Emphatically throwing the proverbial monkey from his back, Ed Carpenter timed his overtake assists to perfection to take his maiden IndyCar victory today in Kentucky, the penultimate round of the 2011 season.
Meanwhile in the two-man championship race, Chip Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti pounced on some unfortunate circumstances for Penske driver Will Power, with the Scot reassuming his spot on top of the series points standings and taking an important 18-point lead with one race remaining, in Las Vegas in two weeks. Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon – currently kicking his heels back on holiday in Memphis – took a look at an action-packed race…
After a chilly qualifying session yesterday, Kentucky’s sun shone down strong as the field got underway, led by polesitter Will Power, who fired another salvo as the battle for the IZOD IndyCar championship continued towards a climax.
Chief rival Dario Franchitti, sporting a green Downy livery this weekend, was unable to find an ideal setup for qualifying and started 11th. The beauty of an oval race though meant that a good pit strategy, combined as always with some luck, can be just as rewarding after 200 laps as a fast car and good overtaking skills.
The opening laps were clean and green with excellent dicing among the leaders. Power was starting to open a small lead over Graham Rahal and rookie driver James Hinchcliffe, who was running very well up front. Franchitti and Scott Dixon appeared to be struggling to get out of the midfield.
Even further back were Power’s team mates Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. Castroneves was the first on pit road, however it was an unplanned visit as the Penske mechanics fiddled with the engine, with Hélio eventually climbing from the car, his day over.
Dan Wheldon, starting his first race since his Indy 500 victory in May, was moving well through the field. By Lap 40, he was running in 19th place from his 28th grid slot.
Once Power, along with most of the field, made their first pit stops, it was clear Franchitti was playing a longer fuel strategy and gambling on full-course caution to hopefully trigger more pit stops.
Power had a scary moment as he entered his pit stall, as Dreyer & Reinbold decided to release Ana Beatriz from her stop and the two made contact. Luckily, Power appeared to continue unharmed.
Dario had opted for a short-fill to maximize track position and was leading by Lap 80, which paid off when the first caution was out for debris on the course. Dario opted to pit again, as did most of the field, including Power.
But Power’s day turned to disaster in this pitstop, with damage discovered on his left sidepod as a result of his earlier contact with Beatriz. The crew worked hard to tape up the damage but Power could only sit and watch the entire field go by. Several more visits to pit lane eventuated to ensure Power didn’t go a lap down.
Franchitti maintained his lead, and just like that, the advantage swung back in favour of Franchitti and Ganassi.
Another caution came on Lap 139 as Simona De Silvestro entered her pit stall way too hot, sliding and taking out one of her crew members. It was a disappointing outcome for the HVM driver, who qualified a solid 13th, by far her best oval qualifying performance since her scary accidents earlier in the year at Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
It was seemingly the day for clumsy pit stop accidents. Other mishaps on pit lane included JR Hildebrand entering his pit lane sideways, and elsewhere, Marco Andretti, who was exiting his pit, somehow managed to clip Alex Lloyd who was entering his, putting Andretti out of the race.
All of this prompted a caution, with the restart coming on Lap 147.
The pace car returned on Lap 167 as Ana Beatriz had a sizeable accident at the exit of Turn 4, after she appeared to lose the back end of the car by herself. There was plenty of wreckage which extended the caution length while the Holmatro Safety Team cleaned up.
At the restart on Lap 177, Ed Carpenter ensured that leader Franchitti didn’t romp off into the distance, sticking close and ensuring Franchitti would need to work hard for victory if he were to get one.
The battle for the lead over the closing 22 laps was wheel-to-wheel and on the limit, with Franchitti and Carpenter swapping the lead as though they didn’t want it.
And after 114 starts and finishing runner-up in Kentucky for the last two years, Ed Carpenter finally broke through and won from Dario Franchiti. Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay in a sprint to the line – the margin of victory was just 0.0098s, or 98 ten-thousandths of a second!
This was also Sarah Fisher’s first victory as a team owner. This was her first race attended in person since the birth of her first child. She was visibly overwhelmed.
For Carpenter, this was just the tonic he needed after an up-and-down season. Much better known for his oval exploits, the team entered him in several road course events this season, where he has generally been found wanting. But many will agree that the victory was well and truly deserved.
2011 Indy Kentucky 300 Final Classification (200 laps):
|1.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher Racing||200||1:42:02.7825|
|2.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 0.0098|
|3.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 0.1048|
|4.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||200||+ 0.3007|
|5.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||200||+ 0.4040|
|6.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||200||+ 0.6806|
|7.||Wade Cunningham||Sam Schmidt Motorsport||200||+ 0.7020|
|8.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||200||+ 0.7895|
|9.||Buddy Rice||Panther Racing||200||+ 1.0011|
|10.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||200||+ 1.0076|
|11.||Townsend Bell||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||200||+ 1.1767|
|12.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi||200||+ 1.2320|
|13.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 1.7795|
|14.||Dan Wheldon||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||200||+ 2.0668|
|15.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||200||+ 2.1166|
|16.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||200||+ 2.4294|
|17.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||200||+ 3.0101|
|18.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||200||+ 3.4607|
|19.||Will Power||Team Penske||200||+ 6.4970|
|20.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||199||1 lap behind|
|21.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||198||2 laps behind|
|22.||Pippa Mann||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||197||3 laps behind|
|23.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||192||8 laps behind|
|DNF.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||165|
|DNF.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||141|
|DNF.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||140|
|DNF.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||140|
|DNF.||Dillon Battistini||Conquest Racing||124|
|DNF.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||34|
[Images via IZOD IndyCar Series]