Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is not a circuit that often brings the best out of the IndyCar Series. It is a sports car course after all. Over the last thirty years, a number of the races run at the track have been less than spectacular and while Round 12 of the 2010 IndyCar Series will not go into the history books as a stunning event, there was enough going on to keep one excited.
Certainly, Dario Franchitti will be happy following the 85-lap tour around the circuit. In order to keep any hope of a third IndyCar title alive, the Scot needed a win to close in on Penske driver and series leader Will Power – and he did just that, albeit not by much.
Power by no means made it easy for the Ganassi driver either. Starting from pole position, the Aussie jumped straight into the lead off the start, while fellow front row starter Franchitti slipped behind the quick starting Takuma Sato. The KV racer and former-F1 driver did well to hold his own amongst the “traditional” front runners, but an on-fire Franchitti was not going to be held back as the Scot pulled off a move for 2nd spot on the back stretch come the 4th lap, leaving the Japanese veteran to be preyed upon by Scott Dixon.
Sato was not the only rookie to get off the start well – HVM racer Simona de Silvestro jumped up two places from the start, giving the ‘Swiss Miss’ a handy eighth spot behind Briscoe.
Not all overtakes were going to be successful though – a lowly starting Tony Kanaan attempted to banzai passed several cars on the opening lap, but only succeeded in sending himself a long way wide at turn 4, before rejoining. Kanaan would continue to circulate before deciding to pit on the tenth lap – a risky strategy, but as he was stuck in traffic, the Brazilian had little to lose.
Things were faring a little better for Andretti-Autosport team mate, Ryan Hunter-Reay. The winner at Long Beach had poor start, dropping to 7th (from 4th), but had soon found found a way through the Penske’s of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves to take him back into the top five by the fifth lap.
In the midpack, Mario Moraes passed the FAZZT racing car driven by Alex Tagliani for 14th position. Moraes, who has had a poor season so far, had a horrible morning, when ran into three crew members in his pitbox, injured his fuel man and two tyre changes during the warm-up session.
Tagliani, being slowed by the pack traffic, dived into the pits at the end of the 21st lap – and proved to be a master stroke for the Canadian. Within two laps of pitting, EJ Viso and Justin Wilson clashed in turn 4, bringing out the first full course caution – as the field bunched up, nearly all opted to pit and suddenly Tagliani found himself at the head of the pack having already fuelled and changed to new tyres.
While the rest of the pack trundled around behind the safety car, an angry Wilson and Viso gesticulated wildly – each blaming the other for the accident. Realistically this was down to Viso – as they approached the busy fourth corner, Wilson placed himself on the inside of the Venezuelan, who then drifted toward the apex taking both out in the process. A silly mistake and one Viso should have learned to avoid by now. Ironically, a similar crash befell Wilson in qualifying when he was taken out by Briscoe; an accident that required the Englishman to wear bandages on his hand for the race.
With the pitlane busy, pressure was soon on and for Sato, it was too much – following a promising early stint, the KV driver stalled his car, dropping him to 11th place. Dixon also had a poor stop – the twice Champion would fall to 10th spot.
Amazingly in the rush to get out quickly saw several cars bump into eachother quite hard; the most obvious was Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves as they tangled fiercely exiting the pitlane. Both were at fault, but their moves to get as quickly as possible almost had a calamitous effect on Briscoe’s race as well when a rebounding Hunter-Reay very nearly removed the number 6 Penske from the action. One can be certain that Penske have had better pitstops, as even Power lost out to Franchitti coming out of the box.
Meanwhile, the Andretti-Autosport driver would pit again a lap later for a new front wing and a suspension check, leaving at the rear of the pack.
The race went back to green at the beginning of lap 29 with Tagliani out front ahead of (the already pitted) Kanaan, Franchitti and the three Penske’s. The battle remained fierce between the red, white and black cars with Castroneves sending one down the inside of Briscoe for 5th spot and while Castroneves was successful in his move, Sato failed miserable in his attempt to pick off Dixon.
Coming from a far long way behind, the KV rookie dive bombed down the inside of Dixon into turn 4 (again). It was a moment of pure red mist as Sato attempted to pick up lost positions, but the 33-year-old only succeeded in heavily locking his tyres before sliding off course and slamming into the barriers. Sato was fine, but his car was not – race over and safety car number two was out.
It would be four laps before the green came out again and Tagliani surged out ahead of Kanaan. At this point, Kanaan leaned back his mixture to try to stretch his fuel mileage and it was working; however it was also putting the Andretti-Autosport in danger of dropping behind third place Franchitti.
The threat was shortlived – on lap 35 in the lower echelons of the pack, IndyCar débutante JR Hildebrand tried an adventurous moved on Jay Howard for 22nd position, putting the Sarah Fisher Racing driver out in the process. Full course caution – again. Howard would be restarted, but was pulled in after a couple of laps with too much damage to his suspension. Hildebrand was certainly having a tough first race in the Series, but it will be interesting to see what he has learned when he gets to Sonoma in two weeks time for his second event.
This time the caution is short with greens back out lap 37. Tagliani repeats his previous and pulls out a fine lead over the chasing Kanaan and while Kanaan had nothing for Tagliani at this stage, there was certainly lots going on behind them. A rather quiet Bertrand Baguette was impressing many with a silent run into the top 11, passing former champion Dan Wheldon along the way, while just behind Raphael Matos made easy work of Graham Rahal for 13th spot – both would continue to have good runs through the race.
Kanaan finally blinked on lap 44 – the Brazilian had leaned out his fuel as much as possible, dragging his tank to over thirty laps with lots of slow running in between. It dropped the Andretti-Autosport driver to 21st place and it would be a struggle for the rest of the run.
With the green-and-white road block removed from his nose, Franchitti closed in on race leader Tagliani, all the while applying the pressure, all the time looking for a way passed, only to have all avenues closed off. The Penske trio still ran behind the front pair (still led by Power), with de Silvestro sitting on the edges of the top six.
Come lap 53, the pit crews emerged back into their boxes as they prepared to receive their drivers for the final stops of the day and where Tagliani ably held off Franchitti on track, he couldn’t do it through pit strategy. The Canadian driver stopped on the 57th tour and would lose out not just to Franchitti, but also to Power and Castroneves.
All three extended their runs by three (Castroneves, lap 60) or four laps (Franchitti and Power, lap 61) and the run in clear was enough to get the trio out ahead of the FAZZT driver. It could have been a close run thing thanks to serial backmarker Milka Duno. Together the Ganassi driver and both Penske’s attempted to lap the Dale Coyne driver approaching the final turn; however the Venezuelan managed to not only baulk Franchitti and Power, but actually hit the side of Castroneves – just another example of Duno’s severe lack of awareness in a racing car.
Within three laps, Duno also managed to side-swipe Danica Patrick while the part-time NASCAR driver was putting a lap on CITGO-sponsored car.
Another driver having a difficult weekend was Graham Rahal. The Newman-Haas driver had actually topped practice on Friday, but the event had turned sour since then. Starting a lowly 25th, the 21-year-old ran much of the race around 20th position, but his dire weekend was topped off when he shot off the track at turn 4, lightly grazing the barriers. Rahal was able to continue, but the incident marked another point in a forgetful weekend.
Just as the race was beginning to settle into a post-pitstop rhythm, Francesco Dracone spun into the kitty litter, bringing out the safety crew and the full course caution on the 64th lap. It was short and sweet with the race restarting at the beginning of lap 67, but within one tour of the course, Duno as it got going and Dracone spun once again – on the start/finish straight. Another safety car period for a further three laps.
While short, the stint was long enough to see Dixon pass de Silvestro for 6th and Matos grab 9th place fro Baguette.
Dixon and Matos were not ready to leave it that however. As soon as the race restarted at the beginning of lap 71, Dixon removed Briscoe of 5th and Matos stole positions from both Andretti and de Silvestro to garner 7th place for himself. Even Hunter-Reay got in on the act with moves on Wheldon, Moraes and Baguette, bringing the American up to 10th position.
With ten laps remaining, Franchitti was leading from Power, Castroneves, Tagliani, Dixon and Briscoe, but while most seemed prepared to toil around single file once again, Power launched one final attack on Franchitti.
As the laps ticked down, Power was never more than one second behind Franchitti and the gap was often less than half-a-second; only a few car lengths, but with minimal passing spots, even Will Power could not find a way through regardless of how much pressure he applied.
The Australian tailed the Scot through every turn of the course, dodging around in the background, looking for a way to distract the Ganassi driver, yet Franchitti had Power covered all the way to the line – just. Only for a brief moment did Power have a real opportunity – most of the way around the final lap, Franchitti stuck a wheel on the grass as he powered down the backstraight – here was Power’s last chance… only for the Penske to do the same. Game over.
Thanks to Power’s last second error, the win belonged to Dario Franchitti; but it was taken by only 0.5 of-a-second, the third closest finish on a road course in IRL history. This also marked Franchitti’s 25th victory in IndyCar history, putting joint 12th in the winner’s leaderboard with the legendary Gordon Johncock.
All the same, it’s unlikely Power would be too disappointed with runner-up spot, as it means Franchitti can only take ten points out of his 51 point lead in the title hunt.
Castroneves and Dixon secured 3rd and 5th respective and both must now be certain that their Championship hopes are done for this season. They squeezed a delighted Alex Tagliani in 4th spot – it’s the best result so far for the new team and Tagliani also picked up a two-point bonus for most laps led. Ryan Briscoe swept 6th spot, but the Australian may be somewhat worried about his long term future with Penske now that he finds himself over one-hundred points behind Power.
Raphael Matos and Simona de Silvestro picked up positive results with 7th and 8th, especially for Matos who started a lowly 19th spot. Marco Andretti drove a fairly anonymous race to 9th ahead of team mate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, while Bertrand Baguette and Mario Moraes rounded out the top 12.
Race Rating: 3 out of 5
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1h54m32.2568s 2. Will Power Penske + 0.5234s 3. Helio Castroneves Penske + 4.0883s 4. Alex Tagliani Fazzt + 5.6423s 5. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 5.9150s 6. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 6.5100s 7. Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon + 6.7518s 8. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 10.1451s 9. Marco Andretti Andretti + 10.9555s 10. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 13.2344s 11. Bertrand Baguette Conquest + 14.8260s 12. Mario Moraes KV + 16.0461s 13. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne + 16.5570s 14. Dan Wheldon Panther + 19.3518s 15. Vitor Meira Foyt + 20.0782s 16. JR Hildebrand Dreyer & Reinbold + 20.2169s 17. Tony Kanaan Andretti + 25.4286s 18. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas + 26.5918s 19. Adam Carroll Andretti + 27.3302s 20. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas + 27.6341s 21. Danica Patrick Andretti + 28.2099s 22. Francesco Dracone Conquest + 3 laps 23. Milka Duno Dale Coyne + 4 laps Retirements: Jay Howard Sarah Fisher 38 laps Takuma Sato KV 28 laps EJ Viso KV 22 laps Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 22 laps
2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Standings (Round 12) 1. Will Power Penske 461 points 2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 420 3. Scott Dixon Ganassi 379 4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 352 5. Helio Castroneves Penske 340 6. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Autosport 336