With a 96 point lead in the Mario Andretti road-course minor championship coming into Mid-Ohio, all Will Power had to do was start the race to clinch this inaugural minor championship. He did just that and with one road-course remaining in the 2010 season, Power has settled the matter. Now, the focus for him moves to the overall major series championship, which may not be quite so straightforward, as our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon, writes…
Although he has shown a marked improvement in his oval-racing pedigree, Power has made no secret of the fact he is a road-racer by trade. Despite a pole position at Iowa earlier this year, his main rivals in Franchitti, Dixon and Briscoe are far more experienced on the banked ovals and will pose a very real threat, and this championship is far from over.
For the 85-lap race at Mid-Ohio, for safety reasons the green flag start is always taken on the back stretch approaching Turn 4. From the start, Takuma Sato, who qualified third, the best of his IndyCar career, lunged down the inside of Dario Franchitti to take second. Further back, Tony Kanaan missed his braking point and ran off course, but managed to keep going and rejoin the circuit. On Lap 4, Franchitti made the move back past Sato at the same corner to retake second place.
Following a collision with Ryan Briscoe in qualifying, Justin Wilson injured his right hand, effectively restricting his steering to his left hand, with his right hand only able to flick through the gears. On Lap 23, Wilson’s difficult weekend came to an end. Attempting a bold overtaking move on E.J. Viso, Wilson clipped Viso, breaking his left-front suspension and sending both off-course. Wilson managed to keep his engine going and avoiding the tyre barrier, but as he rejoined the track, stalled his engine right on the racing line, instigating the first full-course caution of the day and prompting the first round of pit stops.
With a pit lane only designed for 26 cars, and a 27-car field taking the start, the pit lane was packed to capacity as almost everyone headed for their first service of the day. In a race-defining move, Team Target managed to get Dario Franchitti out ahead of Will Power. Further back though, Ryan Hunter-Reay, upon being released from his pit stop, headed straight to the outside half of the pit lane. Had he checked his mirrors, he would have noticed Helio Castroneves already there. With Ryan Briscoe approaching the inside lane, it forced Hunter-Reay to back off, but not before giving Helio and Ryan’s cars a little love-tap each as all three cars exited the pit lane. Hunter-Reay was the only car damaged from the fracas, and he duly came back into the pits for a check over, before rejoining towards the back of the pack.
After such a competitive and prosperous initial stint to the race, fuel-flow dramas delayed Takuma Sato in the pits long enough to drop the ever-improving rookie back to eleventh place. Just after the restart, Sato compounded the day by running off at Turn 4 and inserting his car into the tyre barriers, forcing a second full-course caution.
The two cars who didn’t pit from the first calamity were Alex Tagliani and Tony Kanaan, who now occupied first and second on the road.
The second restart came on Lap 33, and by Lap 35, Jay Howard, driving for Sarah Fisher Racing, carried too much speed into the Turn 2 hairpin, beaching himself in the gravel and deploying the safety car yet again.
Another restart came on Lap 38. By this stage, Tony Kanaan was running barely on fumes and had to pit under green flag conditions, sending him to the back of the field.
Alex Tagliani, who had still not pitted, was running very well in the lead, maintaining a gap over Franchitti in second place. On Lap 55, Briscoe, Castroneves and Dixon made their second scheduled pit stops, with Castroneves the quickest stop of the three. Tagliani finally made his pit stop one lap later, with Franchitti assuming the lead with a goal of building a gap over Tagliani before his final pit stop. With Will Power in hot pursuit, Franchitti knew he would earn every tenth he obtained.
Lap 58, and with a healthy lead, Franchitti was badly held up behind serial roadblock Milka Duno. The 2010 Indy 500 winner eventually managed to get around Duno, who decided to repay Franchitti by almost running Will Power off the road in his attempt to pass, forcing evasive action and resulting in Dario opening his lead back up.
Franchitti and Power made their final pit stops on Lap 60, with both resuming well ahead of Helio Castroneves in third, with Tagliani close behind in 4th.
On Lap 63, series debutant Francesco Dracone, driving for Conquest Racing, announced his arrival in the series by spinning into the sand off Turn 8, returning the Safety Car to the action. While Dracone was rescued from the sand by the Holmatro Safety Team, Milka Duno, firmly at the back and several laps down, managed to spin as she sped up for the restart. Luckily, she managed to keep the car going and avoided prolonging the full-course caution.
If he wasn’t noticed first time around, Dracone decided to hammer any point he was trying to make firmly home by spinning again, this time on the start/finish straight, and completely blocking the track to boot. The field gathered up behind the safety car yet again, travelling through the pits to avoid Dracone’s stricken machine.
From the restart on Lap 70, it was a 15-lap dash to the finish, with Will Power and Dario Franchitti fighting it out for the win. Despite numerous efforts to pass, most times utilising the Power 2 Pass button, Power was unable to get sufficiently alongside Dario to make a pass.
And this is how the race ended, with Dario Franchitti winning from Will Power and Helio Castroneves bringing his car home third, a strong result in the wake of his defiance of officialdom at the previous race in Edmonton.
The win for Franchitti closed the gap to Will Power in the overall standings to 41 points, with five races remaining.
In news following the race, it was announced that former Vision Racing driver Ed Carpenter had partnered up again with Panther Racing for the three remaining domestic oval events at Chicago, Kentucky and Miami. Further, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network driver analyst and two-time IRL series runner-up Davey Hamilton had found sufficient financial backing to allow him to take part at the Chicagoland race on August 28.
[Original images via AUTOSPORT]