Posts Tagged ‘danica patrick’

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 …

Advertisements

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.

A dramatic climax to a week of practice and qualifying at Indianapolis saw Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, Pippa Mann and Paul Tracy get on the grid for the 2011 Indy 500.

Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, Pippa Mann and Paul Tracy were among those to survive a nail-biting rain-interrupted Bump Day climax to Indianapolis 500 qualifying, but others – including Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway – were left thoroughly gutted to miss out on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

At one point it seemed as though rain might stop Danica Patrick from even making at attempt to get on the grid, as an earlier delay passing technical inspection meant that she had only just finally got to the head of the line when the rain started and the yellow flags came out. If the track didn’t dry out in time, the grid would be finalised without its biggest and most bankable star name.

“It kind of seemed like everything was just not going the way it needed to go. I just kept going up against things, whether it was not explaining the loss in speed yesterday or going through the tech line and not passing and having to go back through, losing my spot, which was second,” she said.

“And then to get in line again after the rain had cleared and have it come with only me left to go, it just kind of seemed like maybe it’s just not supposed to happen this year. That’s just the roller coaster you ride here. It makes you value the good days even more and it makes you want to try like hell to never have these days ever again.”

When she did finally get her run in, it was the second fastest of the day – and she was safely on the 33-car grid next Sunday. But right until the moment she saw the time come up, she had no idea what to expect from the car.

“I had no idea. I can tell a little bit when the lights come up when I accelerate and how many lights I can see on the steering wheel and going down the back straight and coming around and then around 3 and 4 and got to the front straight, and it felt good. Got around the short chute, had the lights on, out of 2 it felt good. Getting lights down the back straight, and I thought, ‘Okay, it seems like it’s okay right now.’ Then you come back to start-finish line and it showed 225, and I was happy.”

The ecstasy of the moment understandably went straight to her head: “I feel like I need a drink. That’s really how I feel,” she said. “You learn to never take it for granted. That’s definitely one thing.

“The relief that comes with it, because the highs are what we go for here. So the lows are really low, which means that the highs are really high here. And until you’ve experienced them, you’ve never really experienced Indy for all it can be for you. And I’ve been there. I feel lucky for that.”

While she was feeling the highs, two of her team mates were experiencing the lows. British driver Mike Conway was by his own admission absolutely devastated by failing to make the grid for the Indy 500, the race that nearly ended his career in that horrifying last-lap crash in 2010.

“It’s a tough break – both me and Ryan, not in the show. I’m pretty gutted,” he said. “Danica spent some time with me, putting me back together, after I got back to the garage. I’m obviously happy for Danica, Marco and John to be in, but gutted for me and Ryan. I never wanted to experience this feeling. You see it happen every year, and you hope it’s not you. It’s not nice.”

At least Conway’s exit was, to be brutally honest, clearly a possibility right from the disappointing Opening Day. How much worse, then, for Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had looked to be safe right up until the dramatic final moments of Bump Day that first saw Alex Lloyd pull out a spectacular lap to save his own chances and bump Marco Andretti off the grid, and then Marco going out even as the gun shot signalling the end of qualifying echoed around the Speedway – and managing to bump Hunter-Reay off the grid, with Ryan left with no chance to respond.

“I can’t even process this right now. It’s just devastating,” he said. “This is terrible. It was my teammate that bumped me out of the field. I’ve been on that side of it before … This is a hard one to take. I don’t know how it’s going to be on Race Day. We just missed it. We couldn’t find the speed. I don’t know what to tell you. This is the worst. I don’t think it’s really hit just yet. I can’t process it.”

Marco Andretti was the driver who bumped his own team mate out, and he was walking a fine line between the joy and relief of making the Indy 500, and the knowledge of what it had done to his team mate.

“It was a roller coaster day,” he said. “I think the pair of them [Mike and Ryan] are two of the best in the business. Ryan has had terrible luck this year. Fortunately, Mike got a win, but Ryan has been in a position to win a lot of races this year and came short for whatever reason.”

The moment when he got bumped with six minutes to do must have been a heart-stopping moment, but Marco said that in fact he was glad it had happened. “You know what? I was in the mindset whatever is going to happen is going to happen … I knew we were going to be in this position. So I think we were just kind of prepared for it, and we showed up when we had to.

“To be honest, I was happier that we got bumped, you know, because that justifies us going out again. You hate to withdraw your time and then you have to lift, or you crash the thing and you’re out of it. So many things could have gone wrong,” he explained. “When I woke up today, I was ready. I was just ready for it, and I was expecting to be – luckily we were in line at the right place at the right time. But I was expecting it to come down to the wire because I knew we didn’t have the speed. We came up with it at the end there, but we were really risking it.”

Alex Lloyd had also run the gamut of emotions in those closing minutes, and could scarcely believe that it had come together at the last minute when all had appeared lost.

“It’s been probably one of the most stressful weekends I think I’ve had in my career. I remember it last year, we had to qualify on Bump Day last year. I remember that being pretty stressful, and I didn’t want anything to do with it this year,” he said. “I think the chances of us making the show seemed pretty low … I had to lift so badly in 3, I thought there’s no way we can do this now. I saw the time for the first lap and thought you know what? Maybe, maybe.

“At that point I’m holding it flat, or I’m in the wall. There’s not going to be a lift. The only lift that I am going to be doing is when I’m backward flying into the SAFER Barrier. So it was all or nothing, and that’s what Indy’s about.

“[Then] the oil temperature went sky high and on the third lap the engine was vibrating so much, by the fourth lap I couldn’t see where I was going,” he continued. “I was absolutely convinced the thing was going to blow up. I thought there’s no way this thing will last. I’ve never felt this way; I was looking in the mirror to see if I could see smoke. But it held on, and we made it happen.”

He said the sense of emotion and achievement today exceeded even those he had felt at the end of last year’s Indy 500: “When we saw the crew guys’ face when I pulled up and you see not just what it means for myself but what it means for the whole team, for the crew guys, for their families, all the effort they put in all year long, for Dale over there, it felt better than finishing fourth place.”

By contrast with Lloyd, fellow Brit Pippa Mann had a rather stress-free day of it, one run being enough to secure her a position on the grid. She was delighted with how it had turned out: “Well, we finally cured the speed problem we had. We’ve cured our handling issues. We made so many changes overnight … I went out there with no idea of what I was going to have going into that run [and decided] ‘OK, this will work.’ I wish I had that knowledge going in, and we could’ve been a bit braver.”

During the second rain delay, Pippa was busy hoping and praying that the wet weather would stay around and lock the grid up before anyone could bump her out: “[I had] all my fingers and all my toes crossed. I know it’s bad sportsmanship, but I really [wanted the rain to continue] so that I didn’t have to do that again. I’m sorry, everyone else. I know it’s cruel, but does anyone know a good rain dance? I just looked at the sky and thought, ‘Come on, give me a break; you haven’t done it all week.'”

Charlie Kimball also made the grid without any dramas, and made history of his own in a different way: “When I got out of the car I thought, ‘I’ve qualified for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500.’ Now it’s a dream come true. And to do that as the first licensed driver with diabetes to qualify for the Indy 500 is special; not just for me but for the whole diabetes community out there. I hope I get a chance next Sunday to stop and soak it all in, because it’s going to be probably one of the greatest days of my life so far.”

Ryan Briscoe also overcame the problems bedding in his space car, which was replacing the race car written off in a Saturday morning practice crash. “For some reason this T-car hasn’t been pulling the speeds we’ve been expecting with what we were seeing with the primary car. Unfortunately, with my crash yesterday, we can’t get that back together. We’re racing with the T-car.

“So I’m just looking forward to the race. We’re going to have a great race car. I’m starting in the back, but we’ll be able to get to the front. I’ve got a Roger Penske calling my race, and we want to bring one home for IZOD.”

Of the other drivers not to make it, James Jakes was the only rookie running not to get through on Bump Day. He was philosophical and looking at this year as a learning experience. “My thanks to the guys on the Dale Coyne crew, and Alex (Lloyd, teammate) did a great job at the end. The event is awesome, and this is a great show. Hopefully I can be a part of it next year.”

The more experienced Raphael Matos also missed the grid and was trying to deal with the emotions. “Oh, man. I would just say that qualifying in Indianapolis is the most stressful day. Bump Day is definitely the most stressful day. I don’t ever want to experience this again,” he said. “I’m very frustrated. Obviously, the whole team is bummed out. All we can do now is keep our heads up and regroup ourselves and go to the next one. Unfortunately, racing is like that sometimes.”

With all his years of years of experience, Paul Tracy is certainly more familiar than most with the highs and lows of motorsport, and of the heightened emotions of Indianapolis in particular. Last year he was hit with the lows after a team strategy call to withdraw a qualified time led to him missing out on the race; this year, with Dreyer & Reinbold, he set the fastest time of Bump Day.

“The waiting is stressful. Over last night and this morning, I got a fever blister on my lip. That’s how stressful it is. I don’t get them unless I’m really stressed out. That’s what Indianapolis will do to you. It’ll drive you crazy. It’ll give you the best highs and the biggest lows.

“I mean, with ’02, last year, and qualifying a lap and a half in the rain, I definitely have a flair for bringing the dramatics.”

In which case, Indianapolis is the perfect setting for Tracy, and he’ll take to the stage with the other 32 drivers who made it through nine days of gruelling, weather-afflicted practice and qualifying to take the green flag at noon local time on Sunday, May 29.

A rain-interrupted Bump Day turned into an uncomfortable family affair, as Andretti Autosport team mates were pitched against each other for Indy 500 survival.

Bump Day is known for providing tension and drama, but rarely has it delivered either to quite the degree it did this year. At one point it looked as though the series’ biggest name – Danica Patrick – wasn’t going to make it into the field; and then later, Andretti Autosport team mates were pitched against each other, with drivers making qualifying runs knowing that if they succeeded then it would cost their team mate their Indy 500 place.

It started on schedule at noon, with the field already thinned by two drivers after the announcement that Dragon Racing had withdrawn, after their second car had been wrecked in morning practice leaving them with no viable hardware to run. There was also confirmation that Sarah Fisher had no intention of putting anyone in the #57 car that they had entered, which was another potential rival for an Indy 500 grid slot removed.

That was good news to the 14 drivers still left hunting one of the remaining nine grid positions not filled on Saturday, Pole Day. But it still meant that five drivers were going to be packing up and leaving Indianapolis early when qualifying finished at the sound of a gunshot at 6pm local time.

First to go out was Dreyer & Reinbold’s Ana Beatriz followed by Ganassi junior team driver Graham Rahal, who duly completed their qualifying attempts and claimed the first two remaining nine positions on the grid.

But before the next car in the line – AFS’ Raphael Matos – could head out, a violent thunderstorm swept in and unloaded a huge quantity of water onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the crowds, teams and drivers all dived for cover and the power momentarily failed in the media centre. The storm was brief, but it left the track flooded and it took a long time for the IMS staff to get things cleaned up and ready for more qualifying runs; all the while, anxious eyes turned skywards as more showers kept bubbling up and passing close by the Speedway, anyone of which could set back the clear-up efforts.

Two hours later, the track was dry enough for qualifying efforts to resume, and for 45 minutes the cars were able to run qualification attempts: Matos first then Ryan Briscoe (still struggling in the backup car he’d been forced into after wrecking his main car on Saturday morning), Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway. Once those nine had set times, the grid was effectively filled with 33 cars – everything that followed was to be a bumping attempt.

More significantly, all the times set on Sunday were slower than the times set the previous day, thanks to the changing conditions and the thorough wash that the track had received wiping it clean of the rubber that he been laid down that had been aiding grip up until then. It meant that no one from 24th place up was in any danger of being bumped – Simona de Silvestro, who had qualified in 24th, could breath easy. The battle would be a purely Bump Day affair.

First up was the Dale Coyne Racing rookie James Jakes, who has been consistently one of the slowest people throughout the week of practice and qualifying. He didn’t disappoint, and his time failed to dislodge the driver on the bubble who was Raphael Matos. Next up was Conquest’s Sebastian Saavedra, another driver who had been set back by the loss of so much practice time because of the weather in the past week, and consequently never threatened to make it onto the grid.

Marco Andretti was next up, and he was the first driver fast enough to ‘bump’ his way onto the grid this year: his average speed of 223.688mph was enough to displace Matos – who would now have to run again – and put Andretti’s team mate Mike Conway on the bubble. Sure enough, Conway was bumped by the next runner who was Dreyer & Reinbold’s Paul Tracy who managed a 224.939mph – the fastest lap of the afternoon.

That was the end of the run through the original qualification order draw – but there had been a notable omission among the runners in the shape of Danica Patrick, who had been pulled from her original slot because of problems with the car passing technical inspection, which meant the team had needed to take it back to work on it and re-insert it at the end of the line.

It shouldn’t have been a drama, but it turned out to be one when the rain started to fall literally seconds before Danica was due to head out on track. At first it was quite light and Danica waited patiently in her car, but the rain continued and got heavier and finally the cars were taken back into Gasoline Alley. For an hour and a half, everyone waited and held their breath: what now?

If the rain persisted, then because the grid had been filled with 33 cars and everyone in the original running order had had their chance to run (it was hardly the organisers fault if the team had pulled Danica out for technical reasons, after all) then if the rain continued through to 6pm, that would be it: the grid would be locked. There would be no rollover to the Monday, no second chances for Danica. IndyCar’s biggest star and most bankable name would be out of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Surely this couldn’t be allowed to happen? Everyone filled in the idle time during the rain break with fevered speculation about what could be done, with the favoured solution being that someone who had qualified (and everyone looked pointedly in John Andretti’s direction at this point) would have to fall on their sword, step out of their car and hand it over to Danica. Ladies first?

Fortunately the rain did stop, and the track staff worked like mad to get the Speedway ready for more qualification attempts. At 4.45pm local time, Danica’s #7 finally rolled out and started its first qualification run of Bump Day.

And it was a good one – 224.861mph was the second-best speed of the day, beaten only by Paul Tracy’s run completed just before the rain had started to come down. Suddenly, from being on the brink of disaster, Danica Patrick was not only in but looking reasonably secure in the circumstances. And sure enough, she did not need to make another run for the remainder of the afternoon.

Danica’s success had bumped Dale Coyne Racing’s Alex Lloyd off the grid, and now he would have to run again; Marco Andretti was now on the bubble and at risk of being next out if anyone improved. The drivers outside the grid were Alex Lloyd, Mike Conway, Raphael Matos, James Jakes and Sebastian Saavedra. Realistically there was surely no way that Jakes or Saavedra were going to find a sudden boost in form, so it was down to Lloyd, Conway and Matos to see whether any of them could force their way onto the grid. They only had two more attempts each to try.

Matos tried, failed; Conway tried, was waved off. Saavedra tried, and amazingly the first lap (of four) was quick enough to bump Marco; but his third was well off the pace after he nearly brushed the wall in turn 2, and that was enough to lower his overall average lap speed so that this attempt too was waved off. Then Lloyd tried, but his attempt was also too slow and was waved off.

The track opened for a brief practice period while the teams still seeking to bump their way on readied their final attempts; when the qualification resumed it was Conway on track for his third and last attempt at getting onto the grid. It seemed like everyone in the Speedway was rooting or him to make it, an emotional favourite with the crowd who remembered the horrific last lap accident that ended his 2010 Indy 500 (and his entire season) so brutally. Surely the winner of last month’s Long Beach race couldn’t fail to get on the grid?

Turned out he could. And did. Mike Conway would be leaving Indianapolis early after all.

The track briefly re-opened for practice allowing Will Power, Bruno Junqueira and Dan Wheldon to turn a few extra laps, until with 20 minutes to go the remaining cars were ready to play their final hands.

James Jakes went first; he was well off. Then Saavedra, but this time he wasn’t even close – his bid for an Indy entry was done. And then Matos tried and failed, off by a full one mile per hour from bumping Marco Andretti. Down in Marco’s garage, pulses and heart rates were starting to get back under control.

And then Alex Lloyd went out, and his first lap was a 223.732 – faster than both Marco and Ryan Hunter-Reay who was next-slowest. Surely Lloyd wasn’t going to pull this off a mere five minutes before the final gun sounded? Yet his second lap was faster – 223.818; and the third faster still at 223.917. Now surely he couldn’t fail?

He didn’t. The final lap was enough to punch in an overall four-lap average of 223.957s, and Lloyd was on the grid and Marco had been bumped with only four minutes remaining before the close of qualification. He would have to charge out onto the track and try a rebuttal response, but the irony was that if he succeeded, it would be at the cost of bumping his own Andretti Autosport team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay from the Indianapolis 500.

He had to wait for James Jakes’ final effort, which was as successful as all his other runs. It meant that Marco took to the track with one minute to go, and the gun sounded while he was putting in his laps – put, as the famous Mastermind saying has it, he had started and so he could finish. It really was the last chance saloon.

Four minutes later and Marco Andretti could breath again: he’d done it, bumping his way back onto the grid with an average of 224.628mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay had no right of reply – he was out.

Michael Andretti was left looking at a team torn asunder by the day’s events: half his regular drivers (Danica and Marco) were in, while half (Ryan and Mike Conway) were out. John Andretti had made it in on Pole Day, but AFS’s Raphael Matos was out. “Probably my worst day as an owner,” said Michael at the press conference later. “Had a few worse as a driver.”

It had been a thrilling, nail-biting end to the week of rain-hampered practice, well worth the wait – and with some genuine surprises at the end.

Of the eight rookies who had come into the month of May, all but three of them had made it onto the grid completely on merit. Circumstances with Dragon Racing claimed the campaigns of Scott Speed and Ho-Pin Tung, leaving James Jakes the only rookie to fail to qualify given a genuine run.

Amazingly, all five drivers who fell on Bump Day are IndyCar series regulars, and not the ‘one-off’ drivers like Pippa Mann, Jay Howard, Bruno Junqueira, Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell, all of whom acquitted themselves extremely well.

And among the fallers are two IndyCar race winners – Mike Conway who won in Long Beach last month, and Ryan Hunter-Reay who won the same race the previous year. Both of them will now not appear on Race Day, and will be missed – but they had their chance an simply weren’t up to the job on the day, a particular shame for Mike Conway.

But with Penske and Ganassi also not doing as well as expected toward the front of the grid, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Alex Tagliani on pole, it’s all promising to be a cracking centennial Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

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

There were glum faces at Andretti Autosports after none of their four regular drivers made it into the top 24. They head the list of those who had a bad Pole Day at Indy.

Everyone could see that Andretti Autosport were struggling to find their mojo in the practice sessions at Indianapolis over the last week, but most assumed they would come good in the end. But Pole Day arrived, and sure enough Andretti Autosport was the biggest misfire on pit lane.

The look on the faces of John Andretti and Mike Conway said it all, even though John was the only driver in the extended team to make it into the top 24 by the session end. The former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver was in a car being run in collaboration with Richard Petty Motorsports, making it even more amazing that he should get onto the Indy 500 grid while the team’s main drivers – Conway, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, along with their associate driver Raphael Matos with AFS – did not.

Most striking of all was the language and tone of the drivers when they spoke with reporters: they were looking into the abyss and not seeing anyway out.

“We haven’t made any improvements. We were slow when we rolled off the truck, and we’re still slow in qualifying,” said Marco. “It’s beyond me. I don’t have an answer, and that’s why I’m super-frustrated right now. I’m really nervous about qualifying … This is going to be the longest weekend of my life, that’s for sure. I just don’t have any answers right now.”

“We’re struggling. We tried every bit of the setup, from one side of the spectrum to the other, and it just didn’t have any speed with it. I’m not really sure what the problem is, but we’ll just keep chipping away at it,” said Hunter-Reay. “We just need to get in the race. We’ve struggled with the car all week, but we just need to get it in the race and go from there.”

“Basically every lap I was just hanging on and trying to save the car,” pitched in Matos. “I had a very, very bad vibration in the front of the car, as well. Maybe the tires were out of balance.”

Danica – who had looked the strongest of the four – was bemused by the sudden collapse in the pace of the #7. “I felt that we had a fast car not only today, but all month, and thought we would hit a 226,” she said. “I was happy. It was the best I’ve felt here in a long time. I felt really comfortable with the car, and it felt effortlessly fast and it wasn’t really slow … until this morning. All I can think of is something we missed or something happened with the track, maybe, and everyone is putting a new set of rubber on and it changed. We just have to buckle down at this point. I guess we are going to have to risk it a little more come tomorrow.”

But Mike Conway’s bid to return to the race that saw that dreadful final lap accident in 2010 that sidelined him for the rest of he season and nearly ended his racing career seemed doomed. He’s been consistently off the pace and near the bottom of the timesheets all week, and has no idea how to climb out of the hole in which he finds himself.

“It’s been quite elusive these last few days to try and find it,” he said. “I know we’re trying a few things, and we just have to go back to the drawing board and see where we can find it. We just need to try and figure it out. It’s not nice to be out of the loop already. We just have to keep battling.”

Conway’s lack of form is particular surprising seeing how strongly he ran here last year, and how well his 2011 season has gone since his move to Andretti Autosports, including his maiden IndyCar win in Long Beach lat month. Those seem like very distant days right now for the young Englishman.

“I feel good,” he insists, before adding somewhat forlornly: “I just hope the car has some more speed … ”

His compatriot James Jakes was not surprised to be out of the top 24 after Pole Day, as he’s been bumping at the bottom of the timesheets every since arriving at Indy for the first time a week ago. “We expected to be quite a bit quicker than that. It’s the first time here,” he said. “We’ve lost three days because of the weather. We tried to stick to the program as much as we could, but the weather cost us a lot. The wind and the weather is really spinning quite quickly around here.”

His Dale Coyne Racing team mate (and fellow Brit) Alex Lloyd was closer to making the grid, but still exasperated by how the pace he had expected from the car had disappeared overnight. “To say I am frustrated is the understatement of the century. Lost a ton of speed today from yesterday. Got some work to do overnight,” he told Twitter. Addressing Hunter-Reay, he said “I’m sure your [sic] like me where it doesn’t feel too far away though right about now,” and he also sent his congratulations to Alex Tagliani “on the awesome job getting the pole today.”

Conquest Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra is another figure who looks set to miss out on the Indy 500, with a best time even slower than Jakes’. “We didn’t find the speed that we wanted,” he admitted. “We have to find something else to be able to make it to the show … We’ve got to be more aggressive and risk some more. We are too conservative, and that’s what’s happening. We aren’t happy at all.”

Saavedra’s team mate, rookie Pippa Mann, had shown some good form earlier in the week but it rather deserted her on Pole Day. “We didn’t quite have what we wanted from the car. We were running 24’s in clean air, so that was really disappointing. The track changed, and the weather changed. It just went away from us this morning,” she said. “I have already had a pole [here] with Indy Lights, but it’s a completely different ball game driving these cars. They’re so much quicker. They move around so much more, and you have to be so much more on top of your game. The cars change so much with the track conditions. It’s been a really big learning experience.”

Paul Tracy, who has switched to Dreyer & Reinbold for his Indy 500 campaign, is not too surprised to find himself out of the top 24 after Pole Day, but hopes for better on Bump Day compared with last year where a team blunder on qualifying strategy ended up with his missing the race especially as he was the fastest of those outside the top 24 at the end of Saturday.

“I think the most frustrating thing is that we went out with the exact same car as Davey, and he ran 225s, but our car just wouldn’t go,” he said. “We don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think anybody in the pit lane knows the answer to that. It’s just the mystique of this track. We’re frustrated.”

Regular Dreyer and Reinbold driver Ana Beatriz was actually very happy with her car – “It felt great. The car is good,” he asserted, before adding: “We just need to find some speed.”

Her team mate Justin Wilson is already in the top 24, having qualified a relatively safe 20th. Not that he’s taking anything for granted, however: “I think the car is pretty stuck. It’s not too much on a knife edge. You can’t relax until it’s all over at the end of Bump Day. You can’t afford to let up in qualifying.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise among the non-qualifiers – right up there alongside the Andretti Autosport collective nervous breakdown – is Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe. However, he does have a good excuse as far as these things go, having wrecked his primary car in the morning practice session before qualifying began, and having to switch to the spare T-car.

“It’s been such a rush and a thrash to get this car on the track to drive. I think we’ll be able to fine-tune it [for Bump Day]”, he said. “”After we lost the primary car, the team did everything they could to get the T car prepared in time to run a few laps before the end of practice this morning.” He also ached a lot from the smash: “My legs knocked the wheel off, actually.”

Briscoe will be among those hoping that tomorrow is another day and that things will be brighter and better in the morning than they seem right now.

Those cars who have not yet made the grid in the top 24 will be able to run qualifying sessions until the 33-place grid is filled up, after which the fun – or rather, the bumping – begins. The slowest car on the grid (regardless of whether the time is set on Saturday or Sunday) is deemed to be “on the bubble” and can be knocked out by a car making a faster run.

If a car is bumped, then the grid is “shuffled up” to cover the gap and the faster car enters in 33rd spot. The bumped car can restart its own qualifying attempts to bump its way back onto the grid, while drivers who fear that are about to be on the bubble can pre-empt the moment and delete their time in order to re=enter qualifying – the strategy mistake that cost Paul Tracy his grid position in 2010.

And by 6pm it will finally be all over, and we’ll have the grid for the centennial Indianapolis 500. All that remains after that is to run the race itself, on Sunday May 29.

Racing in the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 was postponed to Monday after a torrential downpour hit the scheduled start of the race leading to a spate of accidents.

Attempts to run the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 have been abandoned for Sunday, and the race has been postponed until Monday afternoon.

The streets were already wet on Sunday in Sao Paulo from a pre-race torrential shower when the IndyCars lined up for the double file start, and it all went swiftly downhill from there.

Helio Castroneves was forced wide by Dario Franchitti through the first chicane, and the Brazilian ended up going into the barriers at which point he was an immediate blockage for those behind him: Simona de Silvestro had no where to go but straight into him, and then Danica Patrick ploughed into de Silvestro in turn and raised the #78 clear off the track. Tony Kanaan was also involved and sustained suspension damage and a bruised wrist when Patrick’s car ricocheted back into his car, while Ryan Hunter-Reay had skated through the chicane and into a tyre wall in a separate incident.

The restart was little better, with Scott Dixon spinning as he exited the first turn and a host of other cars including Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson spun further back. Within minutes the rain was coming down again at monsoon levels, and it was impossible to keep track of who was spinning off, where and what damage was being wrought to the cars bouncing into the barriers. With visibility down to zero the organisers had no choice but to throw a red flag on lap 9 of 75 and recall the cars to the pit lane before the entire field was written off.

At the time the race was suspended, Will Power was in the lead ahead of Ryan Briscoe, Mike Conway, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti and Charlie Kimball.

Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Vitor Meira had all sustained serious suspension damage, the latter two after spinning off backwards into the barriers; and Helio Castroneves, Simona de Silvestro and Danica Patrick were officially listed as having retired before the red flag. However, the teams all continued to repair the affected cars during the stoppage and eventually everyone was ready by the time the drivers were told to prepare for a restart.

The red flag had lasted well over two hours, during which time the rain eased and officials tried to sweep the flood water off the track. The cars were put back out on track shortly after 4pm local time (8pm BST) but this quickly established that the track was still too waterlogged to realistically attempt a restart. Unfortunately it was also long enough for Mike Conway to suffer electrical problems and stop on track, meaning he will drop from third to 20th when the race does eventually get under way.

The organisers finally took the decision to abandon the race for the day and announced that an attempt to resume the race will be made on Monday at 9am local time, 1pm BST.

There was simply no stopping Will Power at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, and he proved the point by leading every one of the 90 laps of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

The signs were there throughout the practice and qualifying sessions that Will Power would be nigh-on impossible to beat at Barber Motorsports Park, but even so it was doubtful that anyone expected this level of domination from the Australian.

As he led the field to the green flag at the start of the race, everyone had their fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be multiple accidents stemming from the new-style double-file restarts as we saw two weeks ago on the streets of St Petersburg in Florida. And at first the signs appeared good: Graham Rahal dabbed a wheel onto the dirt on the outside of turn 1, and rookie driver James Hinchcliffe managed to spin his way out of eighth place a few corners later, but otherwise everyone got through cleanly and no one was caught up in anything more serious.

Tony Kanaan in particular revelled in the opening moments, climbing from a poor 24th position in qualifying right up to 14th in just a few corners starting with an impressive run down the inside line into turn 1 that made up four places right away. The KV Racing Technology Team, which had been planning an extremely early pit stop to try an off-sync strategy to make up positions, suddenly found itself ripping up the pre-prepared plans and contemplating a whole new reality.

Sadly the green flag stint ended seconds later when JR Hildebrand clashed wheels with Raphael Matos in turn 6 which ended with Matos spun round and in the gravel, requiring the first caution of the afternoon. Both cars were able to rejoin the race, but after initially thinking the car was okay Hildebrand was forced to pit on lap 8 for a new nose after all.

Were we about to see another frustrating spell of continual cautions as we had at the season opener? In fact the next double-file restart on lap 3 was successful and the race was on for 35 laps of uninterrupted running, despite a spin at the back of the field for James Jakes which was dealt with by local waved yellows. Jakes would be one of the race’s earliest retirements, his car catching fire when he was in the pits on lap 30; three laps earlier, Sebastian Saavedra has become the race’s first official retirement with mechanical problems.

The relatively calm green flag period was not without its moments: Helio Castroneves had run wide into turn 1 at the restart and lost five places, dropping from fourth to ninth place; Sebastian Bourdais made a very nice move on Mike Conway on lap 12 to take away 17th position; on lap 27 Takuma Sato tried a move on Castroneves through turn 5 that resulted in contact and a spin for the Japanese driver from which he was able to recover; and shortly afterwards Graham Rahal made an aggressive overtaking move on Hildebrand – who was a lap down after his earlier extra pit stop – and the two made heavy contact as a result but were able to get going again without bringing out a full course caution.

With two pit stops a seriously tight call at Barber over 90 laps, some drivers including Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay opted for a three-stop strategy that saw them come in as early as lap 14; the majority of the cars eked out their fuel till lap 30. But when a caution came out on lap 37 it was clear that everyone was going to pit and get back in sync, and that fuel strategies were not going to be as important to proceedings as they had initially seemed to be.

The second caution of the afternoon came out on lap 37 when Alex Tagliani oversteered into turn 16 and lost the backend, beaching him in the gravel. Unfortunately this heralded a series of four more cautions over the next 25 laps, as the drivers – feeling a bit more cocky by this point – started to get racy and to forget the lessons learned in the multiple crashes of St Pete. And all the better for the fan enjoyment and racing entertainment it proved to be, for the most part.

It started in lap 40, after a three-lap yellow flag period to allow the track officials to sweep the track for debris and tyre remnants off the racing line that might interfere with the double-file restart. The cars all navigated the first turn 1 safely, but Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti were squabbling over third place. Briscoe shut the door on Dario, and the Scot didn’t take it well and fought back robustly through the following turns and finally the two banged wheels in a way that meant it was amazing that neither broke their suspension or the rubber didn’t fuse together and throw one or both cars up into the air. Instead, Franchitti had the racing line while Briscoe was sent wide and lost momentum, making him easy prey for Oriol Servia.

But none of this brought out a caution: it was what happened back in turn 6 that did that. Simona de Silvestro made light contact with EJ Viso and spun the #59 round one-eighty degrees. At this point the situation was still recoverable, but Viso continued to roll backwards and as a result strayed into the path of James Hinchcliffe who was taking evasive action around the outside of the turn. The two cars collided and ripped off a tyre apiece, ending both their races. De Silvestro also climbed out of her car at this point, despite having seemingly made only slight contact throughout the incident; she was ushered back into the cockpit and eventually resumed.

Hinchcliffe was furious with Viso in post-race interviews. “Day 1 of racing school, you learn you the brakes and clutch. He hit the gas,” he told reporters, adding: “If he hasn’t learned it yet there’s no point talking to him about it.” Viso denied the blame, but rued the fact that he has seemingly been involved in some sort of collision or accident in almost every session of the two IndyCar weekends thus far in 2011. The two were filmed having an animated discussion later on in pit road, but the conversation seemed to end amicably with a handshake.

The next restart on lap 46 also didn’t fare well. As the cars went through turn 4, Justin Wilson strayed too far over and trod on the front wing of Takuma Sato. The wing broke, sending up carbon fibre debris into the air and puncturing Wilson’s rear left tyre, sending both cars to pit road – which was actually quite timely for Wilson, as the wrist brace protecting his injury from St Pete had broken and he needed to have a new one brought out while the team saw to his tyres.

This incident didn’t bring out a caution, but the one that happened at the same time just a few metres behind them did. Mike Conway found his car getting light as it topped the hill into turn 4, and he lost grip. The car wanted to go straight on instead of making the turn, and Danica Patrick was right in his path. Conway’s car caught the front of Patrick’s and the contact hooked him around, spinning him off onto the grass and into heavy impact against the barrier that did extensive damage to the #27. Conway climbed out but seemed to be moving rather gingerly and he appeared winded, perhaps unsurprisingly given that it’s only his second race back from those horrific injuries sustained at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that put him out for almost a whole year.

The next restart on lap 49 was rather more successful despite several people staying onto the dirt verges and sending up clouds of earth through the first couple of turns, and finally resulted in some green flag laps. However, Scott Dixon and the Ganassi team were less than happy with the restart, complaining to the marshalls that Will Power wasn’t abiding by the agreed line into the first corner and practically forcing Dixon off the track. The team muttered darkly that if Power did it again, they would order Dixon to “take him out.”

During this period of the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay seemed to be having a grand old time of it – a move on Oriol Servia into turn 5 on lap 53 to take sixth place a particularly nice bit of driving. Unfortunately he then wrecked all that good work when he got alongside Ryan Briscoe on lap 58 into the turn 7 kink. It’s not an overtaking point, as even Hunter-Reay seemed to conclude as he tried to back out of it: instead, he found himself out of room and he clipped the kerb, which destablised his car and sent it sideways into the side of Briscoe, who was propelled into a spin into the gravel that ultimately wrecked his suspension. Hunter-Reay was undamaged, but was outraged to be handed a penalty for causing an avoidable accident that saw him demoted to 18th position – a decision that seemed harsh but, on balance, unarguable.

The race went to caution for the recovery of Briscoe’s beached Penske, and all the cars had the chance to come into the pits. With 30 laps remaining, the fuel situation was as marginal as could be, and the cars would definitely need more laps under caution to make it to the end. Would it all come down to people eking out their gas to the very end while others choked and died within metres of the chequered flag?

Will Power emerged from the pits still in first position, just as he had been right from the start of the race; and Scott Dixon was similarly still in second place. But suddenly right behind them was Danica Patrick, after she beat out Dario Franchitti for third via the highly risky gambit of going for a fuel-only pit stop which made up four positions for her on track. The Andretti Autosports team reasoned that her tyres were as good as the ones they had piled up for her in pit lane, so why take the time to make the change at all? They were about to find out the answer to that one …

It was clear at the restart on lap 62 that Danica’s car was sluggish to accelerate: Dario Franchitti immediately passed her to retrieve third place, and soon after she was also passed by Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia to push her down to sixth place.

She would have fallen further if the race hadn’t gone yellow again almost at once. This time the cause was a clash between Justin Wilson and Raphael Matos out of turn 6. Contact from Wilson caused Matos to spin, and in doing so he turned right into the front and side of Wilson which lifted the #22 into the air in a nasty little crash that won’t have helped Wilson’s wrist injury one little bit. Wilson was most likely relieved to be done for the day and to be able to rest up and nurse his wrist in preparation for next week’s outing on the streets of Long Beach; Matos was also out on the spot from the accident.

The long caution period meant that any concerns the teams had about fuel consumption were in the past – the drivers were good to go to the end of the race, and at the restart on lap 68 Scott Dixon made his biggest challenge on Will Power’s lead of the entire afternoon; Power, however, had it covered, and there was no way for the Kiwi to pass. When Dixon dropped back into second, it seemed clear that the race win had been decided, and with no more cautions forthcoming for the remainder of the race distance he did indeed get no further chances.

The main storyline of the next 15 laps was on the plummeting #22 of Danica Patrick. She took the restart in seventh but was soon once again going backward on those unchanged worn tyres, overtaken on almost successive corners lap after lap by Vitor Meira, Charlie Kimball, a recovering Ryan Hunter-Reay – until in the end she was right at the back of the lead lap, and even then she was struggling. The Andretti Autosports team initially tried to reassure her that the ageing tyres would come good; then simply urged her to do her best; and then finally, far too late, brought her in on lap 94 for a new set of rubber which meant she was now a lap off the lead, the worse possible outcome of all possible scenarios. That no-tyre pit stop gamble had been an awful mistake.

In the closing laps, Will Power had pulled out a lead of over 3s from Dixon, who in turn was 12s ahead of his team mate Dario Franchitti in third who had a similar margin over Marco Andretti in fourth, with Marco heading a train of half a dozen drivers packed together, that included a battling Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan. Under pressure, Servia made a mistake with three laps to go and locked up severely into turn 6 which almost allowed Kanaan through. Servia just held on and was extra careful next time around to cover the line with precision to make sure that Kanaan got no ideas.

They were followed by Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the ALMS LMP1 champion sitting in for the injured Ana Beatriz and doing a fine job delivering a solid run and keeping his nose out of trouble, reaping the rewards of eighth place in his IndyCar début as a result. Takuma Sato would have been in this mix as well, but with two laps to go his car ran dry and he was forced into the pits for a splash and dash that saw him return to the track at the back of the lead lap.

But the win itself was never in doubt. Not even to the man himself, it seemed: “It was a rather relaxing day actually,” Power said. “I was just cruising, but had to push, push toward the end” as he claimed his tenth IndyCar career win.

The win puts Will Power at the top of the IndyCar points standings, albeit only by 7pts ahead of Dario Franchitti. Given that Power is the acknowledged master of road events at the moment, he needs to maximise his advantage in this early part of the season before the oval events start to take over beginning with the Indianapolis 500 in May, where the momentum may swing more toward Ganassi and Dario Franchitti.

Meanwhile, a big cheer for the person in third place in the championship this week: Tony Kanaan, despite signing up for KV Racing Technology only two days before the start of the season, is off to a flying start in his 2011 campaign.

IndyCar is in action again next week, for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17.

Race results

 Pos  Driver               Team                    Time/Gap
  1.  Will Power           Penske             2h14m42.9523s
  2.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi                + 3.3828s
  3.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi               + 15.5243s
  4.  Marco Andretti       Andretti              + 28.9601s
  5.  Oriol Servia         Newman/Haas           + 29.8817s
  6.  Tony Kanaan          KV                    + 30.3853s
  7.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                + 30.7807s
  8.  Simon Pagenaud       Dreyer & Reinbold     + 31.2095s
  9.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                   + 32.5812s
 10.  Charlie Kimball      Ganassi               + 35.0038s
 11.  Sebastien Bourdais   Dale Coyne            + 35.9883s
 12.  Vitor Meira          Foyt                  + 42.6440s
 13.  JR Hildebrand        Panther               + 44.2950s
 14.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti            + 1m00.7427s
 15.  Alex Tagliani        Sam Schmidt         + 1m10.6879s
 16.  Takuma Sato          KV                  + 1m12.1719s
 17.  Danica Patrick       Andretti                 + 1 lap
 18.  Graham Rahal         Ganassi                 + 2 laps
 
 Retirements:
 
      Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold        62 laps
      Raphael Matos        AFS                      62 laps
      Ryan Briscoe         Penske                   57 laps
      Mike Conway          Andretti                 45 laps
      EJ Viso              KV                       40 laps
      James Hinchcliffe    Newman/Haas              40 laps
      James Jakes          Dale Coyne               30 laps
      Sebastian Saavedra   Conquest                 27 laps

Championship points

 
 Pos Driver               Pts
 1   Will Power           94
 2   Dario Franchitti     87
 3   Tony Kanaan          63
 4   Scott Dixon          54
 5   Simona de Silvestro  54
 6   Oriol Servia         52
 7   Marco Andretti       44
 8   Takuma Sato          44
 9   Alex Tagliani        43
 10  Vitor Meira          42
 11  Raphael Matos        38
 11  Helio Castroneves    38
 13  J.R. Hildebrand      36
 14  Justin Wilson        32
 15  Charlie Kimball      32
 16  Danica Patrick       31
 17  Ryan Hunter-Reay     28
 18  Sebastian Saavedra   27
 19  James Jakes          25
 20  Graham Rahal         25
 21  Simon Pagenaud       24
 22  Sebastien Bourdais   24
 23  Ryan Briscoe         24
 24  Ernesto Viso         24
 25  Mike Conway          24
 26  Ana Beatriz          16
 27  James Hinchcliffe    12




%d bloggers like this: