Posts Tagged ‘mike conway’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrity race starter Jack Nicholson was put to some serious hard work at the Indy 500, with a series of early restarts requiring his services.

The race was barely under way when Davey Hamilton went to move up the track only to find the 23 of Tomas Schecker already in the place. He tried to move down, which sent him into a spin that smashed him hard against the inside wall. Second caution caused by Bruno Junqueira betraying his lack of track time, getting too high on the track and getting sucked into the wall for a double hit. Mario Moraes subsequently brushed the wall, damaging the suspension (a bent right rear wishbone) and “whitewalling” the tyres, bringing him into the pits on lap 18 but without causing a yellow.

Helio Castroneves had taken the initial lead, but even before the first caution came out he was overtaken by Dario Franchitti. Will Power was soon past his team mate after the second yellow, putting Helio back down to third place, and Power went on to pass Franchitti for the lead on lap 31.

However, Power’s race took a bad turn at his first green flag pit stop on lap 37, when he was ushered out of the pit box before refuelling was complete – a hugely uncharacteristic mistake for an outfit like Penske. It ripped the nozzle of the refuelling hose – which was left attached to the intake valve until it fell off out on track, bringing out the third caution of the race for debris. Power was able to get the hose taken care of and returned to the track, but had to do a drive-thru for causing the caution.

Dario was back out in front at the restart on lap 43, with Helio Castroneves, Raphael Matos, Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter among the closest contenders. That continued to be the status quo through to the fourth caution of the day: John Andretti (who had been penalised for blocking Dan Wheldon just minutes earlier) hit the wall on lap 65.

Naturally everyone pitted under the caution, but it was a bad one for both Scott Dixon and Raphael Matos, whose crews both bungled the tyres and left the cars with only three wheels. Dixon was quick to react, but Matos ended up spinning in pit lane right into another team’s pit box, which fortunately was clear of personnel. However, to emphasise the seriousness of the situation, both drivers got drive-thru penalties for the mishap.

Not that the penalty worried Matos for long. Whether it was latent damage form the pit lane spin, or trying too hard to make up lost ground, or simply because he was rattled, but Matos hit the wall hard into turn 1 on lap 73 to bring out another caution. Matos stepped out of the wreck, just a little dazed.

The race was heading toward green flag stops on lap 106 when Vitor Meira slid into the wall on the backstretch. The luckiest man during this was Graham Rahal, who had been penalised for blocking Dan Wheldon some 20 laps previously and ended up going a lap down: he had already entered the pits when this latest caution came out, meaning he could complete his stop while everyone else had to wait.

Tomas Scheckter had already pitted and stayed out while everyone else came in, giving him the lead at the restart until Dario reasserted himself. But the big story, as the race entered its final third, was the presence of Tony Kanaan in second – after he had struggled to qualify and ended up starting a distant 32nd. But on race day it seemed nothing could stop him, and while the race was clearly Dario’s to lose, there was also a sense that Tony was just biding his time before delivering the killer blow …

With 60 laps to go, the cars started a round of green flag stops, briefly giving Marco Andretti (who had been up to third and running strongly) the lead as the stops cycled through. And it was another poor stop for an element of the Penske line-up – who had come into this race as the favourites – when Helio Castroneves stalled and had to be refired. A very costly error.

At least Ryan Briscoe got through unscathed again, and indeed was one of the last to pit showing how well he was conserving fuel while still able to run up with the leaders. Unfortunately that luck came to a crunching end the minute he returned to the track, hitting the wall on the front straightaway on lap 147 and annihilating the right side of his car on the safety barrier. It looked as though the accident was possibly the result of pushing the tyres too far before they got up to temperature.

Briscoe had left a lot of debris and oil on the track, meaning a lengthy yellow flag period while the track was cleaned up. It was still too far from the chequered flag to make it by refuelling at this point, so most of the field stayed out and Dario was still in the top spot and rapidly pulled away from the field when the track went green on lap 156; Marco Andretti had returned from his previous stop in second place, but Tony Kanaan quickly wrested the position back from him.

The green flag was shortlived, as Sebastian Saavedra ended up spinning and planting the back of the 78 into the wall on lap 160. This time, the front runners all pitted and there was considerable congestion in the pit lane that saw Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon make contact. Will Power also had to return to pit lane next time round to replace a wheel – not a good day for the Aussie.

Several backmarkers stayed out, including Brits Mike Conway and Justin Wilson who led the field back to green and also giving Dario Franchitti the unfamiliar scenario of being stuck in among traffic in fifth. Would that put him of his stroke and leave him vulnerable to a charge by Tony Kanaan?

Conway was obviously far short on fuel and came in to the pits with 22 to go, the gambit of hoping for another caution not paying off. Wilson and Rahal made it to 10 to go, handing Helio Castroneves the lead briefly until the Brazilian’s own pit stop two laps later. But fuel was marginal even for those drivers who had pitted under the last caution, and frantic calls were being broadcast from pit wall to all the drivers to get them to lift and conserve. Just when they most needed one, yellow flag caution periods were hard to come by.

Kanaan couldn’t make it – he was in on lap 195, five short of race distance. And even Franchitti was on a knife edge, the Ganassi team finally ordering him to slow dramatically as they entered the final couple of laps. Further back, Dan Wheldon – not in danger on fuel – saw the opportunity to put the pedal to the metal and go for it, cutting chunks out of Franchitti’s lead. If Dario really has nothing left in the tank, then he was a sitting duck. All that could save him now was a yellow flag.

Which is exactly what he got. As the leaders started the final lap, a massive accident was sparked by Mike Conway going into the side of Ryan Hunter-Reay. The angle was such that Conway was lifted up and launched into the air, spinning around wildly until he was collected by the wire fencing which duly tore the car apart, and then dumped the wreckage down on Hunter-Reay. A very, very nasty accident (which also collected others such as Helio Castroneves with debris and panicked avoidance measures, as well as a couple of fans from airborne debris that escaped the catch-fence). Conway’s chassis was left upside down and the safety crews scrambled to extricate him, and for a moment the outcome of the race was secondary – but fortunately Conway was out and waving to the crowds moments later, clearly awake and alert albeit with a confirmed broken right leg and hence airlifted to hospital shortly after.

With relief that everyone was safe, the celebrations for the Flying Scotsman for his second Indy 500 victory (the first was in 2007) could begin, joined by his jubilant team boss Chip Ganassi and ecstatic wife, actress Ashley Judd. And in a day that had seen two Brits come top in the F1 Turkish GP half a world away, it seemed that the feat had topped by the Indianapolis 500 which saw not only Franchitti first and Dan Wheldon second, but their compatriot Alex Lloyd initially posted as coming third. However, a post-race hearing found that Marco Andretti had actually been running in third when the crash happened and that he had been wrongly overtaken during the confusion that ensued, so Marco had the position handed back by the race stewards with Lloyd fourth ahead of Scott Dixon (Ganassi) and Danica Patrick (Andretti).

Race results

Pos  Driver               Team               Gap
 1.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi            3h05m37.0131s
 2.  Dan Wheldon          Panther                + 0.1536s
 3.  Marco Andretti       Andretti              + 20.9875s 
 4.  Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne            + 20.9876s
 5.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi               + 21.4922s
 6.  Danica Patrick       Andretti              + 21.7560s
 7.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold     + 25.9761s
 8.  Will Power           Penske                + 30.2474s
 9.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                + 33.0137s
10.  Alex Tagliani        Fazzt                 + 34.2482s
11.  Tony Kanaan          Andretti              + 59.5957s
12.  Graham Rahal         Rahal Letterman       + 59.9739s
13.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                 + 1m01.6745s
14.  Mario Romancini      Conquest            + 1m05.0219s
15.  Tomas Scheckter      Dreyer & Reinbold        + 1 lap
16.  Townsend Bell        Ganassi/Schmidt          + 1 lap
17.  Ed Carpenter         Panther/Vision           + 1 lap
18.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti                + 2 laps
19.  Mike Conway          Dreyer & Reinbold       + 2 laps
20.  Takuma Sato          KV                      + 2 laps
21.  Ana Beatriz          Dreyer & Reinbold       + 4 laps
22.  Bertrand Baguette    Conquest               + 17 laps

* corrected 
Retirements:

     Sebastian Saavedra   Herta              159 laps
     Ryan Briscoe         Penske             147 laps
     EJ Viso              KV                 139 laps
     Sarah Fisher         Sarah Fisher       125 laps
     Vitor Meira          Foyt               105 laps
     Hideki Mutoh         Newman/Haas        76 laps
     Raphael Matos        De Ferran Dragon   72 laps
     John Andretti        Andretti           62 laps
     Mario Moraes         KV                 17 laps
     Bruno Junqueira      Fazzt              7 laps
     Davey Hamilton       De Ferran Dragon   0 laps

IndyCar championship after race 6

Pos Driver               Points
1   Will Power           227
2   Dario Franchitti     215
3   Scott Dixon          203
4   Helio Castroneves    199
5   Ryan Hunter-Reay     175
6   Justin Wilson        167
7   Ryan Briscoe         155
8   Tony Kanaan          151
9   Dan Wheldon          142
10  Marco Andretti       134
11  Alex Tagliani        126
12  Danica Patrick       118
13  Vitor Meira          114
14  Raphael Matos        112
15  Mike Conway          110
16  Mario Moraes         109
17  Alex Lloyd           95
18  Hideki Mutoh         88
19  Mario Romancini      86
20  Simona de Silvestro  85
21  Ernesto Viso         84
22  Takuma Sato          75
23  Graham Rahal         73
24  Milka Duno           56
25  Bertrand Baguette    52
26  John Andretti        35
27  Ana Beatriz          33
28  Sarah Fisher         26
29  Ed Carpenter         20
30  Tomas Scheckter      19
31  Townsend Bell        18
32  Sebastian Saavedra   15
33  Davey Hamilton       14
34  Bruno Junqueira      13
35  Jay Howard           10




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