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Indy 500: Big guns Ganassi and Penske disappoint

The Target Chip Ganassi team could hardly believe it: for the second week in a row their domination of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was sabotaged by a bad mistake on fuel strategy.
Last weekend, a miscalculation on fuel strategy cost Scott Dixon an expected pole position for the Indianapolis 500, and saw Dario Franchitti fail to set a time at all in the pole shootout. This weekend the cost of the fuel fumble was far, far worse: it cost both drivers almost certain shots at victory in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

On Pole Day, it was speculated - but unconfirmed by the team - that the reason the two Ganassi cars were under-fuelled for their top nine pole shootout was because IndyCar made a late change to the rules for the shootout and allowed the use of 'push to pass' power assistance to the engine during the qualifying laps. That uses up more gas than turning laps under the regular engine power

It resulted in Dixon losing engine power toward the end of his final qualifying lap, costing him fractions of a second that made the difference between first and second on the grid; and Franchitti lost power at the end of his penultimate qualifying lap, meaning he set no shootout time and had to settle for ninth on the grid.

But at least having gone through that trauma and disappointment, the team would now take a lesson from that day's events and make sure they they double- and triple-checked fuel consumption for the race itself. Right?

How then to explain what we saw on that final laps of the Indianapolis 500 itself? Having Franchitti pit on lap 164 and try and stretch his fuel for the remaining 36 laps to the end of the race was always a marginal call, and replied on there being at least a few caution laps in the remainder of the race - which did not materialise. It seems like it was simply a gamble that did not pay off.

"I don't know. I don't understand right now. They're going to have to explain that one to me," said Dario after the race. "I'm disappointed with the result. I don't second-guess these guys. I only have a very narrow view of what's going on. They have the big picture."

Except that it does seem very strange that the race leader - who had been dominating the lead up until that point - should throw it all away if it was really that marginal a fuel call and so absolutely reliant on the unknowable factor of a late caution. Moreover, Franchitti has historically been very good at maximising his fuel use: so how come his car ran short on fuel when rookie JR Hildebrand was able to match his pace throughout and still have enough fuel to make it to the finish line at speed (hitting the wall out of the final turn notwithstanding)?

And as a further element of the mystery - what happened to Scott Dixon? Under Ganassi's strategy, if one strategy left a driver short, then a different strategy for the other driver should allow him to pick up the fallen standard and still win the race for the team. Sure enough, Scott Dixon was brought in on lap 179 with 21 laps to go, and fuel conservation should not have been an issue.

But instead, Dixon faded in the final laps and ultimately finished in fifth place as his pace dropped off. Unbelievably, it was down to fuel again.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Team owners - and IndyCar legends - AJ Foyt and Roger Penske take a chance to catch up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after rain washes out practice on Wednesday, May 18. [Picture credit: Ron McQueeney for IndyCar Media]
Team owners Chip Ganassi (middle) and Roger Penske (right) talk at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Mike Hull (left.) [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
Scott Dixon Road America
Scott Dixon - Chip Ganassi Indy Car [credit: IndyCar TV Twitter]
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Ed Jones
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IndyCar, Dallara 2018 chassis, [Credit: IndyCar]
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Maxx - Unregistered

May 31, 2011 6:30 PM

Enough with the Danica crap. She led only because the 10 people in front of her pitted earlier (except Dario and his 208 mph laps). Unless there was a 10 car accident that made for the race to end under yellow or red, she stood no chance of winning. Best drives of the race Rahal & Kanaan.

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