Posts Tagged ‘scott dixon’

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 …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race results

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

Retirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race results

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

Dario Franchitti won the first of the Firestone Twin 275 double header races at Texas Motor Speedway, but his arch rival for the title Will Power immediately struck back by winning the second – thanks to a crucial piece of pure dumb luck in the intermission.

Race 1: Ganassi duo too good in first Texas race

It’s the first double-header event seen in the CART/IndyCar history for three decades, and the first time that the running order for the second event has been set by blind draw: expectations were high for an unusual and entertaining night of racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

The sun was still above the horizon when the green flag dropped for race 1, but the lights were on at the track and the sparks made quite a sight as they flew from under the fuel-laden cars as they grounded through the first turns of the race.

Dario Franchitti quickly asserted himself and took the lead from ALex Tagliani, but Tag wasn’t about to go anywhere and spent a long time close behind Dario seeking a way back to the front.

Behind him, Will Power was battling with a surprisingly assured Takuma Sato – at one point, Power’s front wing made visible contact with the rear right tyre of Sato’s car but fortunately neither wing nor tyre were harmed by the encounter.

Further back, Indianapolis 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand was struggling and falling back through the field, at one point banging wheels with Charlie Kimball, the backmarker whose presence had sparked JR’s exit to the wall on the final corner of the Indy 500. Hildebrand was not at all happy tonight with the running of his Panther Racing car, and was one of the first cars to come in for fuel and tyres before lap 40.

Danica Patrick was also in early on lap 43 complaining of understeer, but most of the leaders made it a little further with Power in on lap 50 having managed to pass Tagliani for second, Franchitti in the from the lead on lap 51 and Scott Dixon in next time around.

By the time the pit stops had cycled through, Dario was back in the lead and now had a comfortable 3.6s lead over Dixon on lap 58, with the race going blisteringly fast with an average speed of that point of nearly 217mph, and already half over just 20 minutes into proceedings.

It was just as well that this was going to be a double-header, because the absence of any cautions and the pace that the Ganassi duo was setting threatened to lap pretty much everyone by the end of the race: by lap 75, still with no yellow, Dario put Tony Kanaan a lap down leaving only 12 cars on the lead lap – although Kanaan then fought back and briefly unlapped himself, such was his determination not to drop off the lead.

The lack of incident on track left many wondering whether everyone was taking it easy to make sure they were in a fit state to make it through to race 2, but KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser said it looked pretty no-holds-barred and scary to him: “We talked about it, but doesn’t look like it from here!” he said.

The race was now getting to the last 25 laps and no one could make it full distance without an extended yellow, so a second round of pit stops was required. JR Hildebrand was first in on lap 91, but the leaders had not yet come in by lap 97 when suddenly Charlie Kimball got a bad push and took off up the track, collecting fellow rookie Wade Cunningham on the way to the wall. Sadly, that meant that Cunningham’s car was crunched – and it was the car that had powered Dan Wheldon’s win at the centennial Indy 500 two weeks early, meaning that piece of automotive history was now rather shop-worn. However, both cars were expected to be repaired in time for race 2.

The resulting caution gave everyone the opportunity to come in for tyres and a final amount of fuel – Ganassi presumably taking extra care not to cut things too tight and risk running dry as happened embarrassingly often at Indianapolis in May. Dario beat Scott off pit road, but Kanaan had the best pit stop of all and emerged off pit road in front, effectively unlapping himself once the wave arounds went ahead.

That left Franchitti and Dixon leading Power, Tagliani, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Vitor Meira, Graham Rahal and EJ Viso as the top ten for the restart: this time, Dario didn’t seem to have the same edge he’d enjoyed earlier in the race and he found Dixon and Power sticking right up close on his rear wing; Tagliani was also not far back, and the lead four quickly pulled away and made the final 10 laps a private but fierce battle among themselves.

Dario resorted to push to pass to protect his track position and did all he could to make sure Dixon was never given a chance of taking the inside line, but even so Dixon looked to have the momentum as he slingshot off turn 4 on the final lap and he came within just a few feet of pulling it off – a 0.0527s winning margin for Dario being in the top 25 all-time closest finishes in IndyCar.

Dixon admitted afterwards that he’s done all he could, but that there had ben no way past his team mate; Will Power was equally clear in conceding that he just didn’t have enough speed to take on the Ganassi cars in that first race, and of the top three he was the one looking most hot and bothered in the late Texan evening heat – but he was quickly reenergised by drawing a third place start for the second race of the evening, while Dario Franchitti was stuck down in 28th
and Scott Dixon in 18th.

But perhaps the most worked up driver in the field was Danica Patrick, who finished in 16th position but was furious with Jay Howard, who twice appeared to run up the track and pinch her against the wall in a way that she clearly felt had come close to causing a dangerous accident. She was on the team radio telling the Andretti Autosport team that if Howard did it again she was going to sort him out – and it sounded like she meant it Richard Childress-style at that.

After a brief victory lane celebration for the #10, the cars returned to pit road so that the crews could start making the changes that the drivers wanted for the second, now-nighttime race while the drivers headed to the stage to perform the blind draw for their starting positions.

The night was only half done!

Race results

1. #10 Dario Franchitti 114 laps 54m 47.2787s Running
2. #9 Scott Dixon 114 laps + 0.0527s Running
3. #12 Will Power 114 laps + 0.2064s Running
4. #77 Alex Tagliani 114 laps + 0.4109s Running
5. #5 Takuma Sato 114 laps + 1.4174s Running
6. #6 Ryan Briscoe 114 laps + 1.4337s Running
7. #59 EJ Viso 114 laps + 2.1127s Running
8. #14 Vitor Meira 114 laps + 2.5355s Running
9. #38 Graham Rahal 114 laps + 2.8146s Running
10. #3 Helio Castroneves 114 laps + 4.3388s Running
11. #82 Tony Kanaan 114 laps + 4.7842s Running
12. #8 Paul Tracy 114 laps + 7.0114s Running
13. #26 Marco Andretti 113 laps + 1 laps Running
14. #19 Alex Lloyd 113 laps + 1 laps Running
15. #88 Jay Howard 113 laps + 1 laps Running
16. #7 Danica Patrick 113 laps + 1 laps Running
17. #22 Justin Wilson 113 laps + 1 laps Running
18. #67 Ed Carpenter 113 laps + 1 laps Running
19. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 113 laps + 1 laps Running
20. #06 James Hinchcliffe 113 laps + 1 laps Running
21. #2 Oriol Servia 112 laps + 2 laps Running
22. #24 Ana Beatriz 112 laps + 2 laps Running
23. #4 JR Hildebrand 112 laps + 2 laps Running
24. #27 Mike Conway 112 laps + 2 laps Running
25. #18 James Jakes 112 laps + 2 laps Running
26. #78 Simona de Silvestro 111 laps + 3 laps Running
27. #11 Davey Hamilton 109 laps + 5 laps Running
28. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 97 laps + 17 laps Running
29. #99 Wade Cunningham 92 laps Contact
30. #83 Charlie Kimball 91 laps Contact

Intermission: Race 2 qualifying draw

After the first of the two races at Texas Motor Speedway, the starting order for the second was made by a blind draw which saw Tony Kanaan start from pole and Dario Franchitti from 28th.

It might have been three decades since the last time IndyCar or its predecessors have run a double-header race event, but it’s absolutely the first tim that the starting grid for the second of the two races has been decided by lottery rather than by continuing with the finishing order of the first.

That led to the somewhat odd spectacle of the drivers coming up onto a temporary stage in reverse order of how they finished, to make a blind draw for their race 2 starting position. The way it worked was that the drivers were confronted by a wall of “tyres”, one of which they chose and spun round to reveal the grid number on the rear of it. In others words, this was IndyCar meets The Price is Right!

Charlie Kimball was first to make his choice and netted eighth place on the grid, and then Wade Cunningham selected his tyre and revealed number two on the back of it meaning he started from the outside of the front row of the grid. Tony Kanaan would go one better and was jubilant to net his easiest-ever pole position.

By the time the last three took to the stage, only one decent position was still up for grabs – and Will Power immediately stole it, meaning he would start form third. When Scott Dixon then took 18th place, it left Dario Franchitti trying to put a brave face on his worst case scenario – having to start form his worst-ever grid position of 28th while his chief championship rival had an almost assured win from the second row.

Qualifying order for race 2

1. #82 Tony Kanaan KV Racing Technology
2. #99 Wade Cunningham Sam Schmidt Motorsports
3. #12 Will Power Penske
4. #38 Graham Rahal Ganassi
5. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
6. #3 Helio Castroneves Penske
7. #14 Vitor Meira Foyt
8. #83 Charlie Kimball Ganassi
9. #06 James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas
10. #67 Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher
11. #34 Sebastian Saavedra Conquest
12. #6 Ryan Briscoe Penske
13. #88 Jay Howard Rahal/Schmidt
14. #8 Paul Tracy Dragon
15. #24 Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold
16. #77 Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt Motorsports
17. #2 Oriol Servia Newman/Haas
18. #9 Scott Dixon Ganassi
19. #19 Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne
20. #7 Danica Patrick Andretti Autosport
21. #4 JR Hildebrand Panther
22. #78 Simona de Silvestro HVM
23. #18 James Jakes Dale Coyne
24. #11 Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold
25. #5 Takuma Sato KV Racing Technology
26. #27 Mike Conway Andretti Autosport
27. #26 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport
28. #10 Dario Franchitti Ganassi
29. #59 EJ Viso KV Racing Technology
30. #22 Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold

Race 2: Luck of the draw gives Power Texas 2 win

Will Power pulled third place from the blind draw that decided starting positions the second race of the Firestone Twin 275 double header event, and put it to ideal use.

When Will Power finished race 1 in the heat of the late Texas day, he looked hot and bothered. But the moment he pulled out “3” in the blind draw setting starting positions for the second race of the night, he was bouncing around and celebrating as if he’d already won.

And the truth was that he pretty much had, especially when Scott Dixon pulled out “18” leaving Power’s key rival for the 2011 IndyCar title, Dario Franchitti, with the only remaining grid position not yet drawn – 28th place, virtually at the very back of one of the series’ largest grids outside of the Indy 500 in years. It didn’t help that he had used up his “push to pass” in race 1 holding off Dixon and Power for his win.

Power was also aided by the presence of Wade Cunningham ahead of him on the outside of the front row of the race 2 grid: Cunningham wasn’t just a rookie in his first ever weekend of IndyCar activity, he was also consigned to a backup car that he’d never driven before after he had managed to damage his race car (the same car piloted by Dan Wheldon to the dramatic Indy 500 victory two weeks ago) in an accident with Charlie Kimball in the first event of the evening.

Cunningham did the only thing he could do in the circumstances at the restart: and stayed well out of the way.

That left Kanaan taking off like the proverbial scalded cat with Power in hot pursuit after seeing off a challenge from the fast-starting Ryan Hunter-Reay, but further back the field compressed and went multi-wide as a consequence of the mixed-up order. That suited Power just fine, because stuck behind this road jam were the two Ganassi cars.

By contrast, Power quickly found himself supported by both of his Penske team mates, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe easily finding their way through to the front of the field while Hunter-Reay was engaged in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Graham Rahal.

Dixon was son also on the move through the field, but Dario – from ten places further back – was slower to gain positions, having added extra downforce during the interval in order to help handling through traffic as opposed to the open air of the lead that he had enjoyed in race 1. The difference in circumstances was clear, with Kanaan showing the inverse of the situation by running in the lead at the same sort of 213mph speeds that Franchitti could now but dream of attaining.

But Kanan in turn was no match for Power, and finally on lap 41 after a prolonged period of pressure Power finally managed to pull off the pass on the KV Racing Technology car and claim the lead for the first time in the evening. That meant Dixon and Kanaan led Castroneves and Briscoe, with Scott Dixon up to fifth place having got around Hunter-Reay and Rahal.

In a repeat of the pattern seen in race 1, JR Hildebrand and Danica Patrick were among the first cars to come in for their first pit stop of the evening around lap 45 – again, still well short of any hope of being able to run the full race distance of 114 laps without a further stop. Danica had been suffering from terrible understeer in the early laps of the race and had to continually lift, resulting in her being passed by both Mike Conway and EJ Vison in the course of lap 27 alone.

The main bulk of the field came in between laps 51 an 54, with Dario Franchitti one of the last to come in but still needing a hefty dose of yellow to have any hope of eking out his fuel – and given Ganassi’s recent history of fuel management, probably not too wise to press it to the absolutely limit in any case.

After the pit stops, it was a Penske lock-out at the front: Power still held the lead, with Helio and Ryan Briscoe his wing men in second and third holding off Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon; Dario Franchitti was still down in 15th place, not making the sort of progress he would have hoped for in the colder conditions of nighttime. By contrast, Marco Andretti had started alongside Dario on the grid in 27th and was not up in eighth place, a gain of 19 positions. Where Dario was struggling in traffic, Marco was conversely saying that the #26 was great in traffic but struggling in clear air – go figure.

Dixon was showing he was much faster than Power’s cohorts, closing the gap and passing both Penskes on lap 74, closing up on Power himself after the leader was held up by the about-to-be-lapped traffic of James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson running side-by-side ahead of him. But once Power finally broke through, he scampered away and disappeared, making the traffic work perfectly for him, while Dixon was suffering from having overworked his tyres to make up all those positions and was now struggling with a loose race car.

As the race entered its final 25 laps, there had been a complete absence of yellow flags and everyone was starting to have to consider when to make their final pit stop: early or late, tyres or no tyres? A mixture of strategies played out, but it turned into a disaster for Graham Rahal who pushed too far and ran dry, dropping down to the apron to crawl his way back to the pits – only to nearly get collected by Will Power who was moving to the apron to enter pit lane for his own scheduled stop on lap 106.

Fortunately Power’s reflexes were true and he avoided the slower car, pitted – and came back out in the lead, giving Dixon no sign of weakness on which to pounce on fresh tyres. And Rahal made it back to pit lane without triggered a caution, which was bad news for Franchitti who badly needed a yellow flag no matter how brief in order to close up the cars and give him a chance to make a strike for the front.

No caution came: in fact this was the first IndyCar race to ever run caution-free at Texas Motor Speedway (and the first caution-free IndyCar race since the 2009 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.) Franchitti had made it up to 15th place by lap 85 and pressed on to take seventh place by lap 114, but by then he had run out of laps to work with: the chequered flag was out, Power had won, and it meant a critical points advantage gained by the Aussie over the Scot in the IndyCar title battle.

Franchitti could have been forgiven for souring on the idea of a blind draw deciding the starting grid for race 2, but in truth the people with the most to complain about the format were the fans: the lottery did a brutally perfect job of spacing out the main title rivals through the field and meant that we never got a genuine on-track battle between them, which is what everyone really wanted to see. While the blind draw experiment was worth trying, it also clearly now needs fine-tuning: even a completely inverted starting order would be better and arguably more fun and fairer on all concerned, seeing all the race 1 leaders have to battle their way up from the back row in race 2.

“You could see it sort of trickling down with the draw that it wasn’t looking too good for us,” said Dixon afterwards. “Obviously, myself starting from 18th and Dario 28th, it’s a huge deficit when the competitor for the championship starts third and with not too much competition in front of him. ”

But splitting the former 550k long (and dull) endurance race into two short, almost sprint race-type affairs was a marked improvement and added genuine interest and space to proceedings, and the large crowd seemed to endorse the new format as a hit with fans.

And certainly Will Power had no complaints with finally managing to clinch his first ever oval win. “This means so much to me and the boys,” said Power. “We’ve been chasing this for so long. It was a fun race and great day. It was a good battle with Kanaan at the start and then Dixon came on strong. This is what we need for the championship!”

“The two-race format made things interesting and hopefully good for the fans,” agreed Marco Andretti. “It would have been nice to have had a better draw than starting 27th, but we were able to make up all the ground on the track we could,” he said, after falling back in the later stages of the race and had to settle for 13th place by the end.

Whether the twin-header will be back again next year at Texas – or any other venue come to that – remains to be seen.

Race results

1. #12 Will Power 114 laps 48m 08.9739s Running
2. #9 Scott Dixon 114 laps + 0.9466s Running
3. #6 Ryan Briscoe 114 laps + 4.6524s Running
4. #3 Helio Castroneves 114 laps + 9.5738s Running
5. #82 Tony Kanaan 114 laps + 14.3723s Running
6. #26 Marco Andretti 114 laps + 16.9488s Running
7. #10 Dario Franchitti 114 laps + 18.4374s Running
8. #7 Danica Patrick 114 laps + 18.5558s Running
9. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 114 laps + 21.7976s Running
10. #59 EJ Viso 114 laps + 24.0923s Running
11. #14 Vitor Meira 114 laps + 24.6397s Running
12. #5 Takuma Sato 113 laps + 1 laps 1.3842s Running
13. #8 Paul Tracy 113 laps + 1 laps 3.8160s Running
14. #77 Alex Tagliani 113 laps + 1 laps 3.8642s Running
15. #2 Oriol Servia 113 laps + 1 laps 4.1051s Running
16. #67 Ed Carpenter 113 laps + 1 laps 4.3280s Running
17. #27 Mike Conway 113 laps + 1 laps 4.8183s Running
18. #4 JR Hildebrand 113 laps + 1 laps 10.0966s Running
19. #06 James Hinchcliffe 113 laps + 1 laps 13.2919s Running
20. #88 Jay Howard 113 laps + 1 laps 13.8785s Running
21. #22 Justin Wilson 113 laps + 1 laps 17.0934s Running
22. #24 Ana Beatriz 113 laps + 1 laps 25.1956s Running
23. #83 Charlie Kimball 112 laps + 2 laps 6.3076s Running
24. #19 Alex Lloyd 112 laps + 2 laps 6.6572s Running
25. #11 Davey Hamilton 112 laps + 2 laps 14.2536s Running
26. #99 Wade Cunningham 112 laps + 2 laps 22.7651s Running
27. #78 Simona de Silvestro 111 laps + 3 laps 2.3193s Running
28. #18 James Jakes 111 laps + 3 laps 7.0898s Running
29. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 111 laps + 3 laps 9.5770s Running
30. #38 Graham Rahal 104 laps + 132.1385s Running

Championship standings

Pos Driver               Pts   Pos Driver               Pts
1.  Will Power          239    22. Sebastian Saavedra   72
2.  Dario Franchitti    218    23. Raphael Matos        67
3.  Scott Dixon         169    24. Ana Beatriz          67
4.  Oriol Servia        165    25. James Jakes          65
5.  Tony Kanaan         159    26. Dan Wheldon          59
6.  Ryan Briscoe        146    27. Sebastien Bourdais   44
7.  Graham Rahal        136    28. Paul Tracy           44
8.  Alex Tagliani       135    29. Ed Carpenter         39
9.  J.R. Hildebrand     125    30. Bertrand Baguette    30
10. Takuma Sato         118    31. Alex Lloyd           29
11. Marco Andretti      117    32. Tomas Scheckter      28
12. Vitor Meira         117    33. Jay Howard           27
13. Mike Conway         114    34. Davey Hamilton       26
14. Helio Castroneves   111    35. Simon Pagenaud       24
15. Danica Patrick      111    36. Townsend Bell        21
16. Simona de Silvestro 102    37. Buddy Rice           20
17. Justin Wilson       100    38. John Andretti        16
18. James Hinchcliffe    92    39. Pippa Mann           15
19. Charlie Kimball      89    40. Wade Cunningham      10
20. Ernesto Viso         88    41. Bruno Junqueira       4
21. Ryan Hunter-Reay     85

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race results

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

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

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

The sky was ablaze with a gorgeous Miami sunset, while on the track below the sparks were literally flying as the final race in the 2010 Indycar season got underway.

Scott Dixon dutifully tucked in behind the leader Dario Franchitti, but even by slipstreaming and adding a little push to his Ganassi team mate the two cars were in no position to break away from the field behind them, led by Will Power and Tony Kanaan. However, the big mover in the early laps was Helio Castroneves, up to 5th place by lap 20 having started in 10th: it looked like he was making it his mission to come to the aid of his Penske team mate Will Power at the front of the field in the pursuit of the championship.

But as Helio rose, Will was falling back having been rudely shut out of the top three by an assertive Kanaan, down as far back as 9th place by lap 33 while trying to get to grips with the situation. It was a reminder that with the sun setting and the track rapidly cooling, handling conditions were going to vary wildly all over the place and the winner was going to be the car – and the team – that could read the situation best and adapt quickest.

At the front, Dario was already dealing with lapped traffic, while behind him Scott Dixon was losing a duel with Kanaan for second when the first caution of the evening came out on lap 36 for Mario Moraes coming to a stop out on track, having previously been in the pits to try and correct a seriously loose car.

A yellow flag pit top was just what Penske needed at this point to try to get to resolve Will Power’s handling problems: he reported push in three and four, loose in one and two, a fearsomely difficult situation to find himself so early in proceedings. At the pit stops, Kanaan nearly came to grief getting away from his pit box when the car appeared to stutter and nearly stall as he sought to avoid the car pitted in front, leaving him boxed up behind other exiting cars and down to fifth place. He was replaced in second by Ryan Briscoe, which meant that for the first time tonight Dario had his rear view mirrors full of Penske team colours.

Briscoe was looking feisty, all over Dario and using push to pass to briefly claim the lead. Dario was playing cool, sticking to the inside line and daring Ryan to complete the pass – which he couldn’t, quite. And then a new caution was out after Ana Beatriz – having had trouble getting into gear at the restart – now lost the rear and took off up to the outside wall and hitting hard at turn 4. The seriously wrecked chassis slid down the incline to a halt below the white line moments later.

And so the race chalked up the completion of its first quarter under yellow. Few cars opted to pit – Simone de Silvestro, Alex Tagliani, a curiously underperforming Justin Wilson, Hideki Mutoh and Sarah Fisher being the exceptions as there was an outside chance of making it on two more stops from here. The leaders, however, all stayed out.

When the green came out, fierce battle for the lead was resumed between Franchitti and Briscoe, Dario once again holding the inside line to thwart Ryan time and again. But the fastest man on track was Tony Kanaan, who quickly dispatched Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves and flirted with going three-wide for the lead. Finally Dario could hold off Ryan no more and Briscoe was released, and Dario fell back – possibly to catch his breath, perhaps with tyres complaining about the punishment of that tight inside line. In fact the strain of taking the lead had also taken its toll on Briscoe, and he was soon passed by Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Meanwhile, where was Will Power? Back fighting over seventh place with Danica Patrick, the two of them coming worryingly close at times to making contact. But Will seemed to be finding his mojo, and soon was past not only Danica but also Dan Wheldon for sixth.

Back at the front, Dario was bouncing back, rapidly slipping past Briscoe and Dixon and then selling Kanaan a nice dummy to gain the inside line and retake the top spot on lap 73, soon pulling out a half second lead and showing a dominance that was new to the #10 tonight. The handling seemed to be coming back to him – and the same could be said for Will Power, who was getting better and better as this green flag stint wore on and was up to fourth place: the problem for him was that with Dario closing in on the bonus points for leading the most laps, then it would not matter what Power did if Dario was leading at the chequered flag.

As the race passed the 90 lap mark, Dan Wheldon and Ryan Briscoe were the first of the leaders to come in for green flag pit stops, the cars opting to take only as much fuel as they could put in while the tyres were being changed rather than putting in a full tank’s worth. Franchitti, Kanaan and Power all did the same when they came in for their stops a few laps later, and there was a brief scare out on track when a piece of refuelling hose was seen bouncing across the track apparently from EJ Viso’s car: fortunately it bounced into the grass and could be safely recovered without resorting to a caution.

With the race past half distance, Franchitti led Kanaan, Dixon, Power, Briscoe and Castroneves, in a much closer and fierce battle this year than the processional affair seen at the same venue in 2009: for one thing, Power was putting in the fastest laps now, and was gaining on the lead. The championship looked et to go all the way to very last lap.

Dario had problems closer to hand, with Kanaan pressing hard to take the lead. Franchitti was holding on for dear life, the milestone being the start of lap 118 at which point he could not be overtaken for laps led: two more crucial bonus points acquired, another item off the weekend’s to-do list ticked off. Now all he had to do was win this thing and he could call it a day: but things were still so tight that, should he lose the lead and drop to second, then Power’s fourth place was enough to clinch the title.

Lap 134 saw the next caution: and there was shock when it became clear the cause of the yellow was none other than Will Power himself, who had got up high when coming up to lap Ryan Hunter-Reay and ended up sliding up on the marbles and into the wall at turn 4. It seemed a light contact, glancing down the wall with multiple light contacts leaving rubber all down the outside wall, and initially it seemed that Power might just have escaped complete disaster with no damage visible on the right front suspension.

That’s because the damage was to the right rear instead: a rear wishbone had buckled, and it was clear when Power wasn’t able to enter the pit box cleanly without almost pinning his pit crew up against the wall that the car was badly affected. Will was told to cut the engine and the car was taken behind pit wall for the mechanics to get to work, five minutes work putting him five laps down in the process. And it wasn’t enough: after a couple of laps touring around under yellow, Power was back in to the pits reporting serious crabbing to the right. The car was taken back behind the wall and Power was out of the car to allow the mechanics access: this was a body blow. The type of disaster that decides championships.

Not that Dario had the title in his pocket: he was still behind Will in the points and would remain so unless and until he could get the car to the chequered flag without mishap. Dario’s task was made just that little bit easier still, by Tony Kanaan having a penalty handed down for leaving his pit with the fuel hose still engaged, knocking the crew over like skittles. That got him sent to the back of the lead lap, but as this was only eighth place and with Kanaan still in such a fast car, odds were he would be back near the front well before the end of proceedings.

With the race still under yellow – a delay going back to green caused by one of the lights indicating whether the pit lane was open needing attention in the meantime – the issue of fuel strategies was looming: come cars such as Vitor Meira, Danica, Tony Kanaan and others off the lead lap came in for top-ups, looking to lean out the fuel over the remaining fifty laps. But the top five – Franchitti, Dixon, Andretti, Castroneves and Wheldon – all stayed out and planned for a late splash and dash.

Marco Andretti was on the charge at the restart, quickly pulling up alongside Franchitti and challenging for the lead on the outside. When that didn’t work, he dropped to the inside – and pulled off the pass. Unsurprisingly, Dario no longer seemed to have the determination to hold on to the lead anymore: a good finish, anywhere in the top ten, would do just fine. No need to push it or take risks.

Dario had dropped back to fourth when the next caution came out on lap 166 for debris, a nice opportunity for everyone to come in to the pits for their final fuel stops, except those those had sneaked a crafty late top-up under the previous caution. The exception was Marco Andretti, who had burned up a lot of fuel taking the lead and who needed to join the likes of Franchtti and Briscoe in the pits. But Dixon, Castroneves, Kanaan, Danica, Wheldon and Vitor Meira all stayed out, risky as it could prove to be, and hence formed the top six at the restart. That meant Dario was eighth, only just above the tenth position he had to maintain to clinch the title even with Will Power back in pit lane.

The restart was waved off twice, causing consternation to those worried about fuel, but a rapid return to yellow on lap 175 seemed to put the fuel issue beyond further doubt. The caution was for Milka Duno spinning and hitting the wall – and she did it right in front of Dario Franchitti, who managed to miss her wrecking but who would have had championship thoughts flashing before his eyes. He’d dropped down to ninth at the back of the lead lap as as a result, and the whole thing was becoming agonisingly close and tight as Will Power could only watch on from the sidelines, willing some mishap to overtake his rival.

The final stint of the race: Dixon took off at the front, while Helio found himself unable to match the pace of Andretti Autosports team mates Kanaan and Patrick, who staged a side-by-side battle for second place for the remainder of the laps, Patrick showing more pace and aggression in these twenty laps than she had for the entire rest of the season: she deserved the position, and nipped Kanaan for second by 0.011s. But their private battle had given Scott Dixon all the time in the world to run away and hide, and he claimed an impressive race win for Ganassi.

And Franchitti? And the title? Dario was lurking well out of harm’s way, or so he hoped. He picked up an extra position when Dan Wheldon’s National Guard car hit problems and fell back through the field, but he had no inclination to go near anyone who could do him harm – like any of the remaining Penske boys. But Dario’s an experienced, canny old hand and he plotted his course carefully – the chequered flag came into sight, and it was over. Dario’s careful magical eighth had done the trick.

With Dario Franchitti champion for the third time in four years, and Scott Dixon winning the race, the final piece in Dario’s perfect day was relayed to him over the radio with news that cousin Marino Franchitti had won in the LMP2 class of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. All in all, Dario’s smile – tinged with a fair helping of relief – couldn’t have been broader or more heartfelt. Congrats, Dario!

And heartfelt commiserations to Will Power who would have been a well-liked, sentimental champion if not for that hit with the wall. So close, and yet not nearly close enough for the Aussie.

Race result

Pos  Driver               Team                    Time/Gap
 1.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi         1:52:08.5580s
 2.  Danica Patrick       Andretti           +  2.7587s
 3.  Tony Kanaan          Andretti           +  2.7698s
 4.  Ryan Briscoe         Penske             +  3.7827s
 5.  Helio Castroneves    Penske             +  5.3324s
 6.  Vitor Meira          Foyt               +  7.2126s
 7.  Marco Andretti       Andretti           +  8.3637s
 8.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi            + 11.1401s
 9.  Dan Wheldon          Panther            + 22.2521s
10.  Graham Rahal         Newman/Haas        +    1 lap
11.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti           +    1 lap
12.  Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne         +    1 lap
13.  Ed Carpenter         Panther/Vision     +    1 lap
14.  Alex Tagliani        FAZZT              +    1 lap
15.  Bertrand Baguette    Conquest           +    1 lap
16.  Sebastian Saavedra   Conquest           +    1 lap
17.  Raphael Matos        De Ferran Dragon   +    1 lap
18.  Takuma Sato          KV                 +    1 lap
19.  EJ Viso              KV                 +   2 laps
20.  Hideki Mutoh         Newman/Haas        +   2 laps
21.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold  +   2 laps
22.  Sarah Fisher         Sarah Fisher       +   3 laps
23.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                +   3 laps

Retirements:

Milka Duno    Dale Coyne        170 laps
Will Power    Penske            143 laps
Ana Beatriz   Dreyer & Reinbold  42 laps
Mario Moraes  KV                 25 laps

Championship standings

Pos Driver              Pts
1.  Dario Franchitti    602
2.  Will Power          597
3.  Scott Dixon         547
4.  Helio Castroneves   531
5.  Ryan Briscoe        482
6.  Tony Kanaan         453
7.  Ryan Hunter-Reay    445
8.  Marco Andretti      392
9.  Dan Wheldon         388
10. Danica Patrick      367
11. Justin Wilson       361
12. Vitor Meira         310
13. Alex Tagliani       302
14. Raphael Matos       290
15. Mario Moraes        287
16. Alex Lloyd          266
17. Ernesto Viso        262
18. Hideki Mutoh        250
19. Simona de Silvestro 242
20. Graham Rahal        235
21. Takuma Sato         214
22. Bertrand Baguette   213
23. Milka Duno          184
24. Mario Romancini     149
25. Mike Conway         110
26. Sarah Fisher         92
27. Paul Tracy           91
28. Ed Carpenter         90
29. Tomas Scheckter      89
30. Ana Beatriz          55
31. Jay Howard           44
32. John Andretti        35
33. Sebastian Saavedra   29
34. Adam Carroll         26
35. J.R. Hildebrand      26
36. Davey Hamilton       26
37. Francesco Dracone    24
38. Townsend Bell        18
39. Bruno Junqueira      13
40. Roger Yasukawa       12

A record eighth pole in a single season put Will Power at the head of the field as racing got underway at the 2.5 mile Infineon Racetrack better known as Sears Point in Sonoma County, California. His Penske team mate Helio Castroneves lined up in second, potentially a faithful rear gunner to protect Power from his most serious championship rival, Dario Franchitti, starting in third. Everything was set for Will Power to make a triumphant return to the place where, one year ago, a practice accident broke his back, came close to killing him, and seemed to have ended his IndyCar career: instead, the Aussie was determined to make Infineon pay him back by yielding to him and becoming the latest stepping stone on the way to the 2010 title.

The start was conspicuously badly handled by almost all concerned, with the leaders getting an early jump that strung out the field even before they rounded the corner to the green flag. The start should have been waved off as the two-by-two grid broke down, and the midfield lost touch with the front runners causing confusion and momentary panic as they tried to respond: back in 12th, Dan Wheldon joined the crowd using the push to pass and thought he’d cleared Bertrand Baguette running behind him, only to move over and clip the front of the Conquest car. That spun Wheldon to the left and the National Guard car rolled, crunched its nose into the wall, and landed upside down – skidding several meters down the road balanced precariously on its rollbar as the rest of the cars scattered to avoid the accident.

It was a slow speed incident, and with the strength of the chassis there was no harm done to Wheldon who was quickly flipped right side up and extricated by the marshalls, but he was comprehensively out of the race. Baguette wasn’t left particularly happy either, going off-track almost the minute the race went green again on lap 5, a sign that the contact with Wheldon had crunched the car’s steering.

The restart went somewhat more to plan, and Power led the race with Castroneves holding off a first corner attack from Franchitti. EJ Viso made an unexpected early pit stop to adopt a three-stop strategy and make an early change to red wall tyres, and Milka Duno was black flagged at the request of her team due to radio issues, but otherwise the race quickly settled down with no major changes of position until lap 16.

That’s when Alex Tagliani got jumped by Ryan Briscoe for fourth, which resulted in him losing momentum and ceding another position to Scott Dixon just seconds later. Next lap round and Tagliani also proved unable to hold back Justin Wilson, putting him down to 7th and struggling to hold off Ryan Hunter-Reay, the two nearly making contact. Finally Tagliani ran out of road and ploughed into the dust on lap 19, the car’s handling then seriously affected by a cut tyre which meant Tagliani was practically reversing through the field. He was lucky not to make contact with the other cars as they jockeyed for position streaming past him as he limped back to the pits.

While all this was going on further back down, Dario Franchitti finally made a successful move on Castroneves to claim second spot and line him up for an assault on his championship rival for the lead, and there was good news for Dario’s Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon as he got past Ryan Briscoe, who seemed to be struggling with tyre degradation as early as lap 21 and rapidly lost another place to Justin Wilson the following lap.

Those suffering handling issues were the first to pit, such as Castroneves who lost two positions to Scott Dixon and Justin Wilson in rapid succession. Those at the front making the tyres work for them at this point – Power, Franchitti, Dixon and Wilson – had a vital edge, Wilson making it to lap 27 before pitting, pretty much on the nose as far as race strategy went, while Simona de Silvestro was also making the tyres last and pitted the next time around – only to lose that good work struggling on the cold tyres on the first lap out of the pits and getting knocked into a spin by an impatient EJ Viso. Will Power and Dario Franchitti were the last to come in, but Power got the better of it – emerging in the lead again, while Franchitti emerged behind Marco Andretti in second and JR Hildebrand in fourth, both of whom were on a completely different pit strategy. More strikingly, Dario was also behind third-placed Ryan Briscoe, who had made that enforced early pit stop work for him in terms of track position.

Hildebrand was soon in on lap 33, just as the course went yellow for a spin and stall by Milka Duno. It was bad news for Marco, whose hand was forced into making a pit stop that put him to the back of the lead lap as the cars closed up behind the safety car. When the green flag came out again, Power led Briscoe, Franchitti, Dixon and Castroneves ahead of Wilson for the top six at lap 36, but the green only lasted a couple of laps before Marco – in a hurry to make up all that lost ground – lunged down the inside of turn 7, came in too hot and drifted wide through the apex ending up barging heavily into the side of JR Hildebrand. Marco was able to recover and continue, but Hildebrand was beached and stalled and needed roadside assistance to get underway again: he retired to the pits with a broken wishbone. Not that the incident chastened Marco at all, and he was soon seen banging wheels with Mario Moraes seemingly in an effort to barge past the KV car without compunction.

Power checked out at the restart on lap 41, with Franchitti and Dixon frustrated in their attempts to give chase by Ryan Briscoe in second lending spoiling support for his Penske team mate. By lap 50, Power had a colossal 5.3s lead over second place, with the same margin then covering the next places back to Ryan Hunter-Reay in seventh.

As they passed the 25-to-go mark, strategy became critical: who was going to chance an early stop and hope for a full course caution to pop them up to the front? Tony Kanaan took those odds on lap 52, pitting from ninth place and returning to the red wall supersoft tyres for his final stint; surprisingly, Dario Franchitti was in relatively early on lap 55, and even more shockingly he opted to stay on the harder black wall tyres rather than reverting to the red supersofts. Seemingly Ganassi were going for a strategy of safety first, ensuring the tyres would last to the end even if they would be too slow to chase down Power in the lead. Dixon was the last to pit, on lap 57, and he opted for the expected red wall tyres; he slotted back into the race in third place between Dario in second and Ryan Briscoe in fourth, Ganassi having neatly taken care of Briscoe through superior pit stop strategy and performance.

But Power still had a huge lead, and Ganassi had to decide on the best response: continue with Dario plodding around in second, no threat to the lead; or release Dixon on the faster but shorter-lived soft tyres and hope he had enough to catch and dispatch Power. They opted for the latter, but what they really needed was a full course caution to bunch everyone back together.

They got it on lap 65, when a four way battle between Bertrand Baguette, Takuma Sato, EJ Viso and Raphael Matos ended up squeezing Baguette in the middle, crumpling his front wing and parking him up against the wall. It would leave a six lap shoot out, with Power, Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe heading up the charge: Dixon threw everything he could into sticking with and piling the pressure on Power as they got back underway, but Power seemed unshakeable and completely in control as the laps counted down.

The race narrowly avoided a rapid return to yellow for a spin and stall by Hideki Mutoh, but there was an unnerving moment when the leaders arrived at the scene to find a safety vehicle parked at the outside of turn 7 and marshalls still on track having just refired Mutoh: it was arguably a risk too far to keep the race moving. There was also contact between Sato and Patrick at the same corner two laps later, but both cars were still moving and no such daring-do was needed there; and then Francisco Dracone spun in the final corner as the leaders entered the final lap, and the marshalls once again pushed their puck by sticking to local waved yellows rather than ruin the race spectacle.

The upshot was that Power stayed in command and crossed the finish line in first place ahead of Dixon, Franchitti a distant but save third having had no problem holding off Power’s team mates Briscoe and Castroneves. Overall though it was an excellent day for the Penske/Ganassi duopoly, with a perfect lock-out of the top five positions and Justin Wilson the best of the rest for Dreyer and Reinbold in sixth.

It’s Power’s fifth win of the season (Sao Paulo, St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen and Toronto being the others) and this third win from pole. And this win is crucial for Power – while he has a big points lead at this point, this is the last road race of the IndyCar season and now it’s ovals all the way – and Ganassi have the edge on those, while Power is yet to win on one. The 2010 title is far from decided just yet.

Race result

Pos  Driver               Team               Gap
 1.  Will Power           Penske             75 laps
 2.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi            + 0.7432s
 3.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi            + 6.6132s
 4.  Ryan Briscoe         Penske             + 7.8607s
 5.  Helio Castroneves    Penske             + 10.4594s
 6.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold  + 10.9095s
 7.  Tony Kanaan          Andretti           + 11.5246s
 8.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti           + 11.8938s
 9.  Graham Rahal         Newman/Haas        + 17.5019s
10.  Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne         + 18.2069s
11.  Mario Moraes         KV                 + 20.2411s
12.  Marco Andretti       Andretti           + 20.6759s
13.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                + 21.8239s
14.  Alex Tagliani        Fazzt              + 22.4858s
15.  Vitor Meira          Foyt               + 24.2879s
16.  Danica Patrick       Andretti           + 46.1339s
17.  Hideki Mutoh         Newman/Haas        + 1 lap
18.  Takuma Sato          KV                 + 1 lap
19.  EJ Viso              KV                 + 1 lap
20.  Francesco Dracone    Conquest           + 4 laps
21.  Raphael Matos        De Ferran Dragon   + 8 laps
22.  Milka Duno           Dale Coyne         + 8 laps

Retirements:

Bertrand Bagutte Conquest           65 laps
JR Hildebrand    Dreyer & Reinbold  38 laps
Dan Wheldon      Panther            0 laps

Championship standings

Pos Driver               Points
1.  Will Power           514
2.  Dario Franchitti     455
3.  Scott Dixon          419
4.  Ryan Briscoe         384
5.  Helio Castroneves    370
6.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     360
7.  Tony Kanaan          330
8.  Justin Wilson        290
9.  Marco Andretti       284
10. Dan Wheldon          269
11. Danica Patrick       259
12. Alex Tagliani        244
13. Raphael Matos        241
14. Mario Moraes         240
15. Vitor Meira          235
16. Ernesto Viso         215
17. Alex Lloyd           207
18. Simona de Silvestro  196
19. Hideki Mutoh         192
20. Takuma Sato          164
21. Graham Rahal         159
22. Bertrand Baguette    150
23. Mario Romancini      149
24. Milka Duno           136
25. Mike Conway          110
26. Tomas Scheckter      63
27. Paul Tracy           61
28. Sarah Fisher         53
29. John Andretti        35
30. Ana Beatriz          33
31. Jay Howard           32
32. Adam Carroll         26
33. J.R. Hildebrand      26
34. Francesco Dracone    24
35. Ed Carpenter         20
36. Townsend Bell        18
37. Sebastian Saavedra   15
38. Davey Hamilton       14
39. Bruno Junqueira      13

On a day of controversy in Formula 1 motor sport, it seems IndyCar wanted a bite of the headlines in Monday’s sporting press as well by throwing up its own disputed result in the dying minutes of the Edmonton event.

As the race got underway on the converted airstrip temporary “street” circuit in Edmonton for the second leg of IndyCar’s Canadian mini-season, Will Power led team mate Helio Castroneves ahead of Ganassi duo Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. Milka Duno – put on probation this week by the IRL series for consistently failing to achieve acceptable pace – spun out even as the green flag was still waving, while a lap later Paul Tracy managed to knock Raphael Motos into a spin and a quick trip across the grass. Fortunately neither incident brought out a caution, Matos able to limp back to the pits for a change of tyres after acquiring a puncture in the incident. Tomas Scheckter was another premature visitor to pit road, coming in on lap 10 to replace his front wing and losing a lap on the leaders in the process.

As pit stops loomed around lap 34, Will Power was running serenely problem-free in the lead, but some confusion handling lapped traffic cost the Ganassi duo dear when Ryan Briscoe got the jump on them both to make it a potential podium lock-up for Penske. Further back, Paul Tracy pulled off a typically strong-arm move on Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato to briefly climb into the top ten before pitting moments later.

The pit stops were trouble-free for almost everyone, the Ganassi duo managing to eke out a lap more fuel use than the other leaders before coming in on lap 35. Once the stops had cycled through, Power was still in charge ahead of Castroneves and Briscoe, with Dixon, Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay filling out the rest of the top six.

Justin Wilson hit problems shortly after the pit stops, a broken right rear shock absorber sending him spinning. After pitting for repairs, he was soon back in again after the left rear shock appeared to go the same way showing how incredibly rough and bumpy this temporary circuit was, and what wear and tear it was inflicting on the cars. Dan Wheldon also reported a broken shock on the team Twitter feed. Meanwhile Danica Patrick – never a natural street course racer – ended up going for a country drive across the grass after trying a weak move down the inside of Bertrand Baguette on lap 39, but eventually recovered to the tarmac.

The first full course caution came out on lap 46 for Alex Lloyd, who had spun and stalled on the grass. It came at the perfect time for Marco Andretti who had been labouring with a damaged front wing that had just got dramatically worse, causing him to nearly trigger a midfield pile-up as frustrated drivers behind tried to charge past him. The yellow allowed him to pit for repairs, but the rest of the field stayed out – a midrace stop not working with any race strategy anyone could devise.

The race went green on lap 51 and almost immediately went back to a full course caution when Simone de Silvestro – so impressive so far this weekend, qualifying and running in seventh – got shunted into the tyre wall at turn 1 by EJ Viso, who then almost took out his team mate Paul Tracy on the rebound. Tracy pulled off the pass on Viso instead and found himself up in a very comfortable seventh place as the caution flags were deployed. Viso got handed a penalty for causing the accident which dumped him down to tenth place.

The restart came on lap 54, and lasted no longer than the previous attempt: Tony Kanaan and Alex Tagliani battled for a corner and made light contact which went Tag into a power spin that sent up clouds of rubber smoke that ironically contributed to his downfall: blinded, Mario Romancini had no way of seeing what he needed to avoid and ended up ploughed into the recovering Tagliani, seriously damaging both cars and putting them out of the race. Kanaan’s car looked unharmed by the initial contact, however, and he continued in 12th.

Now it was lap 58, tantalisingly close to the lap 60 milestone that would allow the cars to pit and make it to the end of the race, but still everyone held their nerve and stayed out. This time the restart was successful and we were properly back to green flag racing, and it immediately proved costly to Ryan Briscoe who lost both the spots he had gained from the Ganassi boys earlier in the race, while just behind Ryan Hunter-Reay fell to Paul Tracy and lost sixth place to the local favourite.

Now pit stop strategy became paramount: Takuma Sato tried a cheeky early final stop on lap 63, with Hunter-Reay and Paul Tracy coming in over the course of the next five laps, hoping that a caution might close up the field and leave them at the front when everyone else pitted under yellow. But there’s never a full-course caution when you really, really want one and by lap 75 when the leaders came in for their own final stops, nothing had materialised.

That meant the race went into its final stage with the order pretty much as it had been from the start: Power, Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe, with Tracy now up to an impressive sixth place having started 15th. But just when it seemed that Penske were giving Will Power a red carpet to the chequered flag, Helio Castroneves pounced with 19 laps to go: taking advantage of their coming up on traffic, and with Power on the harder tyres and having already used his push-to-pass and needing to wait out the reset time, Helio pulled off an exemplary, safe and smooth pass to take the lead, only the third driver of the day to assume control of the race. Now Dixon was shaping up to take a shot at Power: like Helio he was on the grippier but shorter-life red wall tyres and clearly fancied his chances. But after an initially fast sprint the tyres seemed to fade and inconsiderate traffic got in the way – Dixon slipped back again, the moment seemingly past.

Just when the afternoon appeared a done deal, Simona de Silvestro – who was still running in 11th despite her earlier misfortune – suddenly slowed up and came to a halt out on the grass, seemingly out of fuel, and this caused a final full course caution to come out. There would be a three lap dash for the chequered flag at the restart, and so there was still everything to play for.

Will Power was still smarting at being overtaken by his team mate, and threw everything into an attempt to put the matter to rights. He mounted a strong charge going into turn 1, but Helio ran wide to just squeeze him out. Scott Dixon watched all this unfold before him, and he was alive to the opportunity: he lunged down the inside and slipped in between the two Penske cars in second, but not quite able to take Castroneves in the same move. He would have to settle for second, but that would do nicely.

And then a shock penalty was handed down from race control: Castroneves had moved from the designated line into the corner, and the move was deemed to be illegal blocking. He was handed a drive-thru penalty which handed Dixon the lead and the victory. To say that Helio was incandescent was to understate matters. He went storming off to find someone to berate and was intercepted by security, a huge man who dwarfed the tiny Brazilian – but that didn’t stop Helio, who gripped the security guy’s lapels looking on the verge of throwing a punch at the slightest provocation. To their credit the security team kept smiling, and let the Helio supernova burn itself out, but there was still steam coming out of Castroneves’ ears when he gave an interview to the waiting TV crew, threatening to talk to his lawyers in a sarcastic throwback to the legal problems that threatened to derail his motor racing career for good in 2009.

After a strained pause while everyone waited to find out what was going on, Dixon accepted the victory in a slightly low key celebration. He’d had the ideal seat to see the “blocking” that Castroneves was accused of, and seemed not exactly completely convinced: all the commentators and pundits, meanwhile, were speechless at the ruling and failed to see any offence as they poured over the replays of the incident from all the available angles.

Race result

Pos  Driver             Team               Gap
 1.  Scott Dixon        Ganassi            95 laps
 2.  Will Power         Penske             + 2.6688s
 3.  Dario Franchitti   Ganassi            + 3.2831s
 4.  Ryan Briscoe       Penske             + 8.8652s
 5.  Ryan Hunter-Reay   Andretti           + 11.1482s
 6.  Paul Tracy         KV                 + 11.9091s
 7.  Mario Moraes       KV                 + 16.9015s
 8.  EJ Viso            KV                 + 18.2206s
 9.  Takuma Sato        KV                 + 21.5880s
10.  Helio Castroneves  Penske             + 42.6011s
11.  Marco Andretti     Andretti           + 1 lap
12.  Tony Kanaan        Andretti           + 1 lap
13.  Raphael Matos      De Ferran Dragon   + 1 lap
14.  Bertrand Baguette  Conquest           + 1 lap
15.  Danica Patrick     Andretti           + 1 lap
16.  Vitor Meira        Foyt               + 2 laps
17.  Hideki Mutoh       Newman/Haas        + 2 laps
18.  Alex Lloyd         Dale Coyne         + 3 laps
19.  Tomas Scheckter    Dreyer & Reinbold  + 5 laps
20.  Dan Wheldon        Panther            + 5 laps
21.  Justin Wilson      Dreyer & Reinbold  + 7 laps

Retirements:

Simona de Silvestro     HVM                87 laps
Alex Tagliani           Fazzt              52 laps
Mario Romancini         Conquest           52 laps
Milka Duno              Dale Coyne         4 laps

IndyCar championship standings

Pos Driver               Pts
1   Will Power           420
2   Dario Franchitti     370
3   Scott Dixon          349
4   Ryan Briscoe         324
5   Ryan Hunter-Reay     316
6   Helio Castroneves    305
7   Tony Kanaan          291
8   Justin Wilson        251
9   Marco Andretti       244
10  Dan Wheldon          243
11  Danica Patrick       234
12  Vitor Meira          205
13  Raphael Matos        203
14  Mario Moraes         203
15  Alex Tagliani        194
16  Ernesto Viso         193
17  Alex Lloyd           170
18  Hideki Mutoh         167
19  Simona de Silvestro  155
20  Mario Romancini      149
21  Takuma Sato          144
22  Graham Rahal         125
23  Bertrand Baguette    119
24  Milka Duno           112
25  Mike Conway          110
26  Tomas Scheckter      63
27  Paul Tracy           61
28  Sarah Fisher         53
29  John Andretti        35
30  Ana Beatriz          33
31  Ed Carpenter         20
32  Jay Howard           20
33  Townsend Bell        18
34  Sebastian Saavedra   15
35  Adam Carroll         14
36  Davey Hamilton       14
37  Bruno Junqueira      13




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