As far as late race restarts go, the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway gave a sadly thin crowd of race-going fans an absolute nail-biter with only two laps to go.
But for all those who thought it was too short for anything to happen, nobody told Will Power. The Australian moved from fifth to second in two laps to finish just behind deserving winner Ed Carpenter.
For much of the 248-lap event, Power was in almost an easy level of control, practically undisturbed out in front. From an early restart on Lap 8 – the first caution caused by a Marco Andretti engine blowup and fire on Lap 3 – Power was in a class of his own and progressively opened up a multi-second gap which was maintained for well over 100 laps through several scheduled pit stops.
Behind him, there was plenty of jostling among the chasers, with exciting and clean racing all around. The only real highlight of the early laps was a missed pit lane entrance by James Hinchcliffe on Lap 43. The Canadian’s Andretti Autosports entry was never really hooked up right all night and it was clear he was struggling to hold onto it on more than one occasion. Never was this more evident when he slowed to make his first pit stop under green flag racing and missed the pit entrance, resulting in him moving at relatively slow speed (compared to others) on the racing line and very much in harm’s way. Thankfully, he managed to get back to some sort of speed, and thankfully with no cars needing to make any drastic alterations to their line to get past. ‘Hinch’ successfully pitted next time by.
The next caution period came on Lap 121 when the cameras caught the wreckage of Sébastien Bourdais sliding down the circuit to a halt on the apron on the exit of Turn 4. Further back was a damaged Dale Coyne entry piloted by Justin Wilson resting against the wall. Replays showed Wilson going for a pass on the Frenchman and hugging the white line at the bottom of the circuit before being squeezed onto the apron, thus completely unbalancing the car and sending Wilson into a spin and collecting Bourdais on the way. Upon extricating himself from the car, Wilson was clearly not impressed, and Bourdais later apologised for the move during a TV interview after both were released from mandatory medical checks.
Much of the field had pitted relatively recently, but saw the opportunity for a top-up and dove for fresh service, emerging in much the same order as they entered. Not quite so for Carlos Muñoz, who came into the pits way too hot and spun at the far end of the pit lane in his frantic efforts to slow down, coming to rest alongside the pit wall.
With Power’s advantage now well and truly gone, Ed Carpenter, who had been fighting strongly among the chasing pack and now found himself in second place, took the fight right to the Aussie.
Soon after the restart, the Indy 500 pole sitter made his move and passed Power for the lead. At first, viewers thought something had broken on Power’s car, as Carpenter made his move with an apparent ease and opened up an immediate gap. Thankfully it was a false alarm as Power soon found whatever he may have lost and began clawing back Carpenter’s new advantage.
With around 60 laps remaining at this point, fans were salivating at the battle that was now shaping. Almost in unison, Carpenter and Power headed for their final pit stops on Lap 212 and the stage was set for a titanic battle.
Unfortunately, as we discovered a lap later, Power had locked his left front on entry to the pits and therefore exceeded the pitlane speed limit, forcing a drive through which he took the very next lap. For his sake, his prowess in the race to that point, which saw him lap most of the field, meant that the drive-through only dropped him to sixth place, although when he emerged, Carpenter was about to put him a lap down, and the battle had now turned into one of survival for Power, and he was able to stay ahead on the same lap as the leader.
As Power struggled to remain on the lead lap, his saving grace came with six laps to go when the Honda engine in Takuma Sato’s ABC Supply AJ Foyt Enterprises machine cried enough and erupted with a small fire similar to that of Marco Andretti at the other end of the race. With all lapped cars in front able to pass the pace car, regain a lap and join at the back of the pack, it gave a free pass to the pits for all in front, an opportunity taken by Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Power, to make a quick dash to the pits.
But with only two laps remaining from the restart, Ed Carpenter was never headed and came home with the third victory of his career and further evidence of his oval prowess.
At the final corner, Power squeezed past Juan Pablo Montoya to take second place by five hundredths of a second – the Colombian having one of the finest outings of his return to the series so far but disappointed at his last gasp surrender of second. He was later annoyed both at his own defence of the spot and at officials, seeking clarity on the restart rules, which he felt Carpenter abused by being so quick off the mark.
Simon Pagenaud and Dixon rounded out the Top 5, followed by Tony Kanaan in sixth.
Now finally, after five weeks of stress and competition, the teams and drivers can exhale for three weeks to prepare for the second leg of the Texas double – and the second and final double-header of the season, in Houston at the end of the month.
2014 IndyCar Series Firestone 600 – Race Result (248 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Result|
|1.||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet||2:01:25.576|
|2.||Will Power||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 0.525|
|3.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 0.577|
|4.||Simon Pagenaud||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||+ 1.151|
|5.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 2.151|
|6.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 2.446|
|7.||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||+ 1 lap|
|8.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 1 lap|
|9.||Ryan Briscoe*||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 1 lap|
|10.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 1 lap|
|11.||Josef Newgarden*||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda||+ 1 lap|
|12.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 2 laps|
|13.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 3 laps|
|14.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 4 laps|
|15.||Jack Hawksworth||Bryan Herta Autosport Honda||+ 4 laps|
|16.||Carlos Huertas||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 4 laps|
|17.||Sebastián Saavedra||KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda||+ 4 laps|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda||238 laps|
|DNF.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport Honda||136 laps|
|DNF.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology Honda||118 laps|
|DNF.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||118 laps|
|DNF.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport Honda||3 laps|
* Denotes 30-second time penalty applied post-race for failing to observe a drive-through penalty as instructed by race officials.
Image via Motorsport.com