Justin Wilson recovered from a mid-race pit lane mishap to put himself in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of others’ misfortunes to take a sensational and dramatic victory at today’s Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wilson, running second with three laps to go behind Graham Rahal, still would likely have been happy with a second-placed result, however a late mistake by Rahal in which he brushed the wall on the outside of Turn 4 enabled the lanky Yorkshireman to power through to take his seventh IndyCar career win, his second for Dale Coyne Racing, first oval win and first in forty-four races, dating back to Watkins Glen in 2009.
Wilson was at or near the front from quite early in the race, despite a 19th-placed starting position. Earlier, during a round of pit stops sprung from a backstretch accident involving Takuma Sato, Sam Schmidt driver Simon Pagenaud overshot his pit stall, knocking one of his tyres into Wilson’s pit stall directly ahead, which forced an extended pit stop for Wilson while the errant tyre was returned and pit service performed on the Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne entry. Pagenaud later received a drive-through penalty for the indiscretion.
The night was largely disappointing for Chip Ganassi and his four entries, despite so much promise. With Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon sandwiching Graham Rahal on the grid in 2nd, 3rd and 4th, signs showed a positive night for the team.
The first caution of the night was caused by Charlie Kimball, the remaining Ganassi entry, who crossed the white line at the bottom of the track and lost the back end, spinning into the wall fairly early in the night.
Also from early in the race were indications all was not well with Dario Franchitti. Multiple loose moments in which Franchitti had to battle to keep the car out of the wall were too much for the Indy 500 winner, pitting for his mechanics to put four turns (or for the less technically minded – a heck of a lot of front wing downforce) into the front wing to correct significant understeer. As the stop occurred under green flag conditions, Franchitti lost a lap. The problem continued for the remainder of the race and Franchitti was never in contention all night and eventually finished three laps down.
Pole-sitter Alex Tagliani was also fighting a belligerent and misbehaving car, doing well to hold the lead for the first 22 laps before he was swamped by Scott Dixon and did not bother the leaders for the rest of the night.
For much of the race, Dixon was untouchable. After assuming the lead early, the New Zealander was setting the pace, making quick and clean pit stops and heading for a certain comfortable victory. However, following yet another slick pit stop, Dixon found himself getting held up by slower traffic and his momentum severely disrupted, and in a moment of distraction, slipped below the apron which unsettled the car and pushed Dixon into a spin and heavy contact with the wall. A disappointing end to what was looking to be a sure win.
Dixon’s demise put Team Penske firmly in charge, with Will Power ahead of Ryan Briscoe, while Tony Kanaan kept Helio Castroneves from locking out the Top 3 positions for Penske. At the restart, Power and Briscoe found Kanaan desperate to get through, and Power made a reactive move to take the corner which was perceived as a block by Beaux Barfield and the race stewards, who promptly issued Power with a drive-through penalty which cost the championship leader any chance of victory and indeed put Power a lap down.
Kanaan also suffered, with Power’s blocking move damaging TK’s front wing which forced him into the pits for repairs. Kanaan was spotted after the race in discussion with Power, both obviously frustrated and getting their point across.
Any fears of pack racing developing were largely unfounded thanks to the drivers unanimously voting a week earlier in Detroit to reduce their downforce levels to restrict the ability to run flat out through the entire Texas oval.
The decision proved to be a masterstroke. Aside from restarts when everyone was scrambling for position, there was no constant side-by-side running, yet still plenty of slipstreaming and overtaking. The cars were more difficult to control and the reduced grip / increased drag combination led to the drivers having to control their cars more through the corners and unable to run flat out around the course. It ended up being the perfect compromise and in addition to the temporary shelving of double-file restarts, resulted in a much safer race.
For Simona De Silvestro and Rubens Barrichello however, the night didn’t even begin, with neither able to fire up their engines on the grid to even get out of the blocks. It was another embarrassment for Lotus, while unfortunate for Barrichello, who had qualified well in 14th in his first 1.5-mile oval event.
But it was Justin Wilson in the right place at the right time, who took a deserved victory for the always popular perennial underdog Dale Coyne Racing.
2012 IndyCars Texas Firestone 550 – Final Classification (228 laps):
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