantastic job. I know what I want from the race car, and we’re making it work. Being in a race car is what I love to do. My time off made me realize how much I love motor racing. I’m having a blast. We will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Buddy Rice and Ed Carpenter were the other drivers to get through to the top nine shootout. Carpenter was ecstatic by his success, but careful not to get carried away: “It’s great to be fact right now, but we have to keep our head in the game for the race. The competition is just so tough right now, but I think we have some confidence,” he said. “I really didn’t feel rusty at all out there. I really appreciated the fans cheering when I finished the run. At this place, that means a lot to me.”

Carpenter’s success means that the Sarah Fisher Racing team can now seriously consider running a second car in Bump Day; potential drivers said to be on stand-by for the chance include Buddy and Jacque Lazier. The team’s previous best performance in Indy 500 qualifying was 21st in 2009 with Fisher herself at the wheel.

KV-Racing Technology were also celebrating after the not-inconsiderable achievement of getting all three of their main team drivers into the top 24 positions: Takuma Sato in 10th, EJ Viso in 18th and Tony Kanaan in a rather more vulnerable 23rd – and even their collaboration with SH Racing was successful when Tomas Scheckter qualified in 22nd.

“It’s a great feeling for me to be standing here today already qualified,” enthused Sato. “Last year, we had a moment on qualifying day. This is a terrific day for us. I appreciated the effort the team as given. They have done a terrific job.”

“Those were some comfortable laps. We had a pretty stable car. I feel like we can trim the car a little bit more and find some more speed,” said Viso. “We believe we achieved what we expected. It’s been a great atmosphere with this team.”

Despite finishing in the all-important top 24, Kanaan was rather more subdued, mindful perhaps of last year’s bruising Bump Day trials and hence more aware than most that it’s not over until the chequered flag falls on Sunday evening.

“It’s not quite what we wanted. It’s been weird. We haven’t been able to find the speed, so if we’re locked into the top 24 today, I think that’s a good result for us,” he said. “And after last year, nothing surprises me about this place anymore. For me, it doesn’t matter where we start. On the first lap last year, I was 33rd. With 10 laps to go, I was second. It doesn’t really matter.”

Simona de Silvestro managed to finish in the top 24 as well, just behind Kanaan and effectively “on the bubble” going into Bump Day. Her success is all the more remarkable considering she was driving with the burn injuries to her hands sustained in a serious crash in the Thursday practice session.

“My body’s shaking. I was pretty nervous out there. We didn’t do many laps,” she said. “A day ago, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in the car. I was really freaked out about it [especially when I was waiting to qualify] and they’re showing your crash on the screen. It’s like, ‘Really? Thanks!’

“But I think I made the right decision to get back in, and the doctors have taken really good care of me.”

It was not such a good day for other teams, with Andretti Autosport the most astonishing disaster zone on pit lane when it came to qualifying attempts. Only John Andretti – in collaboration with Richard Petty Motorsports – made the top 24, and it will be a battle for any of their four regular drivers to get in on Bump Day on current form – even Danica Patrick.

Meanwhile, Ho-Pin Tung is definitely out of the running following a heavy crash in the Dragon Racing car during his first qualifying attempt. Tung was sent to hospital for treatment, and after a CAT scan was diagnosed with a mild concussion – which automatically rules him out of high speed race cars for the next few days. It’s unknown what the team will do regarding the #8 car, which in any case was surely too badly damaged to be repaired in time for Sunday.

The team’s other driver, Scott Speed, did not take part in Pole Day after disappointing times on Fast Friday led the team to believe that more would be gained with an extra day to work on settings. There have also been rumours of rows between the driver and team, and there’s still a question whether Speed which actually take to the track on Sunday at all.

Qualifying for the Indy 500 continues tomorrow from noon until 6pm, which will first see drivers who have not yet made the grid first make qualifying attempts to fill up positions 25-33. After that, the ‘bumping’ begins, with the slowest driver on the grid deemed to be “on the bubble” and at risk of being bumped off the grid altogether by anyone not yet in the race who can set a faster time.

It certainly makes for an interesting, eventful and nailbiting day.

But Alex Tagliani will be floating above all of that. He doesn’t have to worry about anyone bumping him this year. He’ll be too busy pinching himself for the next few days instead.

Pole Day qualifying times

Pole position shoot out – top nine

1. #77 Alex Tagliani 227.472mph
2. #9 Scott Dixon 227.340mph
3. #2 Oriol Servia 227.168mph
4. #99 Townsend Bell 226.887mph
5. #12 Will Power 226.773mph
6. #98 Dan Wheldon 226.490mph
7. #44 Buddy Rice 225.786mph
8. #67 Ed Carpenter 225.121mph
9. 10 Dario Franchitti 226.379mph

Pole Day positions 10-24

(Positions set, but can sill be ‘bumped’ off the grid altogether on Sunday by faster cars)

10. #5 Takuma Sato 225.736mph
11. #14 Vitor Meira 225.590mph
12. #4 JR Hildebrand 225.579mph
13. #06 James Hinchcliffe 225.572mph
14. #30 Bertrand Baguette 225.285mph
15. #11 Davey Hamilton 225.250mph
16. #3 Helio Castroneves 225.216mph
17. #43 John Andretti 224.981mph
18. #59 EJ Viso 224.732mph
19. #41 Bruno Junqueira 224.691mph
20. #22 Justin Wilson 224.511mph
21. #88 Jay Howard 224.483mph
22. #07 Tomas Scheckter 224.433mph
23. #82 Tony Kanaan 224.417mph
24. #78T Simona de Silvestro 224.392mph

Not yet qualified

Paul TracyDreyer & Reinbold
Charlie KimballGanassi
Ana BeatrizDreyer & Reinbold
Ryan BriscoePenske
Marco AndrettiAndretti
Danica PatrickAndretti
Graham RahalGanassi
Alex LloydDale Coyne
Pippa MannConquest
Ryan Hunter-ReayAndretti
Raphael MatosAFS
Mike ConwayAndretti
James JakesDale Coyne
Sebastian SaavedraConquest
Ho-Pin TungSchmidt/Dragon

Bumped speeds

(Speeds originally in the top 24 but displaced by other improved runners)

#23 Paul Tracy 224.353mph
#83 Charlie Kimball 224.262mph
#24 Ana Beatriz 224.258mph
#78T Simona de Silvestro 224.237mph
#41 Bruno Junqueira 224.236mph
#07 Tomas Scheckter 224.117mph
#7 Danica Patrick 223.837mph
#38 Graham Rahal 223.822mph
#6T Ryan Briscoe 223.435mph
#43 John Andretti 223.393mph
#26 Marco Andretti 223.389mph
#36 Pippa Mann 223.070mph
#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 222.951mph
#17 Raphael Matos 222.786mph
#27 Mike Conway 222.247mph
#18 James Jakes 221.846mph
#34 Sebastian Saavedra 221.526mph

Failed attempts

(Speeds that did not make it into the top 24)

#6T Ryan Briscoe 224.134mph
#26 Marco Andretti 224.074mph
#7 Danica Patrick 223.831mph
#26 Marco Andretti 223.691mph
#78T Simona de Silvestro 223.681mph
#6T Ryan Briscoe 223.644mph

Waved off/No Attempt

(Runs aborted before completion)

#19 Alex Lloyd 223.759mph
#19 Alex Lloyd 223.564mph
#43 John Andretti 223.014mph
#18 James Jakes 220.638mph
#36 Pippa Mann 220.000mph
#38 Graham Rahal No time
#83 Charlie Kimball No time
#77 Alex Tagliani 226.954mph
#9 Scott Dixon 226.701mph
#98 Dan Wheldon 226.300mph
#99 Townsend Bell 226.277mph
#67 Ed Carpenter 226.171mph
#12 Will Power 226.089mph
#2 Oriol Servia 225.775mph
#44 Buddy Rice 225.746mph
#10 Dario Franchitti 227.043mph
#8 Ho-Pin Tung 224.340mph

Field Average: 225.595 mph

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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