Once again, good luck, along with a well-timed and well-executed fuel strategy was the key to Victory Lane, and Helio Castroneves was the man to take full advantage, taking his second victory of the year in a highly entertaining race at Kentucky Speedway. Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon takes a look at another action-packed weekend that saw the championship battle close right up…
The race at Kentucky was the 200th IndyCar series race since the series inception in 1996. In these 200 events, there have been 42 different winners while 86 races have been decided by less than one second. The youngest winner was Graham Rahal at St Petersburg in 2008, at age 19. The eldest was Arie Luyendyk, who won at Las Vegas in 1998 at age 45. Scott Dixon has taken the highest number of wins with 23.
Kentucky Speedway has been a happy hunting ground for Ed Carpenter since last year when he finished second to Ryan Briscoe by the narrowest of margins. His good form continued this weekend with the popular Indianapolis native taking pole position in the Fuzzies Ultra-Premium Vodka sponsored car.
With championship rivals Will Power and Dario Franchitti starting second and eleventh respectively, Ed Carpenter led the field away from the green flag, making a great start and opening up an early lead. The first caution came before the end of Lap 1 when Takuma Sato was unable to correct a wiggle on the exit of Turn 4 and crashed into the outside wall, narrowly avoiding other cars in the process. Ryan Hunter-Reay also spun but managed to avoid the wall and continue unabated.
The restart came on Lap 10 with Carpenter quickly losing the lead to team-mate Dan Wheldon. Despite still being early in the race, it was noted that Dario Franchitti was struggling, down in eighth place fighting for position with KV Racing’s Mario Moraes.
The first pit stops came on Lap 54 with Wheldon and Carpenter coming in first. The rest of the field followed over the next two laps. Power and Franchitti pit at the same time, with Power emerging ahead. The championship leader was shown as the overall race leader once all cars has cycled through their pit stops.
On Lap 80, Vitor Meira attempted a bold overtake move on Simona Di Silvestro that did not pay off. Meira, diving to the inside, clipped Di Silvestro’s left- rear wheel, sending both into a spin and collecting an unlucky Ryan Briscoe at the same time. All three suffered heavy impacts, with Di Silvestro and Briscoe particularly suffering secondary impacts against the infield walls. All three cars suffered extensive damage and another full-course caution was underway. Aside from a few bruised egos, and a bruise on Briscoe’s foot, all three drivers were uninjured.
Once the pit lane opened, the whole field headed for further maintenance. Despite a lot of wheel-spin, Power lead the race off pit road, followed by Wheldon, who was looking very competitive in his search for his first victory since Iowa in 2008.
Restart Lap 96. The racing was intense, wheel-to-wheel, and made for fantastic viewing all night.
The next pit stops came on Lap 143, with Power pitting for new tyres and fuel top-ups. Dan Wheldon made his stop one lap later. On his out-lap, Power appeared to brush the wall on the exit of Turn 4. Replays showed he came close but did not actually make contact. It was enough however for Wheldon to hold on to the lead after his pit stop.
Soon following that, it was revealed that most of the leading pack were running slightly too light on fuel to get to the end of the race without pitting again. Down in the No 3 garage, Team Penske strategist Tim Cindric informed Helio Castroneves that if he dropped his pace slightly, he might be able to save enough fuel to make it to the chequered flag on his current fuel load. If the remainder of the race was run under the green flag, this strategy could hold rewards later on in the evening.
Tony Kanaan, running in third place at the time, was the first to blink, pitting and quickly resuming after a splash and dash. Ed Carpenter assumed the lead with four laps to go, however he too had to pit on the next lap. With Wheldon and Franchitti also choosing safety over potential disaster, Castroneves’ earlier decision to save fuel paid maximum dividends as the veteran Brazilian held on to take the victory. After the slow-down lap, true to form, Castroneves climbed the Kentucky fence for the first time in his career. Ed Carpenter finished second for the second year in a row, with Wheldon coming home third. Championship rivals Dario Franchitti and Will Power finished fifth and eighth respectively.
The result saw the gap between Power and Franchitti in the championship narrowed further to 17 points, with two races remaining. In two weeks, the next outing takes place on the Twin Ring in Motegi, Japan. While the races may be running out, so too is the championship lead.