Going in the fourteenth round of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship, it looked like Will Power had the title by the scruff of the neck. How quickly things can change…
The Australian – driving for the powerful Penske squad – went into the race with a 59 point advantage over Ganassi driver, Dario Franchitti, but left the Windy city with only a 23 point advantage. Of course it could have so different – as Franchitti surged to the lead at the tail end of the race, Power was not far behind, only to be let down by a malfunction on his fuel system during his final stop. The series leader found himself needing a “splash-and-dash” – an extra pitstop that left him far down the order.
The second Penske pilot, Helio Castroneves suffered a long stop early in race; something from which he also did not fully recover.
One could argue that this race equally belonged to Ryan Briscoe – another of the other Penske talents. Briscoe, picked up his third pole of the year on Friday night and led 130 laps, before more pit issues shuffled him down the order.
So good was Briscoe that the Australian held his own from the initial drop of the green flag; although Castroneves, Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Power and Dan Wheldon pushed him hard in the opening stint. Admittedly, the opening stint lasted only a matter of five laps as birthday boy Raphael Matos and series returnee Tomas Scheckter were collected following spins by both Alex Lloyd and Power. Matos and Scheckter were out on the spot – indeed the son of the 1979 F1 World Champion was none too pleased about the situation indicating that “…for someone to hit you from behind on one of these big tracks that early on, is uncalled for, but that’s what you get with some of these guys…”
It was also quite a moment from Power as he caught the Penske in a masterful fashion, ensuring that he could continue. Lloyd on the other hand burned his tyres badly in the spin and needed to pit under caution conditions – he was joined by de Simona de Silvestro, Alex Tagliani, Justin Wilson, Vitor Meira, Davey Hamilton, Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno.
As the green flag dropped on lap 15 Briscoe led from Andretti, Franchitti, Castroneves and Wheldon. Behind this leading pack, Ed Carpenter was making his presence felt. The American was driving only his second race of the season following the dissolution of Vision Racing last winter and was certainly proving a point to the field – starting from 11th position, Carpenter was 8th by the restart and even started mixing with top 5 for much of the race.
In the midst of this, Andretti-Autosport pair, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay found themselves fighting over the tail end of the top ten with KV Racing’s, Takuma Sato – sadly for Sato, he would find himself having to pit early on lap 37, leaving him mired down the order.
Sato’s team mate Mario Moraes was also having a decent run. Both Sato and Moraes have come in for a lot of criticism this year for some unruly driving, but in the early part of the race, they had found their way up the field and were determined to climb even higher.
One driver who seemed to be going backwards was England’s Jay Howard. Driving for Sarah Fisher’s small home run team, the 2006 Indy Lights Champion has struggled this year and even missed this years Indy 500 when he was bumped out on the final qualifying day. Things were not going well at Chicagoland either – having qualified last, the Briton was running near the back of the pack when he had to pit on lap 31 for throttle issues.
It would be a further 23 laps before the rest of the field began to pit, starting with Andretti and Graham Rahal. Within five tours of Chicagoland, the remaining runners had made their run for new tyres and more fuel at least once.
At this point Wheldon and Castroneves had slow stops that dropped them down the order, but neither were met with Tagliani’s misfortune. The Canadian stayed out longer than the main field (having stopped early on); however it was a little too long – the driver of the FAZZT machine ran his fuel tank dry as he pulled into the slow lane, causing his Honda-powered Dallara to grind to a halt. Tagliani would be restarted, but would find himself well out of contention.
Lloyd would also find himself in trouble. The 25-year-old peeled off into the pits on the 69th lap from a solid 6th position with clutch issues – Lloyd would eventually go out and keep running, but never reached those heights again.
Not that any of this concerned the leaders – it was just one less challenger. In fact, Andretti’s only mission was to catch the leader. For lap after lap, the Andretti-Autosport driver would get closer, but could never seem to make a move stick. Resigned to having to try moves around the outside, the Dallara engines found themselves maxed out; although Andretti led over the line once, generally Briscoe held the advantage when it mattered.
It was constantly close though; each time around the duo were barely separated by 0.01 of-a-second – fascinating stuff, but it signposted clearly that even on a fiercely competitive oval like Chicagoland, overtaking was proving to be extremely difficult.
All of this was nullified on lap 78 when former Indy Lights runner, Ana Beatriz white-walled her Dreyer & Reinbold machine. Beatriz would pit immediately and was initially given the all-clear, but would be called in ten laps later to retire.
In the meantime, out came the full course yellows and in came the field to pit, bar Sarah Fisher. With Fisher running in the pack for much of the race, the team hoped an off kilter strategy may gain them spots when they eventually reached the chequered flag – for now, the 29-year-old from Ohio had the lead and was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Takuma Sato is probably wishing he stayed out too. As his crew finished servicing his KV Racing car, team mate EJ Viso drove into the side of Sato as he was about to leave, spinning the Japanese driver around and destroying suspensions on both cars. It was not the first time two KV cars eliminated themselves with foolish blunders – one wonders if any of the current three drivers will in the team come next season. This time, it was all down to Viso and Sato had every reason to be frustrated: “…after the pitstop, I exit(ted) the box, unfortunately my teammate came in and hit me. (…) it’s just unnecessary.”
Their were other blunders too – Hideki Mutoh was sent out of his Newman-Haas pit with a poorly attached left front wheel. This came loose and was clear of the car before Mutoh returned to track leaving the Japanese driver to crawl back to the pits for a replacement wheel.
It wasn’t all calamity in the pitlane – having dropped back to 11th place, Franchitti was propelled back up the order with some stunning pit work. The double IndyCar Series Champion now found himself back in the top five.
Come lap 86, the green waved again, but it was almost unnecessary. Before it had a chance to flutter in the wind, the yellows returned when Tagliani found himself shoved into the awaiting walls, when Meira hit the back of Mutoh who in turn rammed Tagliani. While Meira continued with a new front wing, Mutoh had also picked up too much damage and was out of his car – an early end to a difficult day.
The green finally flew at the start of lap 90 and while Fisher led valiantly for a few laps, she would eventually be swallowed up by Briscoe, but in 2nd place Fisher held her own marvellously. For the next 15 laps, the Iowa-born lady would not be displaced from her 2nd position – for an age, Franchitti, Andretti, Moraes and Carpenter all tried to force the issue by going two and sometimes even three-wide into the turns, but Fisher would not budge. Power also sat behind, just biding his time.
It was not to last though as first Andretti and then Power stole precious positions from Fisher before she had to pit – it was a worthwhile gamble, but it simply hadn’t worked. Pitting under green flag conditions on an oval is a perilous result to an alternate strategy and one that tends to leave drivers laps adrift of the lead if it goes awry – Fisher would leave the pits in 20th place.
With Andretti and Power now in free air, they pulled right up to the leading Penske – it was blatantly clear the cars sitting in a draft were picking up 2-3 mph more that the cars in single air, making catching Briscoe easy. Unfortunately, once Power and Andretti were behind Briscoe, they too found it incredibly difficult to get by the Australian – yet another stalemate.
Up front the leading trio bogged down, Carpenter brought himself back into the mix and while none could quite match Briscoe, the on track fight between Carpenter, Power and Andretti became intense. Seemingly with each lap they swapped positions and exchanged spots in the road, whether it single, double or three-wide, they gave it their all – until lap 136. As fuel counters ran down to nought, the pits opened and the battlefield moved once again.
The timing was impeccable and the luck cruel – while others surged forward with perfect pit procedures, but for Carpenter and Moraes, good fortune abandoned them. While Moraes was self inflicted – he took his KV Racing machine over the speed limit line a little too quickly – Carpenter and his crew suffered from rustiness. Moraes would take a drive through penalty three laps later, while a very slow tyre stop dropped Carpenter down the order and out of contention.
The American would be further hindered when it transpired his fuel line had not given him the correct amount of fuel – Carpenter returned to the pits on lap 141 for another stop. If his day wasn’t over beforehand, it certainly was now.
Briscoe’s stop wasn’t up to scratch either – a poorer effort from his crew and suddenly the Australian found himself on the fringes of the top 6 with fellow Penske man, Castroneves – it would be the unraveling of Roger Penske’s day at Chicagoland. With Briscoe absent, Wheldon assumed the lead in National Guard sponsored Panther machine – Power and Hunter-Reay followed in his tracks, but could not get by the 2005 Indy 500 winner. Marco Andretti – who had also been the recipient of poor pit practice, would also join the fight for the lead, but would have to needle his way by Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon to do it.
One driver who was not going to make any further was HVM pilot, Simona de Silvestro. The ‘Swiss Miss’ slowly crept down pit land and extracted herself from her car – day over.
With one-quarter of the race remaining, the lead was still separated by mere thousandths-of-a-second – Power, Andretti and Wheldon, all side-by-side, unwilling to give up the front as Hunter-Reay dropped back towards 5th place Dixon; Wheldon, though was beginning to run shy of precious “push-to-pass” engine boosts.
This battle, like all others, was to be nullified on 170th lap. Alex Lloyd, having an already difficult day, lost control of Dale Coyne machine on the exit of turn 4 with tyres smoking and grass bound – another full course caution, the field pit for the final time.
As the leading group left their pit boxes and fed back onto circuit, there was a very different look to the order. Dario Franchitti and his crew, still on relatively fresh tyres, decided to leave on the old rubber – the quicker stop propelled the Scot into the lead from 8th place, with championship leader Power just behind. This could be an epic finish between the two leading title contenders…
…or it might have been had Power received all his fuel. The Australian would eventually make his final stop on lap 194. Another driver to fall away was Carpenter; the American pulled into his pitstall to retire, as mechanical gremlins ended his day prematurely.
The race restarted on lap 178 and while Franchitti nursed his lead, Wheldon sneaked passed Power for 2nd place. More frantic action followed suit, as Briscoe, Andretti, Kanaan and Hunter-Reay attempt to go four-wide on the backstretch – of the four and placed on the outside, Briscoe lost out and had to get out of the throttle, dropping him to 13th position.
At the front, Wheldon and Power were not being dissuaded by Franchitti’s wide Dallara. For lap-after-lap, they tried around the outside of the Ganassi driver, but nothing would stick – every attempt resulted in a stalemate, albeit with less than one-hundreth of a second between them crossing the line each time by.
With Power out of the game with six laps remaining, Andretti pulled back into the battle for the lead and for the remaining tours, it was on between the leading, but no matter how much the Panther and Andretti-Autosport pair pushed, this was Franchitti’s day – the Scot crossing the start / finish line for the 200th time in first spot by 0.0423 of-a-second ahead of Wheldon.
It was the third win of the season for Franchitti and the boost he needed in his fight to retain the IndyCar title. His second victory at Chicagoland was also his 26th open-wheeled win, leaving level with the great Roger Ward for all time race wins.
Andretti was no slouch and ran Wheldon close and even he was not far ahead of team mates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan. Both Wheldon and Andretti have had somewhat difficult seasons, but both matched their best results of 2010, although it was still a little shy of the success they desired. For Hunter-Reay, this was his best oval result of the year thus far.
Helio Castroneves and Justin Wilson took 6th and 7th respectively; however they were somewhat anonymous in the pack as they slyly picked up places on the night – it was quite an impressive feat by Wilson, especially considering he started 23rd.
Scott Dixon secured 8th place, but despite being 3rd in the series standing, any chance of a third title seem a long way off – he is now 85 points shy of Will Power and it would need monumental reversal of fortunes for the Kiwi to pull in both Power and Franchitti with only three races remaining.
Regardless of his mid-race incident with Mutoh and Tagliani, Vitor Meira picked up 9th position ahead of Graham Rahal, with Briscoe having to scrap 11th spot.
Reigning World Series by Renault driver, Bertrand Baguette finished a solid 12th – the young Belgian is really beginning to pull some very good results together. Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick were the last to finish on the lead lap, 13th and 14th respectively. Pitting under green eventually left Sarah Fisher a lap down and in 15th, just ahead of Power. Mario Moraes (17th), Davey Hamilton (18th) and Milka Duno (19th) were the last of the runners.
Over the years Chicagoland has made a habit of producing some of IndyCar’s most exciting races and while this year’s event was certainly no classic, it was still a good example of some very fine oval racing. Sadly, it looks like it may be IndyCar’s last hurrah at the circuit – with NASCAR taking early Autumn date from 2011 onwards, the series looks like it is being ousted from the circuit, lest a replacement date be found last minute. Even still, the low crowd at the Saturday night event was shockingly poor compared to previous runnings.
Race Rating: 4 out of 5
2010 IZOD IndyCar Grand Prix of Chicagoland (Round 14)
FP Car Driver Team Laps Time Status
1 10 Dario Franchitti Chip Ganassi Racing 200 01:47:49.5783 Running
2 4 Dan Wheldon Panther Racing 200 01:47:49.6206 Running
3 26 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport 200 01:47:49.6834 Running
4 37 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport 200 01:47:49.7414 Running
5 11 Tony Kanaan Andretti Autosport 200 01:47:49.9191 Running
6 3 Helio Castroneves Team Penske 200 01:47:50.0651 Running
7 22 Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 200 01:47:50.1736 Running
8 9 Scott Dixon Target Chip Ganassi Racing 200 01:47:50.4920 Running
9 14 Vitor Meira A.J. Foyt Enterprises 200 01:47:50.5371 Running
10 02 Graham Rahal Newman/Haas Racing 200 01:47:50.5624 Running
11 6 Ryan Briscoe Team Penske 200 01:47:50.5968 Running
12 34 Bertrand Baguette Conquest Racing 200 01:47:50.6616 Running
13 06 Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas Racing 200 01:47:50.8825 Running
14 7 Danica Patrick Andretti Autosport 200 01:47:51.1441 Running
15 67 Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher Racing 199 01:47:51.6270 Running
16 12 Will Power Team Penske 199 01:47:58.1955 Running
17 32 Mario Moraes KV Racing Technology 199 01:48:01.2063 Running
18 21 Davey Hamilton de Ferran Dragon Racing 199 01:48:01.3746 Running
19 18 Milka Duno Dale Coyne Racing 197 01:47:51.7735 Running
20 20 Ed Carpenter Panther Racing 179 01:39:43.6087 Mechanical
21 66 Jay Howard (R) Sarah Fisher Racing 162 01:47:51.4765 Mechanical
22 19 Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne Racing 161 01:39:19.4910 Rejoined
23 78 Simona De Silvestro HVM Racing 150 01:25:03.1938 Mechanical
24 24 Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 88 01:34:52.8506 Mechanical
25 77 Alex Tagliani FAZZT Race Team 85 00:50:05.2152 Contact
26 5 Takuma Sato KV Racing Technology 80 00:44:19.7999 Contact
27 8 E.J. Viso KV Racing Technology 80 00:44:20.5096 Contact
28 36 Tomas Scheckter Conquest Racing 4 00:01:45.1407 Contact
29 2 Raphael Matos de Ferran Dragon Racing 4 00:01:45.4504 Contact
2010 IZOD IndyCar Series (Round 14)
1. Will Power Penske 528 points
2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 505
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi 443
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 406
5. Helio Castroneves Penske 398
6. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Autosport 392