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Castroneves win at Infineon.

Helio Castroneves had never previously led a lap at Infineon Raceway, and had gone some 29 races without being able to enjoy his familiar fence-climbing 'spiderman' celebration, but put both right on Sunday afternoon in Sonoma.

Echoing the sort of resolve that saw Sam Hornish Jr win for Penske after its facilities had been badly hit by flooding a couple of seasons back, the Brazilian shrugged off this week's transporter fire to convert pole position into a first victory since St Petersburg in 2007, claiming the bonus point for most laps led for good measure along the way.

To make things even better for Penske, Ryan Briscoe backed Castroneves up in second place, the two distinctive red-and-white machines reprising the 1-2 result from qualifying as Castroneves made sizeable inroads into Scott Dixon's championship lead.

In a race largely decided by pit strategy, Castroneves led Briscoe away at the start of the 80 laps, returning to the front each time the early stoppers had to call in for more fuel and new rubber.

Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon were the first to chance their arm by switching to an alternative gameplan, but otehrs followed the final results showed a mix of those to take the gamble and those, like Briscoe, Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick, who decided to stick with convention and hold on for as long as possible.

With just one yellow, for the hapless Marty Roth's spin on lap 16, the benefit of stopping as early as Wheldon, Meira and co had done was negated, with each needing to make a third fuel stop before the chequer came out. After that, it became a question of pace and positioning that determined who finished where as the strategies collided.

Castroneves led until the yellow prompted the first rush for the pits, handing the lead to his team-mate for the next ten laps. The Australian's need for fuel promoted leading rookie Ernesto Viso to the front of the pack, the Venezuelan having stopped amongst the early batch on lap 13.

Viso enjoyed eight laps out front before his strategy handed the initiave back to Castroneves on lap 37, the Brazilian resuming with Briscoe, Dixon, Justin Wilson - up from seventh on the grid - Will Power, Oriol Servia and Kanaan in his wake. Stopping when he did, however, allowed the poleman to open out an eleven-second gap to his Penske partner and a crucial 13 to title rival Dixon.

Briscoe retook the lead when Castroneves next pitted on lap 44, but the Brazilian rejoined this time in fourth spot, behind Kanaan, ande was able to quickly cycle back to the front over the next ten tours. It was clear though that, with a tank lasting only around 26 laps, a third stop would be required for Castroneves to make the chequer, while his main rivals could run to the finish after their second.



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Helio Castroneves - Team Penske   [pic credit: IRL/Haines]
Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing, IndyCar [Credit: Ed Jones PR]
Alexander Rossi - Andretti Autosport   [pic credit: Indycar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Ed Jones celebrates winning the 2016 Indy Lights championship
Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) celebrates at Laguna Seca
Kyle Kaiser - Juncos Racing
Ed Carpenter Racing crew working on the boss` car   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Indy Lights action
Indy Lights title contender Santiago Urrutia, Ed Jones, Dean Stoneman, Felix Serralles, Kyle Kaiser and Zach Veach   [pic credit: IndyCar Media]
Santiago Urrutia - Schmidt Petersen Motorsport
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to victory at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to pole at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Graham Rahal celebrates victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway   (image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens)
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]

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