(Our very excited IndyCar writer Matt Lennon – who incidentally celebrated his birthday last weekend – reviews last weekend’s Grand Prix of Alabama, round 3 of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Championship. Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves took an emotional victory to deny Will Power a hat-trick of wins this season. Enjoy his review!)
Helio wins in the deep-south!
Team Penske are undefeated through 3 races in 2010. This time however it was not Will Power who climbed to the top of the tree, but Penske cornerstone Helio Castroneves!
After two rain-affected races, the weather could not have been more perfect across Alabama. Lined up perfectly in rows of two all the way to the back, the start was uneventful for fans seeking first-corner calamities. The stewards were watching however, and noticed Scott Dixon claim two positions off the start, which the officials said were taken before the start line. Team Ganassi were notified and Dixon was forced to relinquish those positions back to Castroneves and Marco Andretti, which he duly did.
The first of the strategic decisions of the afternoon came after 9 laps. As soon as the pit window opened, Alex Tagliani was the first to pit for tyres and fuel. This was a bold move, as for this strategy to pay off, Tags would have been hoping for a late caution period which would force all in front of him to pit, giving him a free pass to the front right at the end of the race. It was a gamble, and we would have to wait and see if it paid off. Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan and Mario Romancini also took the chance and made early stops.
KV Racing’s Formula 1 import Takuma Sato was the first casualty of the race, stopping on track with a suspected throttle linkage problem. He was towed back to the pits but by this stage the first caution of the day was called, forcing the first round of pitstops for most of the field. Sato’s problem was eventually rectified and he resumed 21 laps down for what would be nothing more than a test session to give him further experience in the car.
Helio and Marco chose not to pit and therefore inherited the lead. On the restart, Marco Andretti took the lead from Helio into Turn 5 and held it until his stop on Lap 29. Castroneves came in a few laps later. The racing was fast and furious from there. Positions were won and lost left, right, around the outside of corners, and even off-track. Race-fans seeking a show were not being disappointed.
Marco Andretti hadn’t won a race since Sonoma 2006, 54 races prior. His desire to revisit Victory Lane was evident, with the young Andretti resuming the lead after the second round of pit stops for those on sequence, and maintaining the lead despite regular attacks from Helio Castroneves, who just couldn’t seem to make a pass stick. Regular chats with Marco’s engineer Kyle Moyer revealed the team were hoping for a late caution, as Moyer admitted he may not have managed Marco’s race properly, needing his charge to save fuel or he would have to pit a third time right at the end, costing him any chance at victory.
Multiple spins and off-track excursions from other drivers caused gasps of excitement in the Andretti pits, however each of these mix-ups were quickly self- rectified, negating the need for a full-course caution. Andretti’s hopes were never realised and 8 laps from the end, Marco had to pit for fuel, resuming in 5th place.
Five laps from the end, Simona Di Silvestro spun and stalled on the racing line, bringing out the final caution period, too late for the Andretti team to benefit. She was quickly cleared away and the race resumed with 2 frantic laps of excitement remaining. Castroneves by this point was leading from Dixon, Franchitti, Power and Andretti, with the race finishing in this order.
Helio was naturally overjoyed, as this was his first victory since Texas 2009, and his first victory as a new father, with his elation evident in his post-race celebrations with his new daughter in his arms.
Click here for the Final Standings of the race.
Click here for the current Championship Standings.
[All images via IndyCar official site]