Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fuel Savings Allow Castroneves to Go the Distance for Kentucky Win

Photo Credit: Dana Garrett

With three races remaining in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series as cars arrive for the season's last night race at Kentucky Speedway. Besides the aspirations of 20-plus regular competitors wanting to end the year off on a high note, a contentious overall points fight is brewing between current leader Will Power and reigning IZOD IndyCar champ Dario Franchitii. Optimizing his chance to collect a 3rd overall IndyCar title in 4 years, Franchitti's win at the last round in Chicagoland brought the driver of Target/Chip Ganassi's #10 car just 23 points away from Penske Racing's best hope.

In qualifying for the Kentucky Indy 300 on the 1.5 mile oval gave a snapshot of what could be a very extraordinary event. As the green flag dropped at Kentucky Speedway, wildcard Ed Carpenter led the 27-car field to the start. Immediately fighting off the charge of Penske Racing's Will Power, Carpenter would lead the first lap which was unfortunately greeted with the race's first yellow flag. The #5 KV Racing Technology vehicle of Takuma Sato crashed in turn 4 failing to complete a single lap in the Kentucky Indy 300.

After cleaning up the #5 car, racing action resumed on lap 9 with Carpenter out front. However, Ed Carpenter's reign in the lead in the Vision Racing car would come to an end when Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon passed him for lap 11. Under the Vision Racing/Panther Racing alliance that granted Carpenter a ride through the final races of the 2010 season, Wheldon's 43-lap lead in the #4 car after the #20 car allowed the Panther Racing team to stay out front for the first 54 laps.

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney

Nearing the end on fuel and tires under green, the front-running teams shot to pit road. The well-funded, well-trained #12 Penske Racing and #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crews performed effectively as the night hit the Kentucky Speedway. With Power and Dixon benefiting from their crew armed with almost a season worth of experience, the Ed Carpenter and the Vision Racing team appeared to have suffered from their limited 2010 race schedule. Entering lap 50 second behind Dan Wheldon, Carpenter dropped to 10th place once leaving pit lane. The #6 Penske Racing car of Ryan Briscoe and Paul Tracy driving the #24 Dreyer and Reinbold Racing machine would lead during the pit stop exchange before the #12 of Will Power found himself out front. Taking the lead on lap 61, Power found himself in a unusually strong position on an oval track this season. The #12 Verizon Penske Racing car spent 83 laps in the 1st place position with 81 of those laps occurring consecutively after the first pit stop.

With only two cautions flying in the Kentucky Indy 300, the final caution flew on lap 80 brought out for a multiple car crash involving the #6 of Ryan Briscoe, the #14 of Vitor Meira and the #78 of Simona de Silvestro. Created in turn 3, the incident occured when Meira attempted to pass de Silvestro on the inside while the faster Briscoe steered to the outside of both drivers. Contact was made between the #78 and #14 which would also catch the #6 as a bystander. Insisting that Vitor Meira was aggressive on passing, de Silvestro expressed deep regret for Ryan Briscoe being wrecked. "I knew that Ryan (Briscoe) was on the outside and he kind of stuck his nose in there. I didn't see him, and I didn't know he was there. I'm really sorry if I was in the way." Apart from a long caution, only the cars suffered any serious damage with all three drivers checked and received at the medical center.

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney

Running clean and green through the second half, the Kentucky Indy 300 was shaping into a possible fuel economy run as pit stops within the lap 140-150 range left many teams on the edge of running to the finish or requiring a stop-and-go stop for fuel. As the numbers were being crunched by IZOD IndyCar race team engineers for each car, Dan Wheldon past Will Power to retake the lead through pit stops. In fact, Power's #12 car began showing troubles keeping his same pace as he fell down in the order of the top-5 cars. "The Verizon car was great out front. I had a little understeer back in traffic." Power commented on the problems through his last run. This was compounded by a near miss incident where the Australian get loose on track. Power, who finished 8th at the end said in post-race ".... I think I hit some oil from an earlier incident between Turns 3 and 4".

Without cautions, green flag pit strategy entered into effect in the races final 10 laps. Wheldon and Franchitti dropped into the pits by 196 for a quick splash of ethanol making it look less evident that lead cars would chance a winning run on a fuel gamble. Carpenter attempted to run his #20 car as close as possible to the checkered flag but just didn't have the reserves to go all the way. The one and only cars in the contending pack to make a fuel economy attempt was Helio Castroneves. Slowing drastically to a pace which involved laps more than 10 mile per hour than the leaders, Castroneves' skilled fuel consuming abilities allowed his #3 Penske Racing car to capture victory.

After a magnificant qualifying effort to grant his #20 car a pole, Ed Carpenter backed up his effort from Friday with a 2nd place in Saturday night's race. Carpenter finishes ahead of Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon who has now secured 2 top-3 results in the past 2 IZOD IndyCar races. In 4th place, the 26th place starting Andretti Autosport car of Tony Kanaan rocketed early in the race to an excellent efforton the night. In fact, after an overall dismal time trial for Andretti Autosport, 3 of the 4 cars finished in the top-9 after 200 laps in Kentucky. Marco Andretti 6th and Danica Patrick 9th, Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered a late-race mechanical issue on his #37 machine. Completing the Kentucky Indy 300's top-5 was Dario Franchitti who gained a small but possibly important 5 points on Will Power in the overall championship.

More than a month passing since his explosive objection to a penalization for blocking at the Edmonton Honda Indy, Helio Castroneves' emotions were more devoted to joy as he celebrates with his #3 Penske Racing team sharing the victory lane at Kentucky. Winning a Barber Motorsport Park earlier this season, Castroneves also becomes the only Penske Racing driver so far this year to win on a road course and an oval. Sitting mathematically a non-factor to the 2010 IZOD IndyCar overall championship in 4th place, Helio Castroneves could easily set sights on the AJ Foyt trophy for oval points scored in the season. The #3 Penske Racing driver is only 29 points away from leader Dario Franchitti for that honour.

Heading to the land of the rising sun next, the 2nd to last round of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season takes place at the Twin-Ring Motegi circuit.

2010 IZOD IndyCar Series
Kentucky Indy 300
Kentucky Speedway
Race Results

1. 3 Helio Castroneves/Brazil/ Penske Racing
2. 20 Ed Carpenter/United States/ Panther/Vision Racing
3. 4 Dan Wheldon/England/ Panther Racing
4. 11 Tony Kanaan/Brazil/ Andretti Autosport
5. 10 Dario Franchitti/Scotland/ Target/Chip Ganassi Racing
6. 26 Marco Andretti/United States/ Andretti Autosport
7. 9 Scott Dixon/New Zealand/ Target/Chip Ganassi Racing
8. 12 Will Power/Australia/ Penske Racing
9. 7 Danica Patrick/United States/ Andretti Autosport
10. 36 Bertrand Baguette/Belgium/ Conquest Racing
11. 22 Justin Wilson/England/ Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
12. 24 Paul Tracy/Canada/ Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
13. 19 Alex Lloyd/England/ Dale Coyne Racing
14. 34 Tomas Scheckter/South Africa/ Conquest Racing
15. 77 Alex Tagliani/Canada/ FAZZT Race Team
16. 2 Raphael Matos/Brazil/ de Ferran Dragon Racing
17. 06 Hideki Mutoh/ Japan/ Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
18. 32 Mario Moraes/Brazil/ KV Racing Technology
19. 18 Milka Duno/Venezuela/ Dale Coyne Racing
20. 02 Graham Rahal/United States/ Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
21. 37 Ryan Hunter-Reay/United States/ Andretti Autosport
22. 67 Sarah Fisher/United States/ Sarah Fisher Racing
23. 14 Vitor Meira/Brazil/ AJ Foyt Racing Enterprises
24. 6 Ryan Briscoe/Australia/ Penske Racing
25. 78 Simona De Silvestro/Switzerland HVM Racing
26. 8 EJ Viso/Venezuela/ KV Racing Technology
27. 5 Takuma Sato/Japan/ KV Racing Technology

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