When Will Power slid out into the grey and scrubbed the turn 4 wall at Homestead-Miami Speedway early Sunday morning, the Australian handed the 2010 IndyCar title to rival Dario Franchitti on a plate.
Franchitti needed to grab pole (he did), lead the most laps (he did) and win the race to guarantee the Championship, but by the time Power was rolled in behind the pit wall, it was no longer necessary to push to the limit and the Scot worked to just bring his Team chip Ganassi run machine home and dry.
The win would eventually go to Franchitti’s team mate, Scott Dixon – his third victory of the season. Dixon started on the front row, spending much of the race playing rear gunner to the title contender, as did Andretti-Autosport driver Tony Kanaan. Kanaan initially started 8th, but quickly made his into the top 3; after stalking Dixon for lap-after-lap, the Brazilian finally made his move on lap 32 as the veteran moved up to 2nd.
Two of Kanaan’s Andretti-Autosport team mate’s, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay also had excellent opening stints – by the fifth tour of the track, Andretti had climbed from 16th to an impressive 7th, while Hunter-Reay was running 12th despite starting from the outside of row ten, eventually moving to 10th several laps later.
Meanwhile, it had not been a good start for Power, although it was still early going. Having started from 3rd place, the Australian dipped slightly to 4th, before falling to 8th by lap 30 – even at this early stage, Power was thinking about strategy and was driving in fuel conservation mode; however his drop off was still alarming.
At least Power could claim to still be in the race (for now). Mario Moraes found himself in the pits early with steering issues and high wishbone wear on his right rear, but following repairs the Brazilian was sent back out on track, only to grind to a halt a few moments later in the slow lane with a broken gearbox – it had been a dreadful season for both Moraes and his KV Racing crew and it’s looking unlikely that he will still be there in 2011. A disappointed Moraes would comment that “…the steering started to feel a bit loose, and I came to the pits. After we have a gearbox problem. (…) It’s very frustrating.”
The stalled KV car brought out not only the pace car, but also the first series of pitstops – feeling obliged, the field dived in for fuel and new tyres, although Sarah Fisher (in danger of going a lap down) stayed out for an extra tour before eventually stopping.
Kanaan lost out in the 25-car mayhem following a brief stall, dropping the Brazilian three positions. Things went rather better at Penske as they managed to help Ryan Briscoe jump up to 2nd place and split the Ganassi’s – as the pack flowed back onto the track, Franchitti led from Briscoe, Dixon, the quiet Helio Castroneves and Kanaan.
Despite his relative anonymity to this point, the race had gone quite well for Castroneves – having started down in 10th, the three-time Indy 500 winner slowly picked off rivals on his way to 5th, where he held stationary behind Briscoe.
Come lap 42, the green re-emerged, but for only a short period, yet it was just long enough for Kanaan to swallow Castroneves and Dixon, promoting him into the 3rd. While Kanaan was making his progress, Dreyer & Reinbold’s Ana Beatriz scrubbed the turn 4 wall, before it hitting hard a lap later – lap 45 and the second caution period kicked into gear. This was only the fourth race of the year for Beatriz and although she has greatly impressed, it was not the ideal way to finish the season.
One rookie that was having a fantastic tun on the Miami oval was Sebastian Saavedra – the Colombian was disappointed with his qualifying run, as he timed in at 24th place, but as the laps ticked by, the Conquest Racing entry had reached the top twelve – a very good effort.
Despite the crash, racing quickly returned on lap 51 with Briscoe instantly leading a to charge at Franchitti and Kanaan, making it a three-way battle. Both would take the Scot within ten laps, with even Dixon passing his team mate. Dixon didn’t stop there though – on the 61st lap, Dixon would rob Kanaan of 2nd and a lap later, he took the lead from Briscoe.
Unwilling to give up the fight for the race quiet so easily, Kanaan took his Honda-powered Dallara around Briscoe (lap 65) and assumed the lead of the race three laps later, as he powered passed the Kiwi. Position swapping staying at full tilt for several laps as Franchitti rejoined the front end battle, grabbing the initiative – with 75 laps in the bag, Franchitti now led from Kanaan, Dixon and Briscoe. Not content with watching from afar, Power finally joined the leading group, slotting easily passed Briscoe as he chased Franchitti.
With no yellow period forthcoming, the strategists contemplated green flag stops – Ryan Briscoe was the first to blink, with the rest of the pack pouring over the course of several laps; however where the Penske crew got Briscoe out cleanly, EJ Viso’s crew were slightly less efficient. A sluggish stop from the tyre changers was worsened when Viso was signalled to leave before the fuel hose had been removed – as the Venezuelan planted his foot down, the hose was ripped clean away and dragged out by the car only to be dumped on the road. Once again, so many things were going awry for the KV team.
There was some hope for FAZZT Racing though. Alex Tagliani’s team had not had the best of days, but a top-up fuel run during the yellow for the Beatriz crash left the Canadian having to do one stop less in the race, following his pit visit on lap 101.
Andretti-Autosport’s Danica Patrick was also slowly turning her day around – Patrick had qualified 11th, but slipped down early on before climbing back up the field and into the top six. Meanwhile, Franchitti retook the lead from Kanaan, Dixon, Power and Briscoe.
As the Scot circulated, unthreatened by his great friend Kanaan, he picked up the two points for most laps lead – with Power unable to break the leading three, Franchitti was in the driving seat. Power would have no choice but to push…
It is often stated that when one relaxes, they lose concentration and make mistakes. The same is often true for those that push that little bit over the limit, where they may fall into realms that are beyond their control – on lap 134, Will Power went beyond that realm, scrubbing the barrier and leading the painfully small crowd to gasp for breath.
It was one hit too many and although there was no heavy crash or obvious sign of damage, something was not quite right. Once again, the full course caution was signalled – the field fell under the spell of the pace car, before pulling into the pits for yet another series of stops.
Before there was time to breathe, Power suffered another calamitous moment – as the Australian pulled into his pitbox, it was clear there was problem with his right rear; something confirmed as the unbalanced Penske slid sideways without control into his stall. The mechanics keen to have a closer look at the suspension discovered and bent wishbone and Power was quickly whisked behind the secondary wall to give his team a closer look.
With the full course caution out for 16 laps (the traffic lights in the pitlane were faulty, requiring lengthy attention), the Penske crew worked feverishly to get Power back on track. It would take time, the Australian losing five laps, but even the repairs were not enough – following several laps, the Penske man pulled back into the pits to retire; his race (and Championship) were now in the hands of Dario Franchitti.
Power, although disappointed, remained philosophical: “I was trying to get around Hunter-Reay, he kept changing his line, I wasn’t sure what he was going to do each time. That time he was up high...” said the Australian, before adding “…that’s racing man, that’s how it goes. I know we had a good season, just disappointing. I was trying to do everything I could because at that point in the race I knew unless I did something special, Dario had the championship… I ended up brushing the wall.”
The Penske man was not the only driver to feel pain. Tony Kanaan’s Andretti-Autosport crew were left stunned as the Brazilian pulled away from his stall with the fuel hose still attached to his Dallara; meanwhile both Bertrand Baguette and EJ Viso also left their pits with the fuel rig still connected. All three would be moved to the rear of the pack. Another driver that had dropped back was Ryan Briscoe – the Penske had pitted of his own volition just prior to the “Power yellow”, leaving him mired in 11th position for a time.
Franchitti still led, but this time Dixon held his rear, with Andretti, Castroneves and Dan Wheldon waiting to pounce. Dixon wasted no time in moving passed Franchitti once the green was waved on lap 150, however the Scot would quickly slip to 5th position as Andretti (lap 154), Wheldon (lap 158) and then Castroneves (lap 159) swept passed. Andretti meanwhile, continued his surge, taking the lead from Dixon, but on lap 166 another yellow – this time for debris on track – squared up the field once again.
On this occasion, a precious few took to the pits, Andretti and Franchitti amongst them dropping the pair to 7th and 8th respectively – with Power out of contention, Franchitti would only need a top-ten finish and with 30 laps remaining, the Scot was well on target for this. It would propel Castroneves into a temporary lead over Dixon, Kanaan, Patrick and Wheldon. Just behind the group of five was the ever impressive Vitor Meira – it had been a tough couple of years for Meira at AJ Foyt Racing, but the plucky Brazilian had once again quietly climbed into the top-six with another solid drive.
The action came quick and fast when green conditions returned on lap 172, following a false start the previous time around. Kanaan, desperate for a win to add to his Iowa success earlier in the season, jumped both Castroneves and Dixon to claim the front, only for Dixon to surge back ahead only a few corners later.
Danica Patrick made it a five-way battle for the lead, albeit briefly – with 175 laps down, Milka Duno ended her 2010 campaign with a thud and a crash in turn 4. The Dale Coyne driver lost control of her Dallara-Honda solo midway through the corner – yet once again the crowd drew breath…
As the car drifted away from the Venezuelan, she shot across the track, nearly removing Franchitti in the process – a close call for the Scot. It was a piece of double fortune for Franchitti – this late yellow would ensure that he (and others) would have more than enough fuel to get to the end. As for Duno, it is unknown if she will return – she remains under probation for now, but it quite possible that her may not be renewed for 2011.
The Duno mess was quickly cleared and upon the restart (lap 181), Dixon ran into the the distance, never to be touched again; however the battle for 2nd was on.
Kanaan and Patrick – not the best of friends off track – fought tooth and nail for the runner-up spot; initially they were joined by Castroneves, before he settled into a tame 4th spot. Lap-after-lap, Kanaan held off his superstar team mate – forcefully on occasion – but Patrick proved to be too much, slicing passed the veteran Brazilian on the penultimate tour and claiming 2nd place.
With the chequered flag approaching the season, Patrick had done just enough to get into the top-ten in the points standings, while Kanaan would come home 3rd in the race, but the best of the Andretti cars in the Championship.
Patrick told reporters after the race that “…after I crossed the line, I thought it wasn’t a win but it felt like one. It was a good way to end the season. We’ve had our high points and we’ve had our low points. Hopefully we can improve the car to be better next year. That was a pretty hard charge there at the end. Hopefully, Tony and I put on a good show for the fans, so thanks to them for coming out.”
Dixon, however, was far from worried about Patrick or Kanaan – in the end, the Kiwi took a comfortable win by a clear 2.7 seconds over Patrick. It was enough to secure Dixon’s 25th all-time IndyCar win and it lifted him to third in the standings ahead of Castroneves.
Once in victory lane, Dixon was his usual stoic self, saying that “…we stayed at the front most of the night, we saved a bit of fuel, worked on the car for the traffic. We had some great pitstops as well. Luckily enough it played out perfect.”
Castroneves, himself, fell behind team mate Ryan Briscoe at the last breath, with Briscoe taking a solid 4th following a late race dash up the order.
Vitor Meira kept his 6th spot – it was his best oval finish of the season and it gave him twelfth in the overall points. Marco Andretti took 7th with Panther Racing’s Dan Wheldon in 9th. It was enough to secure ninth in the Championship for Wheldon, only four points shy of Andretti in the final totals.
After 300 miles of running, Andretti and Wheldon squeezed Dario Franchitti in 8th position and while it may not have been the glorious that he would have wished for, it was enough to give him the title by five points – his third IndyCar Championship in four years.
A jubilant Franchitti was quick to thank those around him for his title. “What a great job from this target crew because we’ve had to fight for every single thing this year. Let me tell you, number three, it feels bloody good. I want to celebrate this moment. My teammate Scott Dixon could not have done any more today to help me out. And the fact that he won the race, you know, double celebration.”
Graham Rahal ended the season with a fine run to 10th in his Newman-Haas machine, albeit one lap adrift and just ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay (11th) and Alex Lloyd (12th). It was a good result for Lloyd and his top-12 was enough to confirm the Englishman as rookie of the year ahead of Simona de Silvestro. De Silvestro, herself, did not have a good run in the race, she struggled to get to grips with her HVM run car -in the cooler night conditions – the ‘Swiss Miss’ crossed the line in 23rd, three laps down.
Ed Carpenter (13th), Alex Tagliani (14th), Bertrand Baguette (15th), Sebastian Saavedra (16th), Raphael Matos (17th) and Takuma Sato (18th) all finished one lap and out of the limelight. For Sato, it had been a poor season – unable to profit from his experience, the ex-Formula 1 pilot found himself crashing far too many times.
It had been a remarkable weekend for KV Racing, but not in a way that many positives can be extracted – for the first weekend this season, none of their three regular runners crashed. EJ Viso solidified this when he rolled home in 19th (two laps down), ahead of Hideki Mutoh (20th) and Justin Wilson (21st). Sarah Fisher came home 22nd and three laps adrift – there have been plenty of rumours that the 30-year-old will be stepping out the car in order to go into full-time management of her fledgling squad, but that has yet to be confirmed.
And with that, the 2010 IndyCar season has come to an end and while Homestead may not have delivered the thriller it did last year, it once again provided some excellent action with eighteen changes for the lead between seven drivers and much passing in the ranks below.
Dario Franchitti goes the Champion for the third time – can he make that four in 2011 as the IndyCar series rolls into its final season with the current chassis combination.
Roll on next March.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5
IZOD IndyCar Homestead 300 (Round 17, October 2nd)
Pos Name Team Time/Gap
1 Scott Dixon Team Chip Ganassi 1:52:08.5580s
2 Danica Patrick Andretti-Autosport + 2.7587s
3 Tony Kanaan Andretti-Autosport + 2.7698s
4 Ryan Briscoe Team Penske + 3.7827s
5 Helio Castroneves Team Penske + 5.3324s
6 Vitor Meira AJ Foyt Enterprises + 7.2126s
7 Marco Andretti Andretti-Autosport + 8.3637s
8 Dario Franchitti Team Chip Ganassi + 11.1401s
9 Dan Wheldon Panther Racing + 22.2521s
10 Graham Rahal Newman/Haas + 1 lap
11 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Autosport + 1 lap
12 Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne Racing + 1 lap
13 Ed Carpenter Panther/Vision Racing + 1 lap
14 Alex Tagliani FAZZT Racing + 1 lap
15 Bertrand Baguette Conquest Racing + 1 lap
16 Sebastian Saavedra Conquest Racing + 1 lap
17 Raphael Matos De Ferran/Dragon Racing + 1 lap
18 Takuma Sato KV Racing + 1 lap
19 EJ Viso KV Racing + 2 laps
20 Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas + 2 laps
21 Justin Wilson Dreyer and Reinbold + 2 laps
22 Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher Racing + 3 laps
23 Simona de Silvestro HVM Racing + 3 laps
R Milka Duno Dale Coyne Racing + 30 laps (accident)
R Will Power Team Penske + 57 laps (damage)
R Ana Beatriz Dreyer and Reinbold + 158 laps (accident)
R Mario Moraes KV Racing + 175 laps (mechanical)
|2010 IZOD IndyCar Championship (Round 17)|
|1||Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing)||602|
|2||Will Power (Team Penske)||597|
|3||Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing)||547|
|4||Helio Castroneves (Team Penske)||531|
|5||Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske)||482|
|6||Tony Kanaan (Andretti-Autosport)||453|
|7||Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti-Autosport)||445|
|8||Marco Andretti (Andretti-Autosport)||392|
|9||Dan Wheldon (Panther Racing)||388|
|10||Danica Patrick (Andretti-Autosport)||367|
|11||Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold)||361|
|12||Vitor Meira (AJ Foyt Enterprises)||310|