Ebbing away at the lead held by Will Power all year, Dario Franchitti didn’t take the championship in a blaze of glory, but rather it was the misfortune of his rival that helped Dario take the title by a narrow margin. Our regular IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon takes a look at the thrilling IndyCar season finale…
A 12-point championship lead heading into the final race of the year was cut further following qualifying, with Franchitti claiming the final Peak Pole Award for 2010 and the single championship point that came with it, trimming the lead to 11 points. Making things worse was seeing Franchitti’s accomplished teammate Scott Dixon qualify alongside on the front row. Power himself was directly behind, in third.
The green flag fell at 7pm Saturday night local time in Florida and Franchitti led the field away into Lap 1 of 200.
The Ganassi boys opened up a quick lead over the Penske pilots. Tony Kanaan, starting from eighth, made a great start and slotted into third in the early running. Will Power made a shocking start, slowly dropping down the field to ninth place by Lap 36. With Dario firmly in control out front, the early signs were not good for Penske.
The first caution period came at this point, closing the field up and sending the leaders to their first pit stops of the night. Dario led the field in and out. The pit lane’s biggest positional movers were Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, who both gained two places. Importantly, Briscoe’s move slotted him between the two Ganassi’s in second place.
The restart came on Lap 43. Briscoe immediately went on the attack for the lead, having been told by Roger Penske to push Franchitti back towards the pack to allow Will Power a better chance of reaching the front and to prevent Dario from leading the most laps and securing two more bonus championship points.
The next caution occurred on Lap 45, with Dreyer & Reinbold’s latest pilot Ana Beatriz making heavy contact with the wall. Exiting the pit lane just as the field was bunched up and coming down the back straight following the recent restart, with some forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision. Once reaching racing speed, replays of the crash showed the car bottoming out in Turns 3 and 4 leading to the crash.
Lap 51 saw the race underway again. Briscoe immediately went back on the attack for the lead. Power dropped further, to eleventh. On Lap 60, Briscoe made the pass for the lead stick, forcing Dario back but soon found himself under attack from Scott Dixon. Tony Kanaan, through all this, was persisting in his fight for his own race-winning agenda at the front.
Once Will Power found his rhythm, he climbed to fourth place by Lap 82 and his championship tilt was looking in better health. With the leaders pitting on Lap 96 under green flag conditions, this put Alex Tagliani into the lead for a brief period, although he soon pitted and Dario resumed the lead, where he had been for most of the race. By Lap 118, Dario had officially led the most laps and claimed the two bonus points.
The pivotal moment of the championship occurred on Lap 133. Coming off Turn 4, Will Power found himself running too high on the track and had to lift off the throttle, but it was not enough to prevent him scraping the wall, damaging his right-rear suspension and forcing him into the pits for an inspection. The damage was worse than first thought and the car was taken behind the pit-wall with Power still strapped in for some emergency repairs. The look on Power’s face as the rest of the field, with Dario in the lead, continued circulating, said it all, as he knew the championship was slipping away. All Dario needed to do now was finish tenth or better.
The Penske team managed to get Power back in the race, albeit five laps down and with next to no hope of taking the fight back to Ganassi. The problem soon became terminal as Power re-entered the pits for further repairs, shutting the engine down and climbing from the car. It was a heartbreaking moment for the young Aussie.
Meanwhile, back on the track, the restart to the race came on Lap 152, with the Ganassi boys out front. With Power now out of the race, he would be classified no higher than 25th in the final race standings. It was clear Franchitti was no longer fighting for the race win, as he was comfortably running in fifth place at Lap 162.
At the Lap-166 mark, Franchitti made his final pit stop, fuelling up to the end of the race. With a caution period for debris cleanup in effect at the time, Franchitti resumed in eighth place, due to the fact that all cars from tenth place down were running one lap off the lead. This effectively ensured Dario would finish no worse than ninth as long as he finished.
With 25 laps to go, Milka Duno reminded everyone she was still in the race by eliminating herself from it with a rather heavy crash entering the front straight. It was a heavy impact but Duno was uninjured.
The race resumed on Lap 181 with Scott Dixon opening up a two-second lead from a consistent Tony Kanaan and a steadily climbing Danica Patrick, who were having a fabulous battle for second place. Danica was hanging off the back of Kanaan and despite the former series champion holding the inside line, Patrick eventually pipped her teammate to take second place.
With Dario finishing eighth, Team Ganassi took its fourth drivers championship in a row, two of which won by Franchitti, who celebrated with a series of burnouts on the front straight.
COMING SOON: Matt’s IndyCar season review!
[Original images via LAT]