Posts Tagged ‘dario franchitti’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race results

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

Retirements

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

It’s been almost five years and 78 races since Marco Andretti last stood in victory lane, but there was no doubt that he earned the glory in a thrilling Iowa Corn Indy 250.

It was dusk at Iowa Speedway when the cars headed out onto the 0.894 mile short oval track for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 and the floodlights were already blazing overhead, nicely highlighting the vapour trails streaming off the rear wings of the IndyCar field in the cooling night air as they got up to speed and approached the green flag for the start of the Saturday night race.

Takuma Sato had pole position but he would have been forgiven for not feeling entirely confident as he put his foot down in the #5, since this was his first time on track in the car since his final practice accident on Friday evening which saw him collide with Alex Tagliani. The KV Racing Technology pit crew had been hard at work reassembling it, but a car is never quite the same after major damage and Sato needed to feel out the changes before he would be fully happy with the new state of affairs.

Sato’s version of “feeling out the changes” was to leap away at the first sight of green and leave Danica Patrick standing, neatly opening up a hole for his KV team mate Tony Kanaan to follow him through. The team tactic was for the two of them to take up a side-by-side configuration that would all but ensure no one would be able to pass them – not exactly the most sporting of tactics, but it’s one long used by the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport teams of this world.

Unfortunately for Sato and Kanaan, one car proved too strong for them to fend off, and before they knew it Dario Franchitti had managed to slalom between them both and take up the top spot on lap 8, and then ease away from them without any problem. That rather wrecked the KV plan, but they would still do what they could to maintain formation which ensured that Danica and the rest of the pursuers were stymied for a time.

The cars flew at speeds of nearly 176mph until the first caution came out on lap 24: unfortunate British rookie James Jakes had found out the unsettling truth behind the notorious Iowa Speedway bumps, and in particular the spot through turn 2 where the track passes over an underground tunnel allowing access to the infield. The uneven surface is enough to catch out even the most experienced driver, and for someone as new to oval racing as Jakes it was a trap waiting for him to fall into. The bump shot his rear end around and sent him up into a heavy contact with the wall, although despite the seeming violence of the impact Jakes was quickly out of the car and walking away with no problems.

“It is only the third oval I have driven on and I know we are going to have these incidents so I just need to move on to Toronto,” admitted Jakes. “It is unfortunate because I think I had a quick car here.”

Although it was still relatively early in the race, everyone opted to come in for fuel and tyres. But it proved a disastrous visit to pit lane for Will Power, who was ushered out of his pit stall right into the path of Charlie Kimball who was just coming in. Power ended up running straight into the side of the #83 as it turned in. Kimball’s car was seriously injured despite the team’s best attempts to take it behind the wall and repair it, while Power’s #12 was also now a wounded animal with damage not only to the soon-replaced front-wing but also to the steering of the car that was more intractable. It did not stop him from rejoining the race albeit down in 23rd position, just behind James Hinchcliffe who had suffered refuelling problems in his own stop.

“It was really disappointing to get hit in pit lane during that first pit stop,” said Kimball. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it, I didn’t even see him.”

Officially the blame lies with the Penske pit crew for the unsafe release; unofficially, Kimball himself also bears some element of the blame, as he was coming down to pit lane unusually far out to the right and its quite probably that Power’s pit team simply didn’t realise that Kimball as in for his regular stop and could be swerving to the left into his pit box in that way. Still, the damage was done to both parties – time to move on.

The clean-up from Jakes’ accident took nine laps and racing resumed on lap 32, with Franchitti once again leaping away into the lead ahead of the KV duo, then followed by Helio Castroneves, Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe who all got ahead of Danica Patrick who was not having the best of days at restarts. She was also passed on track for seventh by her team mate Marco Andretti, who was already up ten places from his qualifying position and looking particularly strong in the night conditions.

The green flag was fairly short-lived, with another accident on lap 45 bringing out the second caution of the evening. Ana Beatriz had got loose on the same unsettling Iowa turn 2 bump and gone flying up the track, only this time she picked up some company along the way and smashed hapless Mike Conway into the wall as she went. Both cars were badly damaged and showered debris over the track, with Vitor Meira one of the first to arrive at the accident scene to find himself getting a face full of a sheet of carbon fibre bodywork that damaged his car, ultimately causing the team to retire the #59 with handling problems late in the event.

“We got loose, I hit the bump and the rear snapped on me,” said Beatriz succinctly.

Conway had more to say: “It was obviously a disappointing end. I was just following Ana into turn 1 and 2, and she just got loose in the corner. I had nowhere to go and we kind of touched wheels,” he explained. “That set me off into the wall. It was a pretty hard hit; not much left of the right side of the car … It was a funny day anyway. At the start we had no gears and we drove right to the back. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

It was a lengthy 19-lap delay to clear up the debris and fluids spilt from the two wrecked cars before racing resumed on lap 63 with another great restart from Dario, while Helio Castroneves suddenly surged past the KV duo to claim second spot; Kanaan had problems trying – and finally failing – to keep third place from an assertive Marco Andretti in the Venom #26 car, while further back Ryan Briscoe and JR Hildebrand went side-by-side and touched wheels as they scrapped over sixth place.

With Kanaan admitting over the team radio that he had “no answer” for Dario and no idea where to look for one, it seemed that the prospects for a real battle for the lead lay with Castroneves – ironically, given the off-track spat between Helio and Dario over blocking following the Milwaukee 225 last weekend. But just when it seemed as though we were in for a rematch, we got deja vu instead: just like at Milwaukee, Helio suddenly had a tyre go down and he had to take to the pits for a green flag pit stop on lap 77, which put him a lap down and essentially stopped him playing any further role in the fight for the win.

Worse news was to follow for Team Penske, when the rear end of Will Power’s #12 suddenly snapped round on him over the turn 2 bumps and sent him into a nasty hit against the wall. “That hurt,” he admitted afterwards, and he looked visibly shaken and dazed even half an hour later when he stepped out of the in-field care center.

Although he initially asserted that he was fine and there was no concussion, official word said otherwise and he was deemed to have suffered a minor concussion that means he will need to undergo medical re-evaluation tests before being cleared to race at the next event in Toronto in two weeks time, as will Simona de Silvestro who was ruled out of Iowa after failing the same tests ahead of Friday practice after suffering post-concussion symptoms from a crash at Milwaukee.

“It was definitely a hard hit,” admitted Power, who said that it definitely “rang my bell”. He went on: “The Verizon car was damaged after the incident in the pits and we just had a problem with the steering and it came around on me. It’s a tough result for us tonight. We’ll do our best to get it back next race.”

He also lamented the fact that the problem had originated with a mistake by the team in the pits. “Once again we screwed ourselves in the pits, like we always do,” he said, insisting that the team had to learn from this and cut out these costly missteps.

The caution allowed everyone to pit, and JR Hildebrand had an eventful time when he was caught out by the car of Marco Andretti in front and nearly made contact, avoiding it only with a major swerve that had the pit crews still working on the business side of the pit wall flinching. Hildebrand then caught out again and almost ran into the back of Scott Dixon behind the safety car as everyone was weaving and testing their brakes to heat up their equipment ahead of the restart on lap 106.

Dario once again leapt away in front, but this time Sato was showing signs of vigour for the first time in a while and swept past his KV Racing team mate Tony Kanaan for second place. Marco was then challenging for third place, running just ahead of Dixon who was now in fifth place having started from 23rd, when the track went straight back to yellow again on lap 115.

This time it was another rookie – albeit one who won at Iowa in Indy Lights last year – who had found out the problem with Iowa’s turn 2 in the most brutal way possible when something in the suspension seemed to fail in a shower of sparks sending the #34 into the wall in probably the most violent of the night and certainly prompting the safety crew to take extra care in stabilising him and checking for neck injuries before allowing him to be extricated. Despite looking very shaken and having to sit on the monocoque of the car once he stepped out, Saavedra was checked over by the in-field care centre and released with no problems, not even a minor concussion as Power had sustained – thankful no doubt for Iowa’s introduction of the SAFER barrier all around the perimeter, with no concrete wall left at the facility any more.

“I have no idea what happened,” said Saavedra. “We had some mild understeer which we were working through and out of nowhere the rear just snapped without any indication. It is one of those things that we will check out very closely to see what broke and try to figure it out.”

As the field got ready to go back to green flag racing, it emerged that the KV Racing team harmony wasn’t as solid as it had looked early in the evening, when Kanaan got on the radio to Jimmy Vasser to complain about his team mate Sato chopping him since getting in front. If he did it again, “He’ll learn a lesson he’ll never forget,” warned TK. Vasser said shortly afterwards that things had been smoothed out between them and that Sato hadn’t been aware of the problems he had been causing for Kanaan.

At the restart on lap 128, Dario once again maintained the lead – but this time didn’t do so with the same ease, and didn’t pull away to a safe distance. Behind him, a still annoyed Kanaan tried to get around Sato but found himself unable to get past and had to get off the throttle, which cost him vital momentum and saw him drop behind Marco Andretti and have to fend off JR Hildebrand in thrilling wheel-to-wheel combat over the next few laps.

Marco meanwhile had been stalking Takuma Sato for second, looking to be lining up a move on the outside only to swoop down to the inside line when Sato left the door open and pass him that way instead in a very sharp, intelligent move. Marco then immediately used his momentum to catch up with the race leader, and on lap 15 he went side-by-side with Dario and finally passed him, only for Dario to then line-up right on Marco’s tail and retake the lead in a decisive move four laps later in a perfect example of tough-but-fair oval racing at its best (and rather better than the ongoing ill-tempered spat between the KV team mates behind them.)

With under 50 laps to go before the end, it was time for pit stops – and with no yellows in the offing, cars were starting to pit under green. Sato came in on lap 181, and four laps later Dario dived for pit lane with Marco right on his tail (so close, in fact, that there was nearly contact at the entrance.)

While they were on pit road, the caution finally came out as if on cue to help them: and it was Sato who had caused it, spinning in the predictable turn 2 while on tyres that had not yet fully heated up and weren’t yet at optimum operating temperature. Sato himself was uninjured and was quickly out of the wrecked #5, but he wasn’t happy with how the race which had promised so much had ended with so little reward.

“I lost at the bump in turn 2. The tyres weren’t up to temperature,” he confirmed. “I’m very disappointed to finish the race this way. I feel very sorry for the team and the fans. It’s unfortunate because up until then it was looking good.”

Marco and Dario were able to finish off their already-underway pit stops, and Marco emerged from pit lane in front of Dario to take the lead for the second time that night. Franchitti had led 172 laps to this point: he couldn’t know it, but he would not get another turn in the lead for the rest of the race. Instead, when the race restarted, he not only didn’t have the raw speed in traffic that he had enjoyed earlier, but the #10 had a tendency to get loose and fly up alarmingly high near the wall, forcing him to back off the throttle and lose critical momentum. As the final stint wore on, Franchitti would sink back to fifth place by the chequered flag despite all that early domination, passed in the closing laps first by his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon and then by Panther’s JR Hildebrand.

“We had a bit of problem on that last pit stop and Marco got ahead,” said Franchitti. “All night we had been getting more and more oversteer, and once we got in traffic I was toast. We struggled at the end,” he confirmed.

With Dario and Takuma out of the picture, it was over to Tony Kanaan to carry the fight to Marco, and sure enough despite a good restart from Andretti on lap 198, Kanaan set up a pass and moved into the lead for the first time all night on lap 203. But Marco was if anything stronger in traffic than he was on the lead, and he stalked TK for four laps and then pulled off another sublime dive to the inside line to take the lead again on lap 208. This was looking like a tight battle that was going all the way to the finish.

Kanaan was back on the attack two laps later and finally pulled off a neat pass when Marco gave him half an opening rather than risk wrecking either or both of them, which allowed Kanaan to take control of the race from lap 212 for the next 20 laps.

With 19 laps of the race remaining, Marco felt he’d waited and observed long enough and dived to the inside line to run side-by-side with the #82 before just managing to pull in front again; TK regrouped and made another surge for the lead, but this time Marco was resolute there was no way past. As the laps remaining ticked to single figures, Kanaan used one of his remaining push-to-pass boosts to get alongside the Venom car again on the outside this time, at which point the decisive moment arrived: whoever came out of this battle in front was going to win the race.

And Marco played him: allowing him to get alongside, lulling him into a sense that the possibility was there, and then suddenly he moved down the track and applied a boost of his own, the extra power and the tighter line decisively breaking Kanaan’s run for the lead.

In the end it didn’t come down to a final lap shootout: the result was decided, and Marco claimed his first win in almost five years – his only previous IndyCar Series victory being at Sonoma in 2006, 78 races ago. Naturally, he was delighted: “It was good fun! The Venom boys were on it tonight,” he said of the race. “We were down a little bit on the bigger ovals but we know when it comes down to handling we’d be alright. These guys did a great job with pits. They got me the lead back [at the final round of pit stops.]”

He said that he had enjoyed the fierce late battle with Kanaan: “Knowing TK, I knew he would do exactly what I did to him. He’d make his car very wide,” Marco said. “I didn’t want to wait until two to go because he was just going to chop me and I would have been done. I knew I had to get it done earlier and actually make my car wide.”

Kanaan for his part gave Marco a thumbs up and congratulated him in victory lane, although he wasn’t entirely happy with that last move of his former team mate’s. “It was pretty clean until he chopped me off,” he said. “He did a great job. It was a great battle, a great race. We didn’t quite have the car. I think towards the end we got a little stronger. I’m happy for the team.”

Scott Dixon came in third place and said that “It feels like a win coming from 23rd to third,” while JR Hildebrand finished in fourth place having survived some of the hairiest moments of anyone of the night.

“That was my first time up front, rubbin’ with those boys,” he said. “There were a couple of spots that were a little dicey. It may be I’ll have to go up to some guys and say, ‘sorry about that.’ This is a tough place to race!” But certainly fourth place is a good way to get over the early exit at Milwaukee to get his season back on track after the highs and lows of May at Indianapolis.

As for the IndyCar championship, Dario Franchitti might have hoped for better than just fifth place to maximise the advantage over Will Power following the #12’s accident, but Iowa still means that the Scot now has a 20pt lead over the Aussie in the points having come into the weekend tied. It’s not a bad state of affairs, although Dario will be equally aware that the next race is back on a street/road circuit – which Power has dominated on so far in 2011 – and that the fight for the championship is only just beginning to get serious.

That race – the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of that city – will be on Sunday, July 10 in two week’s time.

Race results

1. #26 Marco Andretti 250 laps 0.0000s Running
2. #82 Tony Kanaan 250 laps 0.7932s Running
3. #9 Scott Dixon 250 laps 1.1067s Running
4. #4 JR Hildebrand 250 laps 1.4856s Running
5. #10 Dario Franchitti 250 laps 1.8926s Running
6. #6 Ryan Briscoe 250 laps 2.3628s Running
7. #3 Helio Castroneves 250 laps 2.6732s Running
8. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 250 laps 4.1625s Running
9. #06 James Hinchcliffe 250 laps 5.6272s Running
10. #7 Danica Patrick 250 laps 6.0327s Running
11. #67 Ed Carpenter 250 laps 7.6745s Running
12. #22 Justin Wilson 250 laps 14.1527s Running
13. #19 Alex Lloyd 250 laps 16.8865s Running
14. #2 Oriol Servia 249 laps + 1 laps Running
15. #38 Graham Rahal 249 laps + 1 laps Running
16. #77 Alex Tagliani 249 laps + 1 laps Running
17. #59 EJ Viso 239 laps + 11 laps Handling
18. #14 Vitor Meira 227 laps + 23 laps Handling
19. #5 Takuma Sato 182 laps + 68 laps Contact
20. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 114 laps + 136 laps Contact
21. #12 Will Power 89 laps + 161 laps Contact
22. #83 Charlie Kimball 62 laps + 188 laps Mechanical
23. #24 Ana Beatriz 44 laps + 206 laps Contact
24. #27 Mike Conway 44 laps + 206 laps Contact
25. #18 James Jakes 22 laps + 228 laps Contact
26. #78 Simona de Silvestro DNS

At times Dario Franchitti looked like he was about to cruise away to victory on the Milwaukee Mile, but as the race wore on Dario found it harder and harder to stay in front.

It’s been two years since IndyCar last visited the Milwaukee Mile, and the drivers were certainly happy to be back: unfortunately the same couldn’t be said of the crowd. With the stadium’s capacity a relatively modest 40,000, it still looked as though the race was barely attracting a third of that number to the mid-June Milwaukee 225.

Which is a shame, as the return to one of the classic IndyCar-style circuits meant a return to some examples of the best side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel battles of old, together with more than a few crashes, incidents and controversy along the way.

The first incident occurred even before the green flag had finished flying for the start of the race, when Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to have to lift going into turn 2 behind the two KV Racing Technology cars of Takuma Sato and EJ Viso. That lift made the car go light and he lost the rear end, sending him into the wall – with Ryan Briscoe doing superbly to avoid being collected as well. It was an sad early end to Hunter-Reay’s afternoon in his first outing in the GoDaddy.com livery shared with Andretti Autosport team mate Danica Patrick and normally on the #27 of Mike Conway.

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” said Hunter-Reay. “The car just broke loose on the way in and I just couldn’t save it. I feel bad for the guys, we had a good car here this weekend.”

Once the restart took place on lap 7, the race managed to run smoothly for the next 60 laps, with Dario Franchitti managing to pull out a huge lead of some 5s over Helio Castroneves in second, followed by Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and EJ Viso. But as the green flag stint wore on, Franchitti’s pace notably started to fall off and gradually the chasing pack started to close right up on him.

There were early retirements for two cars, the first of which was Simona de Silvestro. She had crashed during Saturday qualifying and been concerned about back pain as well as needing stitches to a cut on her leg against the steering wheel in the impact, but she impressed everyone by being ready to race on Sunday afternoon. Sadly the same wasn’t true for the rebuilt #78 which had chronic handling problems, and the HVM team made a quick call to park the car for the day after all.

AJ Foyt made a typically non-nonsense call to park the #14 after 69 laps, declaring the car not in a fit state to compete and that he didn’t want it out there just to have an expensive crash. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team could have made the same call about Alex Tagliani’s #77 which after a few full-speed laps at the start of the race abruptly lost all pretence of pace and was passed repeatedly by everyone. Tag continued to stay out – and managed to keep out of trouble as well – but finished a horrific 29 laps off the lead in 19th position.

On lap 66, just as it looked as though Franchitti was in danger of losing the lead, the second caution came out for a rather innocuous slow-speed incident involving Ana Beatriz who got up too high onto the marbles and went for a slide against the wall. Despite no serious damage being done the yellow flags came out anyway, just in time to provide the field with a convenient round of pit stops.

“I was trying to keep my lap because Dario Franchitti was behind me and as soon as I went a little bit higher I got in the dirty part of the track and brushed the wall,” explained Beatriz. “It hurt the suspension a little bit and we lost two laps because of that. It was really frustrating that we couldn’t put it all together. I felt that some people were really blocking hard today which really screwed us up.”

Despite pitting under yellows, the ensuing round of stops proved very messy and costly for a number of drivers. Dixon and Sato came down pit lane side-by-side with Sato on the inside despite having his pit box further along than Dixon, who was unaware of this. Dixon turned in to his own pit box – and Sato ran into him, pushing the Ganassi into Ryan Briscoe’s pit box and also damaging the nose of Dixon’s #9. Sato then proceeded to his own pit box but – presumably rather shaken by events – misjudged his own entry and knocked over his left rear tyre changer in the process. It all meant that Dixon dropped to 13th place after the pit stops, Briscoe to 16th and Sato off the lead lap altogether after receiving a drive-thru penalty for hitting a member of his pit crew.

“During the pit stop it was very crowded and I got tangled up getting into the pit box,” said Sato later. “So I got a drive through penalty which put me at the back of the field and down a lap, but over the next two caution yellows we managed to get our lap back.”

“It was one of those days,” rued Dixon. “We never had the balance of the #9 Target car right all day. It was worse off of 3 and 4 then we had the incident with the #5 car in the pits.”

Racing resumed on lap 79, but was back under caution again less than two laps later: as the cars were still jockeying for position two-wide, Alex Lloyd got passed around the outside by Ed Carpenter and it appeared that the aerodynamics pulled the rear end of the #19 around going into turn 2 and Lloyd headed for the wall. The hapless Sebastian Saavedra happened to get in the way and got trapped between the #19 and the wall, putting both cars out at a stroke.

“All I know is that I got lose and I caught it once but I couldn’t catch it the second time,” said Lloyd. “Unfortunately, we ended up in the wall and took Sebastian with us.”

“This is very sad,” said Conquest’s Saavedra. “We had a really great race car. We are looking at everything that the weekend brought and unfortunately we ended up involved in something that I couldn’t get out of. I saw Alex get lose in turn 1 and I had nowhere to go or nothing to do to avoid it. It is very disappointing as we were strong this weekend.”

It was a lengthy clean-up – with the track organisers having to spend quite a bit of time sweeping up the build-up of marbles form the tyres – before racing resumed on lap 91. Once again Dario Franchitti got a terrific rocketship restart with the rest of the field headed by Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Castroneves and Viso struggling to stay with him; Viso had his own hands full running side-by-side with Graham Rahal before finally losing the battle to retain the fifth position.

Once again, Franchitti’s early blistering pace subsided, this time further hampered by having to drive through lapped traffic, and Tony Kanaan quickly caught up with the #10 before passing him on lap 116 for the lead. Observers wondered whether this was some sort of strategic move by Dario – a fuel call, perhaps, or getting held up by someone? – but instead it seemed to be pure pace. Kanaan was simply faster than Franchitti at this stage of the race.

The next caution was out on lap 123, caused when JR Hildebrand got up too high while being passed on the inside by the leader, strayed onto the marbles and crashed into the wall at turn 4 – uncomfortably reminiscent of the traumatic end to the Indianapolis 500 for the young Californian.

“I was struggling with the car a little bit, for sure. At that point, I’m kind of trying to stay out of my own way out there,” Hildebrand admitted. “We’re just trying to survive through the race. With the leaders going by, a lot of the guys can stay on the bottom and some of the guys just sort of can’t. It’s not their fault. I just got through with TK and I got shoved up in the marbles. Once I got up there, I couldn’t get it back.”

The caution gave everyone a chance to pit under yellow, although a front left tyre gun problem cost Oriol Servia lot of positions and pushed him back to 12th place. Kanaan and Franchitti still eld at the restart, and for the first time Will Power was showing signs of life and moving into the outskirts of the top ten, where he would engage in a brief but thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle for position with Scott Dixon who was still languishing in the midfield after his earlier pit stop incident with Sato.

History repeated itself at the restart, with Dario’s pace back to his best at least temporarily and he reclaimed the lead on lap 135; he retained it for nearly twenty laps before his tyres faded on him again and Kanaan took back the position on lap 154. On this evidence, the eventual winner was going to be decided by how close to the end the final caution or tyre change of the afternoon turned out to be.

Caution number five came out on lap 165 when EJ Viso threw away all that early strong running by spinning the #59 into the wall at turn 4 after banging wheels with Ed Carpenter.

“I was passing the lap car and I got high and went into the marbles and it sent me into the wall,” said Viso. “I feel bad for the mechanics and my crew because they put this car together for me … I really think I had a good car, maybe not as fast as the leaders but we had a car to finish in the top five.”

With sixty laps left to run, everyone was now well inside the window to make it to the end with one final pit stop, and so everyone duly took the opportunity to come in. Penske’s pit crew did an astonishing job to return Helio Castroneves to the track in the lead ahead of Franchitti and Kanaan.

Dario was hoping to get one of his turbo-boosted starts and reclaim the lead at this critical juncture, but he was frustrated when Charlie Kimball emerged from his wave-around through the pit lane right in front of the leaders, combined with some serious blocking from the #3 that Franchitti took serious objection to: “It was Helio’s usual blocking crap,” he said afterwards, admitting that he was “still so spittin’ mad from what Helio did on that restart.”

Dario had to pull back and it gave Kanaan the opportunity to ease past him and demote the #10 to third place. Suddenly, the win that had been a mere formality for Dario was looking out of reach after all. But instead, just when it looked like we were set for a close three-way battle for the race win, we were about to lose two of the players from contention.

First came reports from the Penske pits that telemetry was showing that the #3 had a tyre going down: minutes later and no data was needed, the left rear was visibly flat even while Castroneves remained seemingly unaware of the problems and still circulated at speeds of up to 160mph on it. It demonstrated just how relatively unimportant the left-rear is on an anti-clockwise oval that he was able to carry on as long as he was, but the risk of a dangerous blow-out was growing by the second.

And the n the crash came – but it wasn’t Castroneves. It was, astonishingly, Tony Kanaan who went into the wall at turn 4.

“It’s a shame. It’s my fault. But, hey, it was a fun race,” said Kanaan. “We raced each other hard the whole race. Unfortunately, I’m human. I make mistakes sometimes as well. I’d rather make a mistake trying hard then actually not trying at all.”

With Kanaan out and Castroneves now forced to pit for replacement tyres and down to 11th place, Dario’s competition melted away and sadly we were denied the exciting, white-knuckle shoot-out for the race win once Dario got off to another safe flying restart.

Perhaps the most intelligent race of the entire afternoon had been that of Will Power, who had been starting from 17th position after a “big moment” in his Saturday qualifying run. Power had laid low for the first half of the race and made little progress, but gradually worked his way up in the latter stages of the race to suddenly pop up into seventh place after the final round of pit stops. He was able to make up three more positions over the remaining 60 laps.

Power’s most dangerous moment came in the final restart on lap 205, when Graham Rahal took over second spot and cut off Will Power in the process, forcing Power to check up and as a result nearly getting Danica Patrick rear-ending him. Fortunately everyone managed to avoid contact and the race ran the final 20 laps to the end, with Power in fourth just ahead of Patrick at the end.

A fifth place finish for Patrick was good news, being her best result in the 2011 season to date – although naturally, she still wasn’t thrilled. “Unfortunately, there were so many yellows that came out about halfway through a stint in the last half of the race or so. More green flag running would have been good for me, but we still got a top five.”

Graham Rahal had managed to hold on to second place and was thrilled. “A great job for the Service Central team today, to come from 12th and move up like that,” he said. “We passed a lot of cars. I thought passing was going to be tough today and it was, but we were able to do it … We’re knocking on the door [of a win,] it’s our second second-place finish of the year and third podium. We’re getting closer. It’s going to come one of these days!”

And Oriol Servia claimed third place despite that mid-race problem in pit lane that had cost him nine positions at a crucial moment. “It’s awesome. We’ve been close to the podium so many times and things just don’t come easy,” he said. “I was in a podium position and then we had a bad stop and went back to 12th and had to go through the field again. The car was just amazing. The restarts were a lot of fun and I’m just so happy to give a podium to the team.”

Will Power’s fourth place was a useful piece of damage limitation that meant that despite Franchitti’s race win, Power was still able to tie the lead of the IndyCar championship on points going into next weekend’s race at Iowa.

“I guess we’re equal on points so you just have to keep fighting away,” said Power. “Keep having good days like this and make no mistakes and we’ll be good. I was just fighting like a dog to get those positions.”

Dario, however, was just basking in a hard-won race win and leaving the championship for another day. “Great day. To win here at Milwaukee is always special. It’s such hard work and a such a hard race. It’s a delight for the Target Team and we got the Downy colours in Victory Lane!”

Race results

1. #10 Dario Franchitti 225 laps 1:56:43.5877s
2. #38 Graham Rahal 225 laps + 1.4271s
3. #2 Oriol Servia 225 laps + 2.7703s
4. #12 Will Power 225 laps + 3.8756s
5. #7 Danica Patrick 225 laps + 4.2289s
6. #06 James Hinchcliffe 225 laps + 5.2021s
7. #9 Scott Dixon 225 laps + 5.7803s
8. #5 Takuma Sato 225 laps + 6.1011s
9. #3 Helio Castroneves 225 laps + 6.3643s
10. #22 Justin Wilson 225 laps + 6.8905s
11. #6 Ryan Briscoe 225 laps + 8.2475s
12. #27 Mike Conway 225 laps + 8.9469s
13. #26 Marco Andretti 225 laps + 9.8659s
14. #83 Charlie Kimball 224 laps + 1 laps
15. #18 James Jakes 223 laps + 2 laps
16. #67 Ed Carpenter 223 laps + 2 laps
17. #24 Ana Beatriz 222 laps + 3 laps
18. #77 Alex Tagliani 196 laps + 29 laps
19. #82 Tony Kanaan 194 laps + 31 laps Contact
20. #59 EJ Viso 163 laps + 62 laps Contact
21. #4 JR Hildebrand 120 laps + 105 laps Contact
22. #19 Alex Lloyd 79 laps + 146 laps Contact
23. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 78 laps + 147 laps Contact
24. #14 Vitor Meira 69 laps + 156 laps Mechanical
25. #78 Simona de Silvestro 11 laps + 214 laps Handling
26. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 0 laps + 225 laps 0s 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.

Saturday is “Opening Day” for the centennial Indianapolis 500. Here’s a preview of the next two weeks of activity, including the qualifying process, track facts and some race history.

The American motor sports fans do love naming their “days”: from Opening Day to Pole Day, then Bump Day to Carb Day and finally Race Day itself, there’s a lot of activity in store over the next 15 days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the race itself on Sunday May 29.

Although “Opening Day” is the first day that the Speedway is opened up to all the teams for on-track activity, there have already been a series of events at the facility, starting with the track being used for part of the route of a local mini-marathon through the streets of the city of Indianapolis last Sunday, together with a balloon festival and a fireworks display.

Things got down to earth with more serious business on Tuesday with the launch of the new 2012 Dallara Indycar chassis designs, and then Thursday saw the Rookie Orientation Program start the first actual on-track action for seven of the rookies bidding to make the starting grid. And yesterday – Friday, May 13 – allowed the Firestone Indy Lights teams their first taste of IMS with a four hour open test session ahead of the Firestone Freedom 100 support race in a fortnight.

Opening Day itself on Saturday, May 14 sees all the IndyCar teams eligible to take to the track for the first time from noon until 6pm (local time.) That will allow the drivers to get used to the Speedway, and let the teams start dialling in the car to the track conditions.

The rest of the week continues to see the track open every day between noon and 6pm for IndyCar practice, with the morning period being used for Indy Experience two-seater and pace car rides.

Fast Friday on May 20 is when the main contingent of race fans start arriving and the stands fill up with spectators for the final six-hour practice session, which is usually when the teams are fine-tuning their qualifying pace and therefore should see some of the fastest laps of the week so far.

Pole Day on Saturday, May 21 is the first of the two qualifying days. After a final two hour practice period, the cars start to run qualifying laps between 11am and 4pm (local times), in an order determined by blind draw the day before. Each car gets to make three qualification attempts consisting of four laps comprising 10 miles in total. Drivers will generally be qualifying both their main car and their T-car (spare).

At the end of the first qualifying segment (which incidentally sets pit stall order), the fastest nine cars have a further 90 minute session between 4.30pm and 6pm that afternoon as a “shootout” to lock-in the positions of the front three rows of the Indy 500 race, including pole position: last year’s pole position speed was an impressive 227.970 mph, set by Penske’s Helio Castroneves. The order of the cars between 10th and 24th is also set – but they can still be “bumped” from the grid altogether by events on the following day.

Bump Day on Sunday, May 22 starts with a one-hour free practice, then cars are back on track between noon and 6pm for further four-lap qualifying runs with the cars that didn’t make it into the top 24 on Saturday competing to get it into the remaining nine positions available on the grid.

Once all 33 spots are filled, “bumping” begins: the car with the slowest time of the top 33 (whether set on the Saturday or Sunday, so changing weather conditions between the days can play a key role) is now “on the bubble”. If a car outside the top 33 sets a faster time than the car on the bubble, then the slower car is bumped off the grid, the order “shuffles up” to fill the gap, and the faster car enters the grid in 33rd position. The slower car can rejoin the qualifying process and attempt to bump its way back onto the starting grid; other cars coming close to being on the bubble can opt to delete their existing time and also re-enter qualifying at any time.

At the end of the process, we have the 33-strong grid for the Indianapolis 500, and everyone can take a breather. There is a relative lull for the next two days before the Wednesday, which is Community Day where the garage is open to the public and the drivers are out in force to sign autographs. The following day, Thursday May 26, sees practice and qualifying for the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 race.

Carb Day – “Carburetion Day”- is Friday, May 27 and sees the final IndyCar practice session for one hour between 11am and noon, allowing teams to do any tweaks to their cars in response to changing weather or track conditions since the weekend. The name has remained despite the fact that no qualified car has used a carburetor since 1963.

These days Carb Day also sees the running of the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 race from 12.30pm: last years’s race was won by Wade Cunningham with Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe and Dan Clarke finishing close behind, after Pippa Mann started from pole position but was put out of the race by an accident on lap 3.

Then in the evening, Sir Jackie Stewart will be inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Auto Racing Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown.

After the 500 Festival Parade on Saturday May 28, it’s finally time for Race Day on Sunday, with driver introductions at 11.30am before the race itself starts at high noon (5pm BST) – and sometime later in the afternoon, we’ll have ourselves a winner.

The race itself lasts 500 miles (hence the name) and thus consists of 200 laps of the 2.5 mile oval circuit; it typically lasts a little over three hours, except if disrupted by rain. Monday, which is the Memorial Day public holiday (commemorating fallen US military personnel) in the US, is left clear in case the event is forced into a second day because of a rain delay. The last time the race was forced onto a Monday was in 1997, when more rain then forced a further rollover to the Tuesday; the most recent race hit by rain was in 2007, which was interrupted for three hours by rain on Sunday and was finally declared over after 415 miles (166 laps) when the rain returned a second time.

The winner receives the unmistakable Borg-Warner Trophy, given to winners every year since 1936 when it was first won by Louis Meyer – who coincidentally also started the tradition of the winner taking a drink of milk to celebrate.

Four drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 four times – AJ Foyt was the first (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977) and the feat was subsequently matched by Al Unser, Sr. and Rick Mears. Of the current crop of drivers, only Helio Castroneves has a chance to join that elite group in 2011, while Dario Franchitti has two wins to his name including last year’s victory. By contrast, motor racing legend Mario Andretti has won the Indy 500 just once, in 1969. Notable winners in their rookie years include Graham Hill (in 1966), Juan Montoya (2000) and Castroneves (2001).

The facility now covers an area of 559 acres and has seating capacity for 257,000 people together with further in-field capacity raising the potential number of spectators to 400,000 – making IMS the largest, highest-capacity sporting facility in the world. The two straightaways are 0.625 miles long with the turns banked at a fraction over nine degrees – comparatively flat by modern standards, and unchanged since IMS was constructed in 1909 as the first motor racing track in the world to be known as a “Speedway”, making it officially the first of its kind.

Although the 2011 race is billed as the centennial/100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 – the maiden race was run in 1911 and won by Ray Harroun in his famous yellow #32 Marmon “Wasp” – this is actually the 95th running of the race, not the 100th. That’s because the event wasn’t held in the war years 1917-18 and 1942-45. Consequently, you can expect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be engaging in another round of even greater hype and hooplah in five years time to mark the 100th running of the race the Americans love to call “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

Will Power avoided making any mistakes during the two days it took to finally complete the rain-interrupted Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300, but Takuma Sato still gave him a big wake-up call.

Everyone agreed that the organisers of the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 had done a wonderful job sorting out the street circuit after inevitable glitches in its inaugural run in 2010, with the repaving judged a big success. The only other complaint from last year was the weather, and the organisers couldn’t do anything about that – as 2011 was about to prove in spades.

Shortly before the scheduled race start time at 1.20pm local time, the rain arrived – and in typical São Paulo style, this wasn’t just a little shower but something more akin to a monsoon. Fortunately it was short-lived, the rain eased off to a mild drizzle, the water started to drain away from the street surfaces, and the race started on time as scheduled.

It ran straight into problems at the first corner: Will Power was through safely in the lead followed by Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, but Ryan Hunter-Reay starting from second place lost traction and found himself unable to make the corner, choosing instead to cut the chicane entirely. Unfortunately the painted surface of the chicane was covered in standing water, and he wasn’t able to negotiate the tyre barriers at speed and ended up ploughing straight into one, wrecking the front nose and wing.

There was more mayhem happening back in the first corner: Dario Franchitti ran deep into the first turn, the Esses of Samba, and squeezed Helio Castroneves. Helio would not back down but then ran out of room and made contact with the outside wall, coming to a crunching halt that made him an immediate blockage to those coming through the corner on that side of the track behind him.

Simona de Silvestro was first to arrive and went straight into him; then seconds later, Danica Patrick was on scene, her front nose sliding underneath de Silvestro’s #78 and raising it right off the ground, while the impact pivoted Danica round so that the rear end of her #7 slewed round onto the track and made contact with Tony Kanaan, who had been starting from 21st position after being handed a penalty for an illegal front wing change during qualifying.

Everyone was okay from these incidents – Kanaan looked most wounded, the impact with Patrick having given him a nasty bruise to his thumb, but not enough to stop him wanting to get back in the car if the suspension damage could be repaired in time.

After all the cars were cleared up, the first double file restart attempt of the afternoon was made on lap 5: once again Power took it calmly and had no problems, but when Scott Dixon tried to put the power down gently coming out of turn 2 he immediately went into a spin. Cars further back found the situation similarly treachorous, and Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais all went for spins. There was an interesting reversal of position for Dario Franchitti, who found himself on the inside line this time as Mike Conway went deep into turn 1; but Dario had learned quickly, and rather than suffer Helio’s fate from the original start he opted to back off, yield the position and live to fight another day.

Things were rapidly going from bad to worse. The rain picked up again and within minutes it had gone through downpour, past torrential, and somewhere into Biblical proportions. At this point not only were there too many incidents to even attempt to keep track of, most of them couldn’t even be seen anymore as the water spray and deteriorating light completely obscured the cars from the TV cameras, spectactors – and from the drivers themselves, with glimpses of Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Vitor Meira and others all hitting problems and spinning into the barriers at various parts of the flooding circuit.

They were running blind and it was now beyond dangerous, so a red flag was inevitable by lap 9, the cars lining up in race order in pit lane: Power, Briscoe, Conway, Rahal, Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia forming the top ten at the stoppage.

The torrential downpour soon abated, but the rain was still coming down sufficiently to make it difficult for the organisers to deal with the standing water all over the circuit. After some two hours under modified red flag conditions (IndyCar officials relented on the letter of the law and allowed teams to work on damaged cars, so that there would be enough competitors in one piece to take the green flag again) it was close on 4pm local time and there were concerns about the fading light. It was time to try, or call it a day.

The drivers were recalled to their cockpits and sent out behind the safety car in the hope that the wet tyres would suck up enough moisture from the track to establish a dry-ish line. After five laps of this, it was clear that it just wasn’t working – the rain was still coming down hard enough to prevent any improvement. Unfortunately for Mike Conway, however, the five laps under yellow proved costly as his #27 Andretti Autosports stuttered to an eventual halt with electrical problems, meaning that he would drop from third place to the back of the lead lap – 20th – for the next restart.

But that restart wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. The cars were recalled, and after half an hour of confusion about what was happening next, the race was officially abandoned for the day and postponed until 9am local time the following Monday morning.

And at 9am, it looked lovely: dry track, sunshine, and no rain on the weather radars. It looked as though this was actually going to work, and everyone was happily set on their way on slick tyres. After a couple of warm-up laps, the field headed down into turn 11 ready to line up for the double-file restart for the remaining one hour and 19 minutes of the now time-capped race. At which point … It started to rain, right through the Victory hairpin and on the concrete section through the Sambadrome.

The field tip-toed through the first two chicanes and headed straight to the pit lane entrance (unusually, here situated not on the start/finish straight but parallel to the Avenue Olavo Fontoura, meaning that cars in pit lane cut out turn 5 before rejoining into turn 6). By the time they came back out on wet tyres, the rain had come down hard enough for them to leave prominent “rooster’s tales” down the mile-long Reta dos Bandeirantes backstraight and there was no question that we were right back into a wet race after all.

Power’s lead had survived the pit lane dash and he was now followed by Briscoe, Takuma Sato, Rahal, Franchitti, Alex Tagliani, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso. Rahal was an early loser on this latest set of tyres and lost spots to Franchitti, Tagliani and Andretti, and up front Takuma Sato had the measure of Briscoe, passing him at turn 6 on lap 18 and then easily pulling away in pursuit of the race leader Will Power.

With the rain really starting to come down at this point, puddles formed rapidly and there was the very real possibility that the race would end prematurely, so everyone started getting very racey just in case there was another red flag: now Tagliani was struggling and he handed back the place he had just taken from Rahal and also had to yield to Andretti and EJ Viso. Everyone was struggling to keep out of trouble, and even Will Power had a near-miss when he came close to hitting the wall on lap 20.

Inevitably, something had to break in the end, and it was Sebastien Bourdais who spun into the tyre wall at turn 10 on lap 21 who brought out the next full course caution. Ryan Hunter-Reay had also had a small spin elsewhere on the track and damanaged his rear wing – the second one he had written off this weekend, which meant that when he got back to the pits he was fitted with a mis-matching new wing belonging to Mike Conway’s set of spares instead of one of his own.

As the restart approached on lap 25, the rain was easing and in some parts of the course there was even a definite dry line emerging, while others remained as lethal as ever. Power led Sato, Briscoe, Franchitti, Andretti, Rahal, Viso and Dixon to the green flag, but he was slightly too cautious and left himself open for anyone with the courage to try a suicidal (in the conditions) lunge down the left hand of the double file-restart. But who would dare go for it?

Formula 1 fans will know that when it comes to much moments, Takuma Sato is your man. He is indeed that fearless-slash-pathologically insane, and he duly went for it. And amazingly, it worked without taking either him or Power off – he passed the Penske car and took the lead, leaving a startled Power staring at the back wing of another car for the first time in the race.

There was plenty going on behind as well, with Briscoe and Franchitti clashing which allowed Marco Andretti an opportunity to slip past them both and take third, while Briscoe fell to fifth behind Dario. Further back, Graham Rahal had some light contact and spun, gathering himself up but falling to the back of the lead lap; and Danica Patrick had also spun, bringing out out the fifth caution of the combined race. Under the safety car conditions, Raphael Matos managed to suffer contact that broke his front wing, and he went into the pits – before they were officially open, incurring a stop-and-go penalty for his offence.

The race went back to green on lap 29, with Sato in control of the restart and duly taking charge of the preferred inside line drivers-left into the first chicane. Power found his hands full keeping Marco Andretti at bay and had no opportunity to take the fight to Sato, and there was plenty of activity going on behind Franchitti as Briscoe lost two positions into the first chicane to EJ Viso and Oriol Servia who were having a ferocious private battle; a batch of Brazilian drivers – Rafael Matos, Ana Beatriz and Tony Kanaan – all needed to take to the run off area; and Justin Wilson spun in turn 10. While he kept the car fired up and was able to rejoin the field, it proved a costly error for Wilson as he dropped from seventh to 17th.

Dario Franchitti was about to share the pain. At the start of lap 33, he slid through turn 1, into a hefty impact with the tyre wall and right out of fourth place. He headed for the pits for a checkover and repairs, putting him at the back of the lead lap in 15th place and looking seriously compromised. Elsewhere other cars including Alex Tagliani and Danica Patrick were also finding conditions through turns 6 through 10 to be very treacherous: Tagliani ended up spinning and stalling in the middle of turn 10, and that was enough to provoke the sixth caution of the race.

The latest clutch of incidents had left Sato, Power, Andretti, Servia, Viso and Briscoe forming the top six, and they had a big decision to make under this latest caution: to pit for fuel, or try and stretch it? Sato, Andretti and Viso gambled on more cautions to come and stayed out, while Power led those coming in for fuel and tyres.

When all that shook out, the top three at the restart were Takuma, Marco and EJ, while Sebastian Saavedra, James Jakes, Graham Rahal and Dario Franchitti – who had taken fuel in his solo pit stop just before the caution and had no need to come in again – were all in front of Will Power in eighth who led those who had come through pit lane. It gave Franchitti a strong chance of a win since he could now make it to the end of the race without another stop. It was almost as good for Graham Rahal who like Dario had recently pitted for running repairs, and also James Jakes who was pursuing a completely off-kilter pit stop strategy and would also be able to stretch it to the end.

The restart saw Scott Dixon spin for a second time through the first chicane, while EJ Viso put Marco Andretti under heavy pressure for second place throughout the first green flag lap. He finally pulled off the pass into turn 11 – showing that his scary high-speed crash there on Saturday because of a brake issue had not affected his nerves in the slightest – and then out-dragged Marco through the stadium section to seal the deal into turn 1, giving KV Racing Technology-Lotus an amazing one-two.

Saavedra and Jakes were already falling off the top three, and then Jakes went and threw away his opportunity with a spin, dropping him down ten spots. Franchitti was also finding the race tough going now after his earlier run into the tyre barriers, and was forced to cede positions to Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, leaving him down in eighth.

Track and weather conditions were by now clearing up nicely, allowing for some close on-track battles between unexpected names and ever-improving lap times throughout the field. Surprisingly the fastest car of all on track was Simona de Silvestro, who despite running nine laps off the lead was the only car to put in a time below the 1:40 mark during the whole race. Unfortunately for the leaders de Silvestro was also running on the same part of the track as they were, and she was battling with them every step of the way – which lapped traffic simply isn’t meant to do. She overtook Marco Andretti through turn 11 on lap 43 and would go on to pass the leader, Takuma Sato, four laps later, confirming her pace but not winning her any friends and surely setting her up with a visit to the officials’ trailer for some words about race etiquette.

Meanwhile, the KV Racing Technology-Lotus dream was disintegrating. Viso was being a little over-wrought in his defence of second place from assaults by Marco Andretti, and EJ was warned at least seven times about some very blatant blocking moves by race control until finally their patience was exhausted and he was handed a drive-thru penalty on lap 43 that dumped him down to ninth place.

And five laps later, Takuma Sato’s time in the lead was over: the fuel gamble hadn’t worked, and he needed to pit to make it to the end of the race. That put him down to seventh place by the time he was topped up and sent back out. Sato had done all he could and he’d outlasted Saavedra (who had come in for fuel on lap 47) and Andretti (who had come in on lap 46, after also having lost eletronic data read-outs on his car). Marco tried one last roll of the dice with a switch to soft slick tyres despite the presence of a lot of water offline, and while he managed to avoid any crashes for the remaining laps, it didn’t really deliver any significant performance advantage either.

The upshot was that Will Power was finally back in the lead, and Graham Rahal had played an excellent strategic recovery as well to put himself in second behind the Australian, splitting Power from his Penske team mate Ryan Briscoe who was in front of the off-colour Dario Franchitti in fourth.

Making up the rest of the top six were Oriol Servia – who had been having a rather quiet and unexciting race relatively speaking, but getting the job done very nicely all the same – and Mike Conway, who had kept plugging away after that electronics problem at the end of Sunday to stage a remarkable recovery in the circumstances.

Conway’s sixth place was snatched away by a still-fast Sato in the final laps as the two hour race time limit neared, but Sato then overcooked it in turn 1 and allowed Conway to take back the position and put Justin Wilson back up into seventh at the same time. Sato was able to hold off James Hinchcliffe for eighth, as the Canadian demonstrated that Servia’s form was no fluke for Newman-Haas.

Even though the rain was starting to fall again, there were no final lap dramas. Finally the race was run, done and won: Power would claim the trophy ahead of Rahal and Briscoe, and with it a 14pt lead over Dario Franchitti in the championship as the series concludes its opening stint on road and street courses and heads to ovals.

“That was an awesome race, so many different track conditions … It was a matter of keeping calm, getting past people without making any mistakes and then creating a gap to be safe,” summarised Power afterwards. “Being on pole four times and had two wins is a great start [to the season.]”

His main rival for the title, Dario Franchitti, was counting his blessings just making it to the chequered flag at all. “After me making a mistake on the restart, I’m very proud of my Target guys for the front wing change and getting us back out there.”

And as for the hero of the middle section of the race, Takuma Sato was disappointed to finish eighth when the morning had briefly promised so much more. “In the end our strategy did not work and in hindsight we should have pitted for fuel during the final caution because we were not in a position to take a gamble,” he admitted. “It was a shame we did not make it, but I want to thank the entire team for all their hard work this weekend.”

Immediately the chequered flag came out, the teams sprang into action to start breaking down pit lane, pack the equipment and get everything ready to ship back to the United States in time for the build-up to the centennial Indianapolis 500. It might seem that May 29 is an age away, but with so much to do in terms of preparation, practice and qualification before the big day, this single extra day spent in São Paulo couldn’t have come at a worse time for the IndyCar teams – but they stuck with it, saw the race out, and the Brazilian crowds showed their support in turn. And in the end, the racing was worth it too.

Race results

1. #12 Will Power 55 laps Leader
2. #38 Graham Rahal 55 laps + 4.6723s
3. #6 Ryan Briscoe 55 laps + 7.9037s
4. #10 Dario Franchitti 55 laps + 10.1470s
5. #2 Oriol Servia 55 laps + 15.8188s
6. #27 Mike Conway 55 laps + 16.6775s
7. #22 Justin Wilson 55 laps + 20.0131s
8. #5 Takuma Sato 55 laps + 23.0683s
9. #06 James Hinchcliffe 55 laps + 25.2924s
10. #4 JR Hildebrand 55 laps + 31.3172s
11. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 55 laps + 36.4261s
12. #9 Scott Dixon 55 laps + 42.1974s
13. #59 EJ Viso 55 laps + 45.8266s
14. #26 Marco Andretti 55 laps + 74.5634s
15. #18 James Jakes 55 laps + 76.2783s
16. #83 Charlie Kimball 54 laps + 1 laps
17. #14 Vitor Meira 53 laps + 2 laps
18. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 50 laps + 5 laps
19. #77 Alex Tagliani 48 laps + 7 laps
20. #78 Simona de Silvestro 46 laps + 9 laps
21. #3 Helio Castroneves 46 laps + 9 laps
22. #82 Tony Kanaan 46 laps + 9 laps
23. #7 Danica Patrick 46 laps + 9 laps
24. #24 Ana Beatriz 31 laps + 24 laps Mechanical
25. #17 Raphael Matos 28 laps + 27 laps Contact
26. #19 Sebastien Bourdais 20 laps + 35 laps Contact

Britain’s Mike Conway stunned his rivals with perfect overtaking moves and a blast of raw speed that no one could match in the final third of the Long Beach street race.

Mike Conway won his maiden IndyCar series victory on the streets of Long Beach, after putting in an unbeatable display of overtaking and raw pace in the final third of the race, following a safety car period triggered by a crash between two Penske team mates at the front of the field.

Conway had started in third place, and like the rest of the drivers seemed content to circulate around the tricky 1.968-mile, 12-turn temporary street circuit in position for the first stint following a shambolic start that didn’t come close to an ordered “double file rolling grid”.

Polesitter Will Power was in front, with Ryan Hunter-Reay slotting into second as the race got underway with no accidents, collisions or changes to the leading positions at the green flag. Further down the running order, however, Ana Beatriz had fallen to the back of the field after spinning her car on one of the warm-up laps and stalled twice before finally getting away just metres before the safety car put her a full lap down.

The stasis was exactly what Ryan Briscoe had expected and planned for: after a disappointing qualifying that saw him line up in 12th, Briscoe opted to start on hard tyres where everyone else was on the faster reds, assuming that the early laps would be too packed together to give anyone a chance to make much of a move on him on a track whee overtaking is notoriously difficult. He was right, and cleverly got rid of the slower rubber at a time when it made little difference, while everyone else would need to run the middle section of the race on the slower tyres instead.

Some of the backmarkers took the opportunity of the opening laps to gain a posiion or two: Graham Rahal saw Sebastian Saavedra struggling and getting a little lose, and duly made a move to take 14th place on lap 17; and Danica Patrick – never that happy with road courses – lost a couple of positions on lap 20 to Simona de Silvestro and Raphael Matos, but mostly the drivers were content to bide their time as the top three of Power, Hunter-Reay and Conway started to open out a gap at the front over Oriol Servia in fourth place.

Justin WIlson had been circulating in fifth until lap 24, when he was bumped into a spin at the hairpin turn 11 by Helio Castroneves. Sveral drivers saw this and reacted straight away, assuming that the course would go full-course yellow: Alex Tagliani, Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan all immediately hit pit road, only to find that Wilson had kept the engine going and was able to recover under local waved yellows without triggering a full course yellow.

It could have been a costly gamble for them, but fortunately for them there was a copycat accident at the same place on the track the very next lap, with Simona de Silvestro this time the unlucky recipient of a tap from Paul Tracy. Tracy was handed a drive-thru penalty for causing an avoidable accident (although, strangely, Castroneves didn’t receive any comparable penalty for the same blunder a lap before) and also received a penalty for speeding in pit lane – hardly the best way to mark his return to the IndyCar series.

Unlike Wilson, de Silvestro wasn’t able to keep the car running and so the track went to caution and the rest of the field duly came into pit lane. Tagliani and Briscoe inherited the lead, but Kanaan wasn’t as lucky due to a slower pit stop and a problem with a fuel sensor during his stop which meant a second appearance in the pits, and a drop to 21st position.

It was to say the least an eventful pit stop period – and a dreadful one for Mike Conway, who overshot his pit box and ended up plummeting down to 19th position, his chances of a good result seemingly dashed in one tiny error.

At least he was still in the race: Sebastien Bourdais, minding his own business coming down pit lane after his own pit stop, found himself three-wide with Marco Andretti in the middle and Justin Wilson on the inside. Marco was giving Justin room and was completely unaware of Bourdais in his blind spot on the outside line, and he moved out wider and wider … until the Bourdais was pinched into the wall and the two cars made crunching contact. Bourdais’ car was wrecked, and Marco Andretti also climbed out of the #26 to talk with and apologise to the Frenchmen, explaining that “It was my fault” and that “I had no f***ing clue you were there!” – getting a quick apology from the commentators for the choice language just broadcast. But when Marco started to walk back to his pit box, his team shouted at him to come back to the car – it wasn’t exactly in showroom condition anymore, but there was a chance he could continue.

Another incident in pit lane almost saw another collision, this time between Graham Rahal and Vitor Meira. Meira’s crew complained tat Rahal had simply pulled straight out into the fast lane: Rahal had needed to react to avoid full-on contact and swerved back into the pit box area, clipping one of Oriol Servia’s pit crew members. Fortunately no serious harm was done, but it was a reminder that pit lane can be a dangerous place at the best of times.

The race resumed on lap 31, and Ryan Briscoe got a good run on Alex Tagliani to immediately take the lead, with last year’s Long Beach winner Ryan Huntr-Reay also getting the better of Will Power. Tagliani’s momentum had been sufficiently compromised by Briscoe’s overtaking move to allow Hunter-Reay and Power to quickly get past the #5 as well before things settled down, and so the race was now led by the two Ryans with Power in third place.

Thirty two laps of green flag racing ensued, which saw Briscoe pull out a comfortable 4s lead over Hunter-Reay who in turn had a couple of seconds advantage over Power. Marco Andretti was clearly having handling problems and retired on lap 37, while JR Hildebrand made a couple of eye-catching slides and miraculous saves to keep the #4 car out of the barriers. Justin Wilson, still stuck back in 13th position, tried a seemingly random pit stop on lap 43 to go off-strategy, while the rest of the field all started to come in from lap 54 through to lap 60 for green flag stops. The race narrowly avoided a full course caution one lap later when EJ Viso moved over and pinched Danica Patrick against the wall out of the final corner: Viso got the worst of it and was sent bouncing sideways across the track into the opposite wall, where he retired. Fortunately the car was offline and in a good position to retrieve without needing to throw a yellow.

Whatever the Dreyer & Reinbold team had been thinking of with regards to making this odd strategy work, it came to nought when on lap 63 Wilson’s rear right wheel suddenly locked under braking into turn 8, leaving him without any handling into the corner and a one-way trip into the tyre wall. This incident inevitably brought out the full course caution avoided just two laps previously for Viso, and left the field looking at another strung-out double file restart on lap 67: Briscoe, Hunter-Reay and Power had retained the top three positions through the green flag pit stops, while Helio Castroneves had got the better of Oriol Servia for fourth place and Scott Dixon was in sixth ahead of his team mate Dario Franchitti.

As the cars lunged down the main straightaway toward the first turn, Power attempted to go around the outside of Hunter-Reay but soon realised that he was running out of road and that there was not enough time. He dropped back to pull in behind the Andretti Autosports #2, but unfortunately for him his Penske team mate Helio Castroneves behind him was busy in battle with Oriol Servia and was leaving his braking too late into the first corner. Caught out by Power trying to drop back in line, Helio locked up – and hit the back of his team mate, sending them both into the tyre barrier.

Inevitably there was fall-out and collateral damage. Scott Dixon was immediately on the scene and hit the back of Helio’s stalled car, resulting in damage to the Ganassi’s chassis that dropped him off the lead lap to effect repairs. By rights, Oriol Servia should have joined him in pit road, but somehow his lightning fast reflexes saw him manage to avoid hitting Helio, instead steering a rapid 360 spin so that he was back round and rejoining the field with minimal loss of position and not even a single slight contact from the whole incident.

The biggest winner from this incident was Dario Franchitti, who after spending almost the entire afternoon in seventh place was now promoted to third by the removal of Power, Castroneves and Dixon ahead of him and by his own overtaking move on Tagliani, who was now in fourth ahead of James Hinchcliffe and the caution’s other big gainer, Mike Conway, who was suddenly back up the sharp end in sixth place ahead of Danica Patrick.

The track initially stayed green, but further round the race track a second incident forced the IndyCar officials to throw the third full course caution of the afternoon after all: Graham Rahal had got into the back of Takuma Sato, sending the KV Technology Racing-Lotus into the tyres at turn 8 and wrecking his own front wing in the process. The incident triggered problems behind them, as Charlie Kimball ended up colliding with Sebastian Saavedra, sending Saavedra down the escape road while Kimball ended up running into the stationary Sato. Kimball retired, while Saavedra returned to the pits for a new front wing.

That left the field with another double file restart to contend with on lap 70, with just 15 laps remaining. It was the golden opportunity for anyone to make what could possibly be the last decisive move of the race: who was going to seize the chance?

It wasn’t Tagliani, who wobbled as he went through turn 1 and left himself wide open for a nice move by Mike Conway who threaded through the gap it presented to move up to fourth. Somehow, Conway had managed to preserve the heat and grip in his tyres to such an extent that he made everyone around him look like they had accidentally wandered into an episode of dancing with ice, and he immediately used that advantage to make a move on Dario Franchitti for third place going into turn 6 – not usually a place you’d expect anyone to be able to pull off an overtaking move, but here there was no question as Conway simply blasted past the #10 with stunning ease.

Then Conway’s third became second, as his Andretti Autosport team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay suddenly slowed coming out of the corner. The decision had come on with such speed that the team back in the pits were completely caught out and had no prior warning: it appeared that the gearbox had spontaneously decided to quit for the day.

Could Conway possibly carry his restart advantage though long enough to make a run on Ryan Briscoe for the lead? The answer was an unequivocal yes, and next time through the same turn where he’d dispatched Franchitti a lap previously, Conway once again breezed past the car in front and claimed the top spot. And once he did, he was gone – before anyone could blink his lead was out to 2.5s. As the Andretti team said, their only threat now was an incident, full course caution and the unpredictability of a late double file restart.

None came: the race carried on caution-free to the chequered flag, and Mike Conway was by this time a comfortable 6s in front to claim his first ever IZOD IndyCar series victory in fine style.

“It feels awesome. As soon as I got in the lead, I was thinking of winning already,” Conway said after the finish. “I knew I had to forget about it and get with the job at hand. The car was great. I could push all the time and control the gap. I can’t thank everybody at the team Andretti Autosport [enough] for this result

“My guys hung in there all day. I made a mistake on a pit stop when I locked up. I thought our day might be done, but we had to hang in there and push all the way. On the restarts the car was awesome and it just came to life,” he said, adding: “It was like [the other drivers] were struggling to get temperature in the tires. My car was good to go. I just took my time and picked my point, and was able to pull away.”

This success marks the climax of a triumphant return for the boy from Bromley in Kent, who almost a year ago was involved in one of IndyCar’s most chillingly spectacular accidents in the final moments of the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that left him seriously injured and sidelined from motor sport for the rest of the season. The victory was vindication also for team owner Michael Andretti, who had decided to pick up Conway as a driver for 2011 despite having to let better known, more experienced drivers like Tony Kanaan go over the winter.

“[Mike’s] comeback is now complete,” said Andretti. “The first time we put him in a race car, I could tell he had potential. I’m just so happy he was able to [win] this early and win one of the greatest races here in Long Beach. I’m just so proud of him.” Long Beach has special memories for Andretti himself, whose first and last IndyCar victories were both at this venue.

“Mike Conway was in a class of his own today and there was nothing I could do,” admitted Ryan Briscoe. “He was so much faster when he made that move on me.” Nonetheless, Briscoe was happy to have moved up from 12th on the grid to finish 2nd to get some momentum into a season that’s been rather lacklustre so far.

Dario admitted that his team had mad esome errors in setup: “The car was really quick everywhere except for turn into the straight and down the straight. I think with the gear ratio and setting up for the wrong parts of the track made it hard for me to pass anyone because of the gap they would get coming out of the hairpin.” However, he was not able to do anything about the situaton as his pit radio gave out after the first pit stop, preventing the team from discussing any further adjustments to compensate.

Mike Conway becomes the series’ first new winner since Ryan Briscoe took his maiden victory in Milwaukee in 2008 – and duly needed instructions on what to do, where to go and what the procedure was for a first-time visit to victory circle. It also gave the Andretti Autosport team its first win since Iowa Speedway in June 2010 and its second consecutive Long Beach win after Ryan Hunter-Reay’s victory here last year.

And in the IndyCar points standings, it also means Dario Franchitti is back on top, with that late clash with his Penske team mate costing Will Power valuable points that could prove critical to the title fight down the line. Dario and Will continue to have an impressive margin over Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia – and Mike Conway, who is fifth in the championship coming out of Long Beach.

Race results

1. #27 Mike Conway 85 laps 85 laps
2. #6 Ryan Briscoe 85 laps + 6.3203s
3. #10 Dario Franchitti 85 laps + 6.7163s
4. #06 James Hinchcliffe 85 laps + 9.1705s
5. #77 Alex Tagliani 85 laps + 16.0177s
6. #2 Oriol Servia 85 laps + 16.8966s
7. #7 Danica Patrick 85 laps + 17.5016s
8. #82 Tony Kanaan 85 laps + 18.9655s
9. #14 Vitor Meira 85 laps + 19.4723s
10. #12 Will Power 85 laps + 19.8909s
11. #17 Raphael Matos 85 laps + 20.4660s
12. #3 Helio Castroneves 85 laps + 20.7784s
13. #38 Graham Rahal 85 laps + 21.3464s
14. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 85 laps + 23.1137s
15. #18 James Jakes 85 laps + 24.5926s
16. #8 Paul Tracy 85 laps + 63.7578s
17. #4 JR Hildebrand 85 laps + 70.9001s
18. #9 Scott Dixon 84 laps + 1 laps 23.4515s
19. #24 Ana Beatriz 83 laps + 2 laps 45.4151s
20. #78 Simona de Silvestro 82 laps + 3 laps 29.0387s
21. #5 Takuma Sato 81 laps + 4 laps 41.9446s
22. #22 Justin Wilson 78 laps + 7 laps
23. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 72 laps + 13 laps Mechanical
24. #83 Charlie Kimball 66 laps + 19 laps Mechanical
25. #59 EJ Viso 59 laps + 26 laps Contact
26. #26 Marco Andretti 37 laps + 48 laps Mechanical
27. #19 Sebastien Bourdais 27 laps + 58 laps Contact

Championship standings

 Pos Driver              Pts
 1   Dario Franchitti    122
 2   Will Power          115
 3   Tony Kanaan          87
 4   Oriol Servia         80
 5   Mike Conway          74
 6   Alex Tagliani        73
 7   Scott Dixon          66
 8   Ryan Briscoe         66
 9   Simona de Silvestro  66
 10  Vitor Meira          64
 11  Raphael Matos        57
 12  Danica Patrick       57
 13  Takuma Sato          56
 14  Helio Castroneves    56
 15  Marco Andretti       54
 16  J.R. Hildebrand      49
 17  James Hinchcliffe    44
 18  Justin Wilson        44
 19  Charlie Kimball      44
 20  Sebastian Saavedra   43
 21  Graham Rahal         42
 22  Ryan Hunter-Reay     40
 23  James Jakes          40
 24  Sebastien Bourdais   34
 25  Ernesto Viso         34
 26  Ana Beatriz          28
 27  Simon Pagenaud       24
 28  Paul Tracy           14

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




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