Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe took advantage of a timely yellow flag and speedy pitwork to get past team-mate Will Power and take victory in last weekend’s Sonoma Indy Grand Prix at Sears Point Raceway in Northern California, followed home by Power and Dario Franchitti.
For the third year in a row, it was again looking like the Will Power show as the Aussie continued his love affair with the circuit, took pole position and zoomed away into a fairly commanding lead for the first two-thirds of the race.
There was significantly more action taking place further down the field than up at the front. Following close behind was team mate Ryan Briscoe, who for once was showing what he is capable of and how competitive he can be when things go his way, and Briscoe was being followed by Sebastian Bourdais, proving once again that a victory is again just around the corner.
Alex Tagliani took off from the start like a bat out of hell, passing cars left, right and centre. Unfortunately, early in the race, a dart up the inside into the reprofiled Turn 7 saw him tap Scott Dixon and spin the Kiwi around and down to the back of the field.
That was not the end of a rather controversial day for the Canadian, as he later found himself trying to pass Dixon’s team mate Dario Franchitti into the same corner soon after the restart following a big crash between Josef Newgarden and Sebastian Bourdais (more on that later). Tags dove down the inside and appeared to forget where the brake pedal was, also managing to spin Ryan Hunter-Reay around in a similar fashion to the earlier mix-up with Dixon.
Hunter-Reay found himself relegated to the back – a massive blow to the championship contender who was set for a decent points haul and a third place finish. With Power still finishing second, the result blew out the points gap between the Andretti driver and the Aussie, with two races remaining in the season.
Dario Franchitti was rarely seen throughout the telecast, but kept his nose clean, completed his pit stops and overtook where he could to find himself the beneficiary of the skirmish between Tagliani and Hunter-Reay to end his afternoon harrying Power for second place. Despite being out of contention for the drivers title this season, Dario raced as hard as he did fair, and made for an interesting show for the final few laps.
The highlight, unless your name is Josef Newgarden, came with about 20 laps to go, with the rookie racing hard with Sébastian Bourdais up ahead. Side by side into Turn 7, Bourdais found himself on the defensive and rounded the esses approaching the final corner a little too quickly, running off the track and causing his car to slide back across the circuit, right into Newgarden’s path.
The Sarah Fisher Hartman driver had nowhere to go, and made heavy impact with the tyre wall on the outside of the corner, breaking his finger in the ensuing crash. Both drivers were eventually extricated from their cars, Bourdais under his own power, but with Newgarden a little worse for wear. Newgarden’s seat will be taken over by Bruno Junqueira at the upcoming Grand Prix of Baltimore while he recuperates.
And so it was from this full-course caution that Briscoe made his final pit stop, and while Power was held up in traffic, allowed his countryman to get past and hold the lead for the remaining 12 laps to take the victory – his first since Texas 2010. It was evident Briscoe was a bit rusty with the celebration procedure, as he stalled his vehicle in the process of doing some celebratory donuts for the crowd.
Two races remain in the 2012 series championship, with the next stop taking place next weekend across the other side of the country in the harbourside street circuit precinct of Baltimore.
2012 IndyCar Series GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Final Classification (85 laps):
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