2010 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma – Click above for high-res image gallery
Just five races remain on the 2010 Indy Racing League IndyCar
schedule, and only one of those is a road course. The final four rounds of the championship will all be contested on ovals – but this weekend the drivers will be taking on Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. Last race at Mid-Ohio, series points leader Will Power saw his lead shrink a bit when second place Dario Franchitti took the win. Still, Power clinched the inaugural Mario Andretti trophy for being the road course champ. Not a lot of drivers have a shot at catching the seemingly invincible super Power, but Franchitti has a better track record at Sonoma...and on ovals.
In fact, Power had a pretty nasty crash at Infineon just last year, while Franchitti claimed victory, so it was going to be interesting to see if 2010 would bring a reversal of fortune for the duo. Heading into qualifying, Power was looking to extend his consecutive pole position record and secure enough points to give him a bigger buffer going into the ovals, which haven't been as lucky for him to date. Follow the jump
to see how things played out at Infineon.
[Images: Donald Miralle, Christian Petersen/Getty Images | George Nikitin, Rich Pedroncelli/AP]
While he made it through the first round of qualifying with no problem, Power seemed to be struggling a bit in round two and looked like he might actually be outside the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in a very long time. On his next-to-last lap, however, Will cranked off a lap good enough for best time of the day. That same speed carried over into the final round and Power succeeded in stretching his record Peak Performance Pole Position count to eight overall in 210. Amazing. Teammate Helio Castroneves was second followed by rival Target Chip Ganassi's Dario Franchitti, setting up an interesting run into Turn One.
When the green flag flew, the field started to string out, but everybody was quickly back down to pace car speeds as Dan Wheldon didn't even make it to the start-finish line before he was upside down on track. It appeared that he drifted a bit wide coming out of the last corner and clipped the right front tire of Bertrand Baguette's car, launching his racer into a barrel roll. The safety team righted the car and Wheldon was shaken up but apparently fine otherwise.
The first five laps were run under yellow, but that didn't take anything away from the fact that Will Power had officially led 12 of the 13 races this season – the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record coming at Kansas. There were several good battles all the way down the running order, with cars going three wide at times into the Carousel. Up towards the front, Dario Franchitti managed to get past Helio Castroneves for second, but nobody looked to be making a serious move on Power who was lapping a full second faster than anyone else at one point.
Will was out front at Lap 25 too, the race moving quickly following that opening lap shunt. As the cars completed their first round of pit stops around Lap 30, it was Power, Marco Andretti, J.R. Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Castroneves, Justin Wilson, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal in the top ten spots, although Andretti and Hildebrand were on a different pit strategy.
The first full-course caution since the opening lap came out on Lap 33 when Milka Duno spun in Turn 7 and came to rest in a precarious position. Simona di Silvestro pitted under yellow to replace a damaged nosecone, while Andretti and E.J. Viso finally made their first stops. As the field went back to green on Lap 35, Power's lead had shrunk back to nothing, but his Penske teammate, Briscoe was now between him and Franchitti.
A couple of laps later, Marco Andretti got a run on J.R. Hildebrand, but locked up his tires and clipped the rookie, spinning both of them. There wasn't a lot of damage to Andretti's car, but Hildebrand would be out for the day once he was brought back to the pits. Although not a major impact, it was still enough to bring out the third caution of the day.
The next restart on Lap 41 was clean, and everybody looked to be on their best behavior for the run to the finish. Although Power was once again drawing away from the pack, the other top runners were tightly bunched, with Franchitti and his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon all over Ryan Briscoe who was running in second. The final round of stops started around Lap 52 and with just about 23 laps to run, almost everybody chose to run the grippier red striped Bridgestones to the checkers. With the possibility those softer tires might go off before the finish if the race went green the rest of the way, however, Dario decided to try the blacks. When Dixon decided to stay out as Power pitted, it was the first time in the race that Will hadn't led.
Dixon had to stop again though, and with 15 laps to go, it was once again Power out front, followed by Franchitti, Dixon, Briscoe, Castroneves, Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Rahal and Rafael Matos in the top ten. The decision to go with the blacks seemed to cost Franchitti a few laps later as his teammate, Scott Dixon, easily slid past and started a charge at Power. Dixon caught a bit of a break a couple of laps later too, as E.J. Viso, Rafael Matos and Takuma Sato tried to make a Baguette sandwich going into the Carousel. Bertrand got the worst of it, but the field was once again bunched for a final sprint to the finish.
On the restart with just six laps to go, Scott Dixon made a move on Power but wasn't able to get close enough to pull off the pass. He stayed tight on Power's tail, though, looking for his shot. It looked like they might get another yellow with just two to go, as Takuma Sato couldn't quite slow enough to avoid Danica Patrick, breaking her front wing and sending Sato into the pits. A few turns later, the victory was sealed for Power, however, when Francesco Dracone spun in the final turn, bringing out the white and yellow together. So, a year after leaving the track on a stretcher, Will Power was taking home the win and extending his points lead in the championship. That was the sixth different winner in six races at Sonoma, but also Power's fifth win of the season.
The next race in Chicago will start the final chapter of the 2010 season, with four consecutive oval races finishing off the schedule. Power hasn't had as much luck on ovals as he has on road and street courses, unlike his closest challengers who usually strong on ovals. Power looks strong, but Dixon and Franchitti still have a chance to catch him. Join us on August 28th for the Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois – and don't forget to check out the full results and standings below.