The twin race format threw up some surprises today at the Firestone Twin 275’s at Texas Motor Speedway, as the two leading championship contenders, Will Power and Dario Franchitti won a race each in two action-packed 114-lap events.
Our resident IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon reviews the action and talking points from both races…
Thirty drivers and their respective teams, crews and cars gathered under the hot Texan summer sun, and Alex Tagliani repeated his pole day heroics from Indianapolis, lining up on pole for Race 1, with Franchitti alongside on the front row. Archrival Will Power was directly behind in third. Tagliani had a new team-mate at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, with New Zealand debutant Wade Cunningham making his debut in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and making an immediate impact by qualifying an excellent eighth for his first race.
One man not in a car was Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. With a hectic two weeks of publicity following his victory, Wheldon was in Texas and did participate in the race – in the Versus TV commentary box – alongside Bob Jenkins and Jon Beekhuis.
While the first attempt at starting Race 1 was waved off following Tagliani’s over- eager right foot hitting the accelerator a little too early, once the green flag flew, Franchitti wasted no time in powering past Tagliani early on Lap 1, and for the first 30 laps or so, diced aggressively with the popular Canadian for the lead. Will Power had his hands full with Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan, both running well and near the front.
The leaders made their first stops around Lap 50, with the status quo being maintained at the front. By Lap 85 of 114, Tagliani had dropped to 4th, and Scott Dixon was chasing team-mate Franchitti while keeping Power at bay behind him.
The first caution period of the day came on Lap 95 as Charlie Kimball and Wade Cunningham came to grief on the exit of Turn 4. Kimball found himself unable to contain some serious understeer, sending him too high and onto the marbles. Unfortunately, between himself and the wall was Cunningham, who had nowhere to go. Both drivers were ok and once the pits opened, the majority of the field opted for a quick splash of fuel to ensure they made it to the end. The race restarted on Lap 104, and Franchitti held on to take the victory from Dixon, Power, Tagliani and Sato.
Once the cars had returned to their pit stalls, perhaps the highlight of the night came next as the blind draw designed to decide the grid for Race 2 took place. Prior to the weekend, Chip Ganassi and Dario Franchitti had been quite outspoken against the concept of the random draw, as it could possible play a big part in giving a major advantage to a championship rival.
As the drivers took to the podium to draw their grid slot in reverse order to how they finished Race 1, it was Tony Kanaan who lucked out, selecting pole position, with Wade Cunningham’s night getting better by drawing second on the grid. Justin Wilson discovered the hard way his luck was gone, selecting 30th and last place for his start. With three grid slots remaining, Will Power had 3rd, 18th and 28th available to select, and was rewarded with the highest remaining slot. This left Dixon and Franchitti drawing 18th and 28th for themselves, ensuring Race 2 would be an entertaining affair as both Ganassi cars were buried deep within the field.
2011 Firestone Twin 275s Race 1 Final Standings (114 laps):
|1.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi||114||54:47.2787|
|2.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi||114||+ 0.0527|
|3.||Will Power||Team Penske||114||+ 0.1794|
|4.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||114||+ 0.4109|
|5.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||114||+ 1.4174|
|6.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||114||+ 1.4337|
|7.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||114||+ 2.1127|
|8.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||114||+ 2.5355|
|9.||Graham Rahal||Chip Ganassi||114||+ 2.8146|
|10.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||114||+ 4.3388|
|11.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||114||+ 4.7842|
|12.||Paul Tracy||Dragon Racing||114||+ 7.0114|
|13.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||113||1 lap behind|
|14.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|15.||Jay Howard||Rahal / Schmidt||113||1 lap behind|
|16.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||113||1 lap behind|
|17.||Justin Wilson||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|18.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|19.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||113||1 lap behind|
|20.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|21.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|22.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|23.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|24.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||112||2 laps behind|
|25.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|26.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||111||3 laps behind|
|27.||Davey Hamilton||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||109||5 laps behind|
|28.||Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest Racing||97||17 laps behind|
|Wade Cunningham||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||92||Contact|
|Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi||91||Contact|
From the green, Kanaan and Cunningham led away, with the latter getting swamped early by the more experienced Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Kanaan put up a gallant fight to hold off Power, but by Lap 41 has his lead usurped by the Penske pilot. Starting from 28th, Dario Franchitti had not made quite the level of progress many would have thought, as by the same time as his main championship rival was taking the lead, the defending series champion had only climbed ten spots to 18th.
After the first pit stops around Lap 55, the three Penske drivers of Power, Castroneves and Briscoe were leading the way, with Kanaan in fourth and the hard-charging Scott Dixon in fifth.
With no incidents in Race 2 to cause a caution period, the closest anybody came to causing one was a heart-in-mouth moment when Will Power dove up the inside of Graham Rahal in the pit lane entry at full speed, as the young Rahal had run out of fuel and was coasting back to the pits off-line. With all the leaders making late pit stops, Power held strong through the 114-lap distance to take his first career oval-course victory. The defending road-course champion couldn’t hide his delight at having shaken the oval “monkey” from his back, believing he now had the experience needed to win on any type of circuit and be a more potent threat for the championship. Dario eventually finished in seventh position, but was never in a position to challenge Power, mostly due to the random lottery dictating his poor starting position.
After the race, pit lane interviewer Kevin Lee caught up with Franchitti and Dixon, who made no secret of their disdain for the lottery-based grid. With Power taking the win, maximising his points advantage and increasing his lead in the championship to 21 points, it will be interesting if, come the October season finale in Las Vegas, Franchitti or Dixon end up losing the title by the same number of points that a random draw cost them in Texas.
2011 Firestone Twin 275s Race 2 Final Standings (114 laps):
|1.||Will Power||Team Penske||114||48:08.9739|
|2.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi||114||+ 0.946|
|3.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||114||+ 4.652|
|4.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||114||+ 9.573|
|5.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||114||+ 14.372|
|6.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||114||+ 16.948|
|7.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi||114||+ 18.437|
|8.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||114||+ 18.555|
|9.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||114||+ 21.797|
|10.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||114||+ 24.092|
|11.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||114||+ 24.639|
|12.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||113||1 lap behind|
|13.||Paul Tracy||Dragon Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|14.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||113||1 lap behind|
|15.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|16.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|17.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||113||1 lap behind|
|18.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|19.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|20.||Jay Howard||Rahal / Schmidt||113||1 lap behind|
|21.||Justin Wilson||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|22.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||113||1 lap behind|
|23.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi||112||2 laps behind|
|24.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|25.||Davey Hamilton||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||112||2 laps behind|
|26.||Wade Cunningham||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||112||2 laps behind|
|27.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||111||3 laps behind|
|28.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||111||3 laps behind|
|29.||Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest Racing||111||3 laps behind|
|30.||Graham Rahal||Chip Ganassi||104||10 laps behind|
[Images via IndyCars]