2010 IndyCar Kentucky 300 (Round 15)

Kentucky Speedway. © kentuckyspeedway.com

Helio Castroneves secured his second victory of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar season at Kentucky Speedway. The Brazilian started from 8th spot in his Penske and spent much of the race running on the fringes of the top ten, but a clever – and risky – fuel strategy brought him an unlikely victory late on ahead of Panther Racing pair, Ed Carpenter and Dan Wheldon.
Realistically though, this should have been Wheldon’s race. The racer from Manchester spent virtually the entire race either running in the lead or in the top three and would eventually be denied by a splash-and-go stop six laps from the end. Carpenter, who claimed his first pole yesterday, also ran well during the race.

Early on in the 200 lap event, it was Carpenter who had the advantage over Castroneves’ Penske team mate, Will Power. As the green dropped, Carpenter made space for himself out front while Power had to fend off attacks from Wheldon. Before Wheldon’ assault could take shape, the yellow flags made an appearance as KV Racing’s Takuma Sato flung his Lotus-sponsored machine hard into the wall on the entry into turn 4 – the amount KV spend on crash damage must be mounting as once again Sato’s overeagerness got the better of him.
Both Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay had close calls too – while Hunter-Reay had his own mini-spin, Kanaan was very nearly wiped out by Sato. Kanaan carried on with no problems, but Hunter-Reay made for the pits to take on new tyres and although it left one Andretti-Autosport machine mired at the back, at least Kanaan had the pleasure of snatching ten positions off the start as he ran from 26th to 16th spot.

The green fell again on the 9th lap and stayed out this time around – Carpenter wasted no time in robbing Power of 2nd spot and within two laps had assumed the lead from his team mate. Power would soon be slotting back into 4th behind the fast starting rookie, Bertrand Baguette – the Belgian driver has had a difficult first season, but has shown of late that he is finding his rhythm. Baguette would continue to hold off the Penske for another ten laps, before Power stole 3rd spot back from the Conquest Racing driver on the 21st lap. With the Belgian vulnerable, Scott Dixon slotted into 4th position a lap later as Baguette began to fall backwards into the pack.

EJ Viso was another driver hitting difficulties; sadly for the KV Racing driver, his problem’s were terminal as the Venezuelan stopped in the pits with a brake problem – two of the KV cars out at only one-quarter distance. Viso’s retirement did little to disturb the flow of the race and both Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay were probably thankful – after excitement early on, both had reached the fringes of the top ten by lap 50 (Kanaan 11th, Hunter-Reay 13th) and were unwilling to have their spells broken.

The first round of pitstops began in earnest on the 54th lap – all were clean bar Carpenter, who had a slow tyre change; something that dropped him to 10th spot. In the other Panther pit stall, Wheldon’s stop went without a fuss, but it was not enough to keep Power and Dixon behind as the pair jumped to 1st and 2nd respectively. Wheldon rejoined the track 3rd, ahead of Franchitti and a fast-stopping Kanaan.
Wheldon refused to be held back and on lap 65, grabbed 2nd position back from Dixon and instantly gave chase to Power; taking lumps out of the lead as he did so. Marco Andretti started following in Wheldon’s footsteps as the young American began to surge forward. The Andretti-Autosport driver emerged from the stops in 6th position, but by lap 78 had made his way into 3rd thanks to decisive moves on Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Dixon.

As Marco makes his move into 3rd, the leaders find themselves amongst Simona de Silvestro and Vitor Meira – neither were having a spectacular day, but it would get decidedly worse very quickly. As Power was about to put de Silvestro a lap down, the ‘Swiss Miss’ made a move for low-line on track, only to find it occupied by Meira’s Foyt Enterprises machine.
The pair tangled sending both into the wall hard, however on her way to the SAFER barrier, de Silvestro clipped the left rear of Ryan Briscoe sending him hard into the inside retaining wall. De Silvestro herself slid ominously back down track, making further contact with the infield barrier. With the track littered with debris, the safety crew made for the track and a full course caution was signalled.

The field pit to top up fuel and change tyres – all was well except for Andretti and Castroneves; a slow stop dropped the American to 6th place, while Castroneves stalled his Penske. It was a double-blow for the Penske driver, but it would ultimately change the face of the race – unsatisfied that his right-rear wheel was properly attached, Castroneves was brought back in on lap 89 to have it properly affixed. He also took on more fuel while he was there.
While not ideal, at least Marco and Helio could claim fine running cars, a pleasure not afforded to Sarah Fisher; she had a difficult day to this point, before her Dollar General machine began to lose 5th gear. She would later retire as the problem escalated.

Carpenter led for a time. © indycar.com

The race restarted at the beginning of the 96th lap and in a repeat of earlier circumstances, Wheldon clung to the rear of Power and continued to press hard, but could not find a way around the Australian and stayed a constant one-tenth behind him. Ed Carpenter had less hassle when regaining ground on the leaders – passes on Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti amongst others, brought the part-timer back into the top 4, really allowing Carpenter to showcase his talents on the 1.5 mile oval. As Kanaan and Andretti dropped back slightly, they were joined by team mates Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay as all four Andretti-Autosport drivers fought amongst themselves for 6th spot.
As the race moved into its second-half, Paul Tracy had made his way into the top ten, as the veteran moved through the field. The Dreyer & Reinbold driver struggled in what was his first 1.5 mile oval race in five years, qualifying a lowly 23rd on Friday evening; however as the race progressed, the feel of his Honda-powered began to fall toward him.

Up front, 3rd place Scott Dixon continued to stalk the leading pair. Although not on a stellar pace throughout the weekend, the Kiwi found himself inadvertently brought into contention on lap 131 while the leaders dealt with Milka Duno. Prior to race, chief steward Brian Barnhart instructed the slower drivers to stay to the low line while they were being lapped and while Duno did this, the Venezuelan also got off the throttle, baulking both Power and Wheldon in the process. This brought Dixon into the action with Wheldon, both Power had enough momentum to keep ahead; however as Wheldon and Dixon cleared traffic, they drafted back up to the rear of the Penske.

The next round of pitstops came on lap 143 as Power dived in first and Wheldon and Dixon arriving one lap later. The trio took new tyres and fuel in relatively short time, but on the 146th tour of Kentucky Speedway, Power made an error that many thought had been been iron out of the Australian. As the Penske man surged ahead of Wheldon, Power ran wide exiting turn 4, missing the concrete wall by mere inches – it was quite a save by the Penske driver, but the moment was not without penalty as he dropped to 6th spot once the stops had finished.
The Ganassi team must have delighted at this change in the order, but they were probably less delighted with a poor stop dropping Scott Dixon down the order to 10th as the race entered its final stage. Meanwhile the final car to pit, Castroneves, had fallen out of the top 10 altogether and out of contention, surely? Now Wheldon led, but the threat of one Ganassi car had simply been replaced with another as Dario Franchitti assumed 2nd spot ahead of Andretti (3rd) and Kanaan (4th).

Power was soon up to his feisty best, battling for a top four spot with Carpenter and Kanaan, keen not to let Franchitti gain too much ground in the title hunt. Come lap 165, Power had yet another momentary lapse of judgement and fell to 8th spot – this time the Australian would not recover from this slip up. Free of the Penske driver, Kanaan and Carpenter were set free and very quickly, both challenged Andretti for 3rd position as the laps ticked by – on lap 167 Kanaan took 3rd from Andretti, but within ten laps, Carpenter had taken both of them.
Only 25 laps remained and Wheldon led from Franchitti and Carpenter, but concerns and worry lines began to stretch ominously on the various pit walls. The last set of stops had come about too early for the main pack to get to the end – last second fuel fill-ups would be necessary if anyone wanted to finish the race.
Not like that was going to worry Ryan Hunter-Reay – with 20 laps remaining, the Andretti-Autosport driver pulled off and out of the race with mechanical problems – after a poor qualifying day, the race had been fairly promising with a top assured, but it was not to be. His retirement ended an eight-race streak of top-5 finishes.

As the field prepared for their respective stops, Castroneves was running slow – very slow in fact. With the remaining runners certain that they would need to pit with at least five laps remaining, the stayed on the throttle running in the 215-217 mph range; Castroneves meanwhile, was running at an average of 207 mph – this was fuel saving of the most absurd kind. But it was enough.

With eight laps remaining, the field began to flow into the pits – Kanaan first and then the race leaders on lap 195 with Carpenter a lap later. A good stop by Carpenter as well as a good in-lap was enough for him to jump Wheldon… just. Franchitti had a slight fumble in his pits, that would drop him to 5th behind Kanaan; however it was beginning to dawn on all that Helio Castroneves was staying out. A few laps were left when the Brazilian received a message from his chief engineer Tim Cindric that he had saved enough fuel to put his foot down – Castroneves had stolen the lead at Kentucky in a tense and dramatic style and less than two minutes after the final stop, Castroneves had also claimed the victory.

Castroneves crosses the line to win. © indycar.com

The mood on the Penske wall was ecstatic, with many still feeling Castroneves was severely hard done by earlier this year at Edmonton, where his win was taken off of him post race. Rather than flying off in a fit of rage, ‘Spiderman’ jumped from his white, black and red Dallara and made for the catch fencing, climbing up high to celebrate with the crowd.

The Penske driver was quick to give credit to his and their chief Tim Cindric, saying afterwards that “…I tried to stay steady and saving fuel. All of a sudden, Cindric says ‘Try to make this number.’ I was like, ‘That’s going to be impossible, man.’ When we pitted the last time, he just said you’ve got to make this number because we have nothing to lose, and it’s definitely going to pay off…”
This victory for Castroneves moved him ahead of team mate Ryan Briscoe in the Championship, but both are now so far behind Power and Franchitti, that any chance of a title shot is long gone.

Carpenter eventually took 2nd position ahead of team mate Dan Wheldon in 3rd spot – although disappointed with the runner-up position, it was still a fantastic performance by the American, buoyed on by a fine run in Chicagoland a week ago. He was very pragmatic about it afterwards, claiming that “…Dan and I […] had the best cars in the race. But that’s racing. The best car doesn’t always win.” Wheldon, whose IndyCar career is currently up in the air led the most laps of the evening (93); although that may be of little comfort to the Englishman: “…the ending was unfortunate. I am bummed that the race didn’t turn out different, but it will motivate us for the last two races.”

Tony Kanaan took a well deserved fourth after starting 26th with Franchitti extending his run of top 5 finishes to seven races with his 5th result. Marco Andretti (6th), Scott Dixon (7th) and Will Power (8th) filled out the top 8 – it wasn’t the ideal result for Power as the race became more about damage limitation rather than pulling away from Franchitti; the Scot took a further six points out of Power’s title lead.
Danica Patrick extended her race-finish streak to 31 races and scored a respectable 9th in the process, ahead of Belgian rookie Bertrand Baguette finishing 10th for Conquest Racing; it was his best finish of the season. Justin Wilson (11th), Paul Tracy (12th), Alex Lloyd (13th), Tomas Scheckter (14th), Alex Tagliani (15th) and Raphael Matos (16th) all had quiet runs, while Hideki Mutoh crossed the line in 17th despite a good day in qualifying. Mario Moraes, Milka Duno and Graham Rahal rounded up the top 20.

With only two races left, Dario Franchitti is now 17 points behind Will Power in the Championship and with Franchitti’s favourite oval approaching in two weeks time (Motegi), Power needs a good result to solidify his lead.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5

2010 IndyCar Kentucky 300 (Round 15)
Pos Car Driver                 Lap  Time Down  Elapsed Time  Avg Speed  Status

1    3 Castroneves, Helio      200   0.0000    01:41:50.0059 174.402   Running
2   20 Carpenter, Ed           200  13.1597    01:42:03.1656 174.028   Running
3    4 Wheldon, Dan            200  13.9214    01:42:03.9273 174.006   Running
4   11 Kanaan, Tony            200  13.9931    01:42:03.9990 174.004   Running
5   10 Franchitti, Dario       200  14.1968    01:42:04.2027 173.998   Running
6   26 Andretti, Marco         200  14.5669    01:42:04.5728 173.988   Running
7    9 Dixon, Scott            200  15.1025    01:42:05.1084 173.972   Running
8   12 Power, Will             200  15.6142    01:42:05.6201 173.958   Running
9    7 Patrick, Danica         200  15.8494    01:42:05.8553 173.951   Running
10  34 Baguette, Bertrand (R)  199   0.6982    01:41:50.7041 173.511   Running
11  22 Wilson, Justin          199   0.8728    01:41:50.8787 173.506   Running
12  24 Tracy, Paul             199   1.3729    01:41:51.3788 173.491   Running
13  19 Lloyd, Alex (R)         199   1.5131    01:41:51.5190 173.487   Running
14  36 Scheckter, Tomas        199   7.7270    01:41:57.7329 173.311   Running
15  77 Tagliani, Alex          199  15.5012    01:42:05.5071 173.091   Running
16   2 Matos, Raphael          199  22.4863    01:42:12.4922 172.894   Running
17  06 Mutoh, Hideki           199  23.1823    01:42:13.1882 172.875   Running
18  32 Moraes, Mario           198   4.9711    01:41:54.9770 172.518   Running
19  18 Duno, Milka             195  15.5458    01:42:05.5517 169.611   Running
20  66 Rahal, Graham           195  20.8991    01:42:10.9050 169.463   Running
21  37 Hunter-Reay, Ryan       174  –          01:31:09.2912 169.505   Mechanical
22  67 Fisher, Sarah           134  –          01:18:57.3883 150.706   Mechanical
23  14 Meira, Vitor             79  –          00:39:01.9765 179.725   Contact
24   6 Briscoe, Ryan            79  –          00:39:02.0028 179.723   Contact
25  78 de Silvestro, Simona (R) 78  –          00:39:01.5320 177.484   Contact
26   8 Viso, EJ                 45  –          00:24:37.1918 162.308   Mechanical
27   5 Sato, Takuma (R)          0  –          00:00:01.6515 n/a       Contact

2010 IZOD IndyCar Series (Round 15)
1. Will Power        Team Penske         552 points
2. Dario Franchitti  Chip Ganassi Racing 535
3. Scott Dixon       Chip Ganassi Racing 469
4. Helio Castroneves Team Penske         448
5. Ryan Briscoe      Team Penske         418
6. Ryan Hunter-Reay  Andretti-Autosport  404
7. Tony Kanaan       Andretti-Autosport  392
8. Marco Andretti    Andretti-Autosport  347

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