Posts Tagged ‘ryan hunter-reay’

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did not qualify

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

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

St Petersburg was dominated by controversy over new-style restarts, with top drivers calling them dangerous while others hailed them for adding new excitement and overtaking opportunities.

The decision to move to double-file restarts for all IndyCar races in 2011 rather than just oval events was controversial even before the green flag came out at St Peterburg, and what followed – a multiple-car wreck at the first corner, followed by a series of starts and stops over the next 15 laps and wrist injuries to two of the midfield drivers caught up in incidents – offered plenty of proof to those who felt the new style was a major mistake.

“We need to make the show good,” said Tony Kanaan in calling for the change to be reconsidered. “I don’t think it’s good for the show to have the first 15 laps under the yellow. It’s crazy.”

Given the drivers’ concerns that the succession of early yellows would spoil the show for fans, the ABC TV network reported that the St Petersburg event delivered the highest overnight ratings since 2007 for a televised IndyCar race other than the Indy 500. The race’s “1.4 rating” is still a fraction compared with NASCAR, but a huge improvement on last year’s 0.32 rating for a rain-delayed event and 0.19 rating in 2009.

Although no one was injured during the first eye-catching multiple-car wreck on lap 1, some of the other less spectacular accidents later on in the race sparked by the new restarts did have repercussions. After the first restart bunched the field up again, Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal both had collisions with Ana Beatriz and as a result Beatriz was subsequently diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone (wrist) because of the violent motion of the steering wheel resulting from the impact. “I could feel that my hand was sore and as the race went on it started to bother me more,” Beatriz said afterwards. The injury will require surgery this week and consequently it’s doubtful whether she will race at next week’s second IndyCar event, at Barber Motor Speedway.

Patrick was involved in another collision after the restart on lap 44 which saw her clash with Beatriz’s Dreyer & Reinbold team mate Justin Wilson out of turn 1, and this time it was Wilson who ended up with a small fracture of his wrist bone. “As our wheels bumped my steering wheel wrenched in my hand,” Wilson said. “I knew at that point that I had broken something.” He will need to be fitted with a carbon-fibre brace, although it should not stop him competing at Barber.

The injuries add a pressing safety dimension to calls to reconsider the new restarts, which are rather more persuasive than general discussion of whether or not the restart accidents spoiled or enhanced the racing and the spectacle.

Tony Kanaan was one of those to benefit most from the new style restart, the outside line into the first corner enabling him to make up positions on his way to a third place finish in his début outing for his new KV Racing Technology team. “If you’re lucky then you make it, and if you’re not then you’re done,” he summarised.

Simona de Silvestro was an even greater winner from the new restarts, finishing fourth from 17th on the grid. No wonder she described the new system as “pretty fun,” as “it actually gave us a chance to make positions,” she said, adding: “Last year, we would start single file every time, it would be hard. You would be just following the leader. I think it made it exciting and I really enjoyed it.”

“I expected it. Everybody should have,” said Graham Rahal. “There’s so much adrenaline going on in the first race of the year and everybody’s pushing so hard it gets out of control.”

Other drivers were far less happy. Danica Patrick railed against the “f***ing restarts” over her car radio during the race (the expletive presumably bleeped out on US television, but clearly audible on the Sky Sports feed) and Ryan Hunter-Reay had to insert his own bleeps into his post-race interview to stop himself from using equally choice language after being put out of the race by Sebastian Saavedra during the restart on lap 14. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure this isn’t going to work,” he fumed. “It was just restart after restart after restart. I was hoping so badly we would just go green, but we didn’t. It’s a shame.”

The problem seemed to be the hard right-hand turn 1 off the start/finish straight, which channelled all the cars from the two-lane restart toward a single point on the apex. The midfield drivers simply weren’t able to find alternate routes through the corner, and attempts to run down the inside were invariable disastrous. But as Tony Kanaan pointed out, “This is a place where you have a lot of room” in comparison to other road and street circuits on the IndyCar calendar. “Go to a tighter place, like Long Beach, and Toronto … Think about it.”

IndyCar decided to revise the restart format after looking to the considerably more popular NASCAR format for ideas to help improve the series. NASCAR has been using double-file restarts since 2004 and last year extended them to all races; IndyCar tried out the format on ovals last year and opted to introduce them for road and street courses as well in 2011, as well as looking at new procedures for wave-arounds and “lucky dog” free passes to put a car back on the lead lap every caution.

Dario Franchitti pointed out that the double-file restarts had been pushed for by the powerful team owners – so it was somewhat poetic justice that they were now left with the bills for collision damage and doubtless wondering whether it had been a good idea after all. By contrast, IndyCar’s plans for the NASCAR-style “lucky dog” have been postponed because of heavy resistance to the idea.

The introduction of double-file restarts in NASCAR was viewed with some initial concern by that series’ drivers but ultimately went through and has been well-received without any of the controversy now being seen in IndyCar. So why is the new system so problematic to IndyCar and not NASCAR?

“There’s zero room for error,” said Will Power. “We can’t bump like NASCAR,” he continued, predicting that as a result “there’s going to be people getting knocked out every single restart.”

“It’s different in NASCAR when they are going into a corner that move slowly, accelerate slowly and brake slowly,” said Hunter-Reay. “I think this decision has to be revisited.”

It’s certainly true that in stock car racing, bumping and grinding is just a way of life and the modern breed of cars can put up with a certain amount of this with impunity. But that’s not the case with open wheel racing, where fragile front wings will be damaged at the slightest touch, immediately affecting downforce and braking and resulting in knock-on accidents. Front wings can also slice through the tyres of cars ahead of them, while the exposed wheels can ‘fuse’ on contact with those of other cars and cause the whole car to be launched into the air, as seen on Sunday with Marco Andretti being sent over the top of Scott Dixon’s car.

In the world’s premier open wheel racing category, Formula 1 still opts for exclusively single file rolling restarts but the initial start of the race off the grid is still double-file – and as the weekend’s season opener in Australia there were several incidents and collisions through the field during the first lap, although nothing that caused a major accident, injury or brought out the yellow as well at St Pete. Even so, two drivers (Michael Schumacher and Jamie Alguersuari) ended up in the pits for repairs to collision damage, and another (Rubens Barrichello) ended up running off into the gravel as the field tried to get through the first corner of Melbourne’s road-hybrid track.

So perhaps it’s true that open wheel cars and double-file restarts don’t mix, at least on street courses with demanding first corners. But surely if IndyCar is serious about presenting its drivers as “the best in the world” able to take own all-comers from every other motorsport formula in the world at the $5m prize challenge at Las Vegas, then its drivers should be able cope with a system that’s used in NASCAR without complaining about it – and that they need to find a way to learn, adapt and cope with getting round the first corner without hitting anyone?

“Is the problem the double-file restart? Is it the late acceleration? Or, is it just people not paying attention?”, said race winner Dario Franchitti. “Not that they are not paying attention, but not respecting each other, just being crazy and going for gaps that aren’t there. Which one is it; we have to figure that out. And then we can change it,” he said, pointing out that the drivers had to take some of the blame for what happened at St Pete this week and not simply blame the new system.

“We need to clean up our acts and drive a little smarter,” agreed Graham Rahal.

Newman/Haas driver Oriol Servia suggested that the problem may be even more localised to St Petersburg than widely thought. With the first turn being on part of the track usually used as part of an airport, the inside line was particularly dirty with lots of oil and paint impeding braking which may have contributed to the mayhem. “The two-wide restarts were not a problem for me,” he said, pointing out that “if you look at the replay, it wasn’t just the restarts, it was the start itself too and we always start two-wide. It’s was just that the inside line here is one of the dirtiest of the season.”

Another factor may have been changes to the acceleration zone for this year’s St Petersburg event, which was moved closer to the start-finish line and more under the control of the starter rather than left to the drivers to go at their own discretion. The result seemed to be a packed, jumbled mess that was five- and six-wide and with cars lunging down the inside into the first turn. With Race Control showing an odd reluctance (possibly because of time concerns) to abort any restart no matter how messy it became, collisions were inevitable.

Rahal certainly felt that the next round at Barber would be very different. “It won’t be like St. Pete because it can’t be,” he said. “We won’t have the same issues.” The first corner at the Birmingham, Alabama circuit is a downhill left-hander that suddenly breaks right into a big, sweeping circle – meaning that track position is more crucial for the second turn rather than being an all-or-nothing attack into the first.

IndyCar officials, team owners, drivers and fans will certainly be watching very carefully when the green flag flies at the start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10.

Andretti Motorsport got their first IndyCar win in nearly two years at Long Beach California, courtesy of Ryan Hunter-Reay who currently only has a part-time deal with the team.

Hunter-Reay started from second and seemed doomed to stare at the back of polesitter Will Power’s car for the duration of the race, until Power curiously slowed on lap 17 and both Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson stormed past him along the start-finish straight. Power was quickly back up to speed and retained third, sparking speculation that Power had inadvertently triggered the pit lane speed limiter.

Hunter-Reay retained the lead for the rest of the day, pulling away from Wilson by mid-race until he found himself held up by backmarker Alex Lloyd who seriously didn’t want to go a lap down. Finally Hunter-Reay got past, and Lloyd became Wilson’s problem – and despite now being lapped traffic, Lloyd continue to fight Wilson and to ignore the blue flags. Finally Lloyd went wide and Wilson assumed that he was finally ceding the place; instead, Lloyd swept across the track and took off the nose of the Dreyer & Reinbold car.

Wilson was furious, to say the least. He was just inside the pit window for the second and final round of pit stops and so was able to limit the damage to a single dropped place, emerging back on track with a new nose in third place behind Power.

Lloyd was already unpopular for having tapped the back of Takuma Sato’s car into a spin earlier in the race; fortunately Sat had been able to recover without bringing out a full course yellow, and indeed there was only one caution during the entire race which was the result of a boneheaded lunge by Conquest driver Mario Romancini on Graham Rahal (Sarah Fisher Racing) which pushed Rahal into the tyres leaving Romancini no where else to go but into the back of him.

As Rahal made his feelings known to Romancini, at least Justin Wilson was happy about the situation – the caution closed up the pack and put him right back on the tail of Will Power, and after the restart he made the move of the race with a brilliant run down into turn 1 that forced Power wide to cede the second spot. Wilson had the lapped cars of Raphael Matos and Takuma Sato ahead and not enough time remained after he dealt with them to mount any serious challenge on Hunter-Reay, but it was an impressive win considering the mid-race collision. Just how tight it had been was brought home when Wilson stopped on track on the cooling down lap, seemingly out of fuel as a result of the earlier-than-idea pit stop.

Hunter-Reay’s team mate Tony Kanaan had a brilliant start to make up two places before the first turn, only to lose fourth place during the pit stops to a determined Scott Dixon. Mario Moraes drove impressively to finish 6th after starting a lowly 15th, while Dario Franchitti was oddly anonymous on a track he won at last year, ending up 11th.

Alex Tagliani tangled early in the race with Marco Andretti, then suffered a refueling problem before finally ending his race by breaking his suspension in a collision with Simona de Silvestro and Danica Patrick forcing his retirement on lap 66.

Race result

Pos  Driver               Team                    Gap
 1.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti                85 laps
 2.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold       + 5.6031s
 3.  Will Power           Penske                  + 8.5864s
 4.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi                 + 10.6287s
 5.  Tony Kanaan          Andretti                + 11.7732s
 6.  Mario Moraes         KV                      + 16.5171s
 7.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                  + 16.8928s
 8.  Ryan Briscoe         Penske                  + 18.2214s
 9.  Dan Wheldon          Panther                 + 19.4575s
10.  Mike Conway          Dreyer & Reinbold       + 19.9307s
11.  Vitor Meira          Foyt                    + 27.4005s
12.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi                 + 28.1352s
13.  Hideki Mutoh         Newman/Haas/Lanigan     + 28.6037s
14.  Marco Andretti       Andretti                + 30.0120s
15.  EJ Viso              KV                      + 31.6182s
16.  Danica Patrick       Andretti                + 32.1804s
17.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                     + 33.1652s
18.  Takuma Sato          KV                      + 1 lap
19.  Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne              + 1 lap
20.  Raphael Matos        Luczo Dragon/de Ferran  + 1 lap

Retirements:

     Alex Tagliani        Fazzt                   65 laps
     Graham Rahal         Sarah Fisher            58 laps
     Mario Romancini      Conquest                58 laps
     Bertrand Baguette    Conquest                45 laps
     Milka Duno           Dale Coyne              10 laps

IndyCar championship after round 4

 1  Will Power           172 (0)
 2. Helio Castroneves    130 (-42)
 3. Ryan Hunter-Reay     129 (-43)
 4. Justin Wilson        125 (-47)
 5. Dario Franchitti     112 (-60)
 6. Scott Dixon          112 (-60)
 7. Ryan Briscoe         103 (-69)
 8. Tony Kanaan          94 (-78)
 9. Raphael Matos        84 (-88)
10. Dan Wheldon          83 (-89)
11. Vitor Meira          81 (-91)
12. Marco Andretti       78 (-94)
13. Mike Conway          78 (-94)
14. Alex Tagliani        72 (-100)
15. Mario Moraes         69 (-103)
16. Danica Patrick       67 (-105)
17. E.J. Viso            60 (-112)
18. Hideki Mutoh         60 (-112)
19. Mario Romancini      54 (-118)
20. Simona De Silvestro  53 (-119)
21. Alex Lloyd           48 (-124)
22. Graham Rahal         47 (-125)
23. Milka Duno           46 (-126)
24. Takuma Sato          46 (-126)
25. Bertrand Baguette    24 (-148)
26. Ana Beatriz          17 (-155)

After becoming IRLs youngest ever polesitter, Graham Rahal’s time at the front was brief. He was sluggish into the first turn, allowing Justin Wilson to take the lead as Dario Franchitti staged a brilliant strike down the inside to take up second. Rahal himself was tapped into a spin by Tony Kanaan, and the ensuing chaos saw cars have to take evasive action. Both Rahal and Kanaan had to pit for new front wings under the first caution, that was brought out when rookie Mike Conway was struck in the right rear wheel, the suspension damage making his début appearance in IRL a very brief affair.

So as the race progressed, Wilson and Franchitti led Ryan Briscoe, Will Power (subbing for Helio Castroneves at Penske), Darren Manning and Scott Dixon forming the top 6 on lap 20, with Kanaan and Rahal running in 15th and 16th respectively after their emergency pit stops. Drivers deeply unhappy with the red option “sticky soft” tyres had already pitted (including Marco Andretti, EJ Viso, Hideki Mutoh and Ed Carpenter) despite this meaning a three-stop race where the majority of drivers would be hoping to hang it out to lap 33 and make it a two-stopper.

On the stroke of pit stops, the caution flags came out – for multiple incidents on track. The most serious was a clash between Danica Patrick and Raphael Matoes: Matoes tried overtaking coming into turn 12 but didn’t get far enough up alongside, meaning that the two cars collided mid corner and spun into a destructive encounter with the tyre wall (both drivers were fine, but the cars were in pieces.) At the same time, Mario Moraes was left spun around after a clash with Hideki Mutoh, and Alex Tagliani was left limping back to the pits after he punctured his rear wheel on Vitor Meira’s front wing.

Ryan Briscoe had come in just before the mayhem broke out, meaning that he emerged from the caution period as the leader. His team mate Will Power had problems, overshooting his own pit box which in turn caused Scott Dixon to overrun to such an extent that the fuel hose wouldn’t reach. It was a disastrous stop for the reigning champion, who ended up bounced down to the very back of the lead lap.

Briscoe led Dan Wheldon, EJ Viso, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Robert Doornbos and Marco Andretti in a completely reshuffled, new look running order post-pits. Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal were quickly making progres up past the likes of Doornbos and Andretti to move toward the front, but Briscoe himself was pulling away into a comfortable lead of over 3s over Wheldon in the meantime.

The next caution (for Stanton Barrett stalling on track) on lap 55 came too early for most of the drivers to come into the pits, although it fell perfectly for EJ Viso on his three-stop strategy. Briscoe and Wheldon came in on schedule under green on lap 67 instead, deep enough into the race to make it to the end without any further stops, which allowed Justin Wilson to inherit the lead as he gambled on staying out till lap 70 to gain track position – if the track had gone yellow at this point it would have put him to the back, but his luck held. He emerged right in front of Briscoe as he blended back onto the track, and held it together on cold tyres to keep the position.

Pit stops had just completed when the yellow did in fact fly for an accident involving Ed Carpenter who made heavy contract with the tyre barrier in turn 3. There was a lengthy delay to proceedings as the track was swept clean of the marbles that has accumulated, and the tyre wall that collected Carpenter was repaired. EJ Viso retired under the caution, with a failure in the front end of the car affecting the steering of his car.

When the race restarted on lap 78, it was Justin Wilson leading Briscoe, Wheldon, Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Kanaan in the top six. Franchitti made another spectacular lunge into the first turn and nearly lost control after near-contract with Hunter-Reay, but he held it and the big loser was Dan Wheldon who was shuffled back to 6th place.

Racing didn’t last long: Scott Dixon clashed with Hideki Mutoh going into the first turn of lap 80, bending his front left suspension so that he wasn’t able to make turn 3 and ending up instead solidly into the just-repaired tyre barrier. Racing resumed on lap 86 with just 14 to go to the chequered with a brilliantly judged move by Ryan Briscoe to cleanly steal the lead from Wilson. Ryan Hunter-Reay also managed to squeeze past Wilson as the Brit lost his rhythm, and Wilson was lucky not to lose 3rd to Dario Franchitti at the same time – a full course yellow came to his rescue.

That yellow was triggered by Dan Wheldon trying a move on Tony Kanaan into the first turn that didn’t come off; he lost momentum, giving Robert Doornbos a chance to overtake him, but the race track wasn’t wide enough and the two clashed, breaking Doornbos’ suspension and shunting Wheldon square into the now-infamous tyre wall of turn 3. Hideki Mutoh had nowhere to go and ploughed into the back of the stationary Wheldon. Wheldon and Mutoh were done for the day, and Doornbos was four laps down after emergency repairs were completed.

Briscoe held off a determined lunge from Hunter-Reay at the restart, as the two Ryans left the rest of the field standing, but another yellow was forced on lap 96 when Alex Tagliani spun Marco Andretti across his nose while making an uncommitted, clumsy overtaking move. Andretti couldn’t get the car moving in the right direction, focing a brief yellow and giving the leaders one final crack at a turn 1 restart lunge.

No one was able to pull off a killer move, and Briscoe led Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Franchitti and Kanaan into the final lap and all the way to the chequered.

Race result

Pos  Driver            Team                 Gap
 1.  Ryan Briscoe      Penske
 2.  Ryan Hunter-Reay  Vision               + 0.4619s
 3.  Justin Wilson     Dale Coyne           + 0.9490s
 4.  Dario Franchitti  Ganassi              + 1.5230s
 5.  Tony Kanaan       Andretti Green       + 2.3214s
 6.  Will Power        Penske               + 3.4622s
 7.  Graham Rahal      Newman/Haas/Lanigan  + 4.0672s
 8.  Dan Wheldon       Panther              + 4.7283s
 9.  Vitor Meira       Foyt                 + 5.9559s
10.  Alex Tagliani     Conquest             + 1 lap
11.  Robert Doornbos   Newman/Haas/Lanigan  + 4 laps
12.  Stanton Barrett   3G                   + 4 laps

Retirements:

     Driver            Team                 Laps
     Marco Andretti    Andretti Green       94
     Dan Wheldon       Panther              86
     Hideki Mutoh      Andretti Green       86
     Scott Dixon       Ganassi              80
     EJ Viso           HVM                  75
     Ed Carpenter      Vision               71
     Danica Patrick    Andretti Green       31
     Raphael Matos     Luczo Dragon         31
     Mario Moraes      KV                   31
     Mike Conway       Dreyer & Reinbold    1

Championship standings

                        Pts Gap
1.  Ryan Briscoe        50
2.  Ryan Hunter-Reay    40  -10
3.  Justin Wilson       37  -13
4.  Dario Franchitti    32  -18
5.  Tony Kanaan         30  -20
6.  Will Power          28  -22
7.  Graham Rahal        27  -23
8.  Darren Manning      24  -26
9.  Vitor Meira         22  -28
10. Alex Tagliani       20  -30
11. Robert Doornbos     19  -31
12. Stanton Barrett     18  -32
13. Marco Andretti      17  -33
14. Dan Wheldon         16  -34
15. Hideki Mutoh        15  -35
16. Scott Dixon         14  -36
17. E.J. Viso           13  -37
18. Ed Carpenter        12  -38
19. Danica Patrick      12  -38
20. Raphael Matos       12  -38
21. Mario Moraes        12  -38
22. Mike Conway         12  -38




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