2010 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio – Click above for high-res image gallery
With just six races left on the schedule, the IndyCar Series
moved to its penultimate road course event: Mid-Ohio. While series leader Will Power was in position to wrap up the inaugural Mario Andretti trophy for the series road course champion, he also had a good shot at putting the overall championship out of reach as well. While that was a pretty big deal, everyone was still talking about the crazy ending to the last race at Edmonton
To recap, Helio Castroneves was black-flagged for taking the inside line while leading into turn 1 on a restart, but he ignored the order and stayed on track just in case. When he drove into the vicinity of victory lane three laps later, he was deflected aside. Helio jumped out of his car, looking for anyone with a headset who might be able to explain why the race leader would have to give up his hard-fought lead so late in the race. He didn't get much of an answer – at least not right away. Chief Steward Brian Barnhart reviewed the tapes and stuck to his on-field call. For good measure, he fined Castroneves $60,000 for his tantrum
While that pretty much eliminated Helio from championship contention, there was still a race to run this weekend. Follow the jump
to see how things played out at Mid-Ohio.
[Images: Chris Graythen, Rick Dole, Robert Laberge/Getty Images, Jay LaPrete/AP]
While several incidents (both on-track and off) took out several competitors in the early rounds of qualifying, the Firestone Fast Six looked familiar: Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Will Power. The other contender for the Peak Performance Pole Position was Takuma Sato, the former Formula 1 driver who has displayed great speed all season, albeit with few championship points to show for it. While these drivers swapped fastest times, Power wasn't clearly out front until the last two laps.
When the session ended, the final order was Will Power, Dario Franchitti, Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves in spots one through six. Will Power crashed pretty hard in practice earlier in the day, and now, just by starting the race on Sunday, he would clinch the road race championship. Would anyone catch this guy?
When the green flag waved, Sato slipped past Dario for second, but Franchitti wasn't about to let that stand. After a couple of exciting laps, Dario was back in second and reeling in the race leader. Everybody pretty much settled in after that, plugging away until the first pit window on lap 24. Although stops on a road course like this aren't too painful under green, most of the drivers generally prefer to stop under yellow. As if on cue, Justin Wilson and E.J. Viso tangled, both cars sliding into precarious enough places to bring out the race's first caution.
Mid-Ohio's pit lane is very narrow and the pit boxes were extra-short because of the 27-car field, so a full-field stop was going to be interesting. While almost everybody avoided contact, Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn't so lucky. The beleaguered driver got caught in the middle of a Penske sandwich trying to exit his slot, his left front suspension taking a bad enough bump to send him back into the pits the next time around. The team did a great job, swapping in the new parts along with a new nose and getting Ryan back out on the lead lap.
Up front, Will Power had the first pit box and his team gave him a perfect stop, but Dario Franchitti still managed to slip past him as they returned to the track... in third and fourth place. Two cars stayed out during the yellow – Tony Kanaan made an unscheduled pit stop much earlier in the race, and Alex Tagliani pitted just two laps before the caution. That left him at the front of the field on the restart with a good shot at staying up there. The tires barely had a chance to get warm on the restart, though, before Jay Howard was in the kitty litter, bringing out another full-course yellow. The incident also claimed Takuma Sato, unfortunately, who had made the best IndyCar start of his young career.
Halfway through the 85-Lap race, the top ten were Tags, T.K., Dario, Power, Helio, Ryan Briscoe, Simona de Silvestro, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Bertrand Baguette. A lap later it was time for Kanaan to stop again, though, dropping him back to 21st and moving everybody else up a spot.
As the field entered the second pit window, the leaders started filing in one-by-one. Dario ended up out front after that round of stops, but just as the leaders came through the backmarkers, Milka Duno almost took out Will Power. She was on the inside line (as she was supposed to be), but that forced Will out into the marbles. He had a nasty wiggle but recovered and swept past her safely.
Shortly thereafter, on Lap 63 first-time IndyCar runner Francesco Dracone spun into the gravel. Although Graham Rahal had done basically the same thing a corner or two ahead of him, Rahal was able to continue while Dracone wasn't. That brought out the third full-course yellow of the day and set up a final dash to the checkers with the field bunched up, topped off and aching to grab some points.
Dracone was pulled out of the sand, but right after the field went back to green he was pirouetting again. This time, he avoided the beach but came to rest right across the track. The field was once again reset and ready for the run to the finish. Dario must have felt the pressure up front with successive restarts and Will Power filling his mirrors.
The next restart was clean, and everybody was on their best behavior to keep it green until the checkered flag flew. Dario Franchitti led Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Alex Tagliani and Scott Dixon for the run to the finish with 13 laps to go. With just two laps left, Will had cozied up to Dario's rear, the two drivers a few seconds ahead of Castroneves in third place . Power pushed hard into every corner, but Dario managed to stay ahead as they crossed the finish line.
Franchitti picked up some sorely-needed points, but Will Power wasn't too far back. Power clinched the road-racing title for 2010 with one more race to go at Sonoma before the final four oval contests of the season. Power hasn't been as good on the left-turn-only circuits, so who knows whether Franchitti will be able to make a run at the overall championship by the time things wrap up in Miami on October 2.
Join us in two weeks for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma – and don't forget to check out the tables and high-res gallery below.