A strategic gaffe by the Target Chip Ganassi team appeared to have given Helio Castroneves a vital break in the IndyCar championship race - until the Brazilian also erred and handed a maiden IRL victory to rookie Justin Wilson.
Castroneves was poised to slash Scott Dixon's points advantage for the second straight week, following his victory at Infineon Raceway last Sunday, but defended too hard when Wilson challenged him for the lead following the last caution period of the Detroit Indy Grand Prix and was forced to hand over first position by the officials.
Wilson had been a factor all day, but never looked a candidate for the win until the final phase when his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car was able to tail Castroneves closely. The Brazilian, meanwhile, had had to pay second fiddle to points leader Dixon in the opening 19 laps but, once their gameplans differed, was able to set the pace until the closing stages.
Ganassi's decision to pit Dixon under the second caution of the race, and a good ten laps before the first fuel window was expected, raised more than a few eyebrows as it dropped the Kiwi deep into the pack, where he was neither able to run as fast as Castroneves, or pass the slower cars ahead of him to find clear road.
As a result, when the leaders made their stops - under green - around lap 31, they were able to rejoin still ahead of the Target car, which made it only as far as fifth when the dust had settled.
A third caution followed the stops almost immediately, leaving Castroneves at the head of the field, in front of Wilson, Oriol SZervia, Tony Kanaan and Dixon, with Ryan Hunter-Reay attempting to keep pace with the top five.
With the exception of Servia dropping behind Kanaan at the final round of stops, and Hunter-reay suffering a puncture in the heat of battle with Will Power, the order remained the same for the remainder of the race. As he had in the opening stages, Castroneves was able to open a gap on the majority of his pursuers, but had Wilson for company - and the Briton's McDonalds car was suddenly looking the fastest of all.
With the race having been trimmed from 90 laps to a two-hour maximum due to the number of cautions, Wilson used the final restart on lap 69 to make his move, closing quickly on Castroneves before ducking out to the Brazilian's right in an attempt to take the lead. Castroneves reacted by squeezing the NHLR machine closer and closer to the wall, forcing Wilson to back off or take both into the concrete, and the officials duly took a dim view of his actions.
Even before the following lap was complete, Castroneves had been ordered to hand over top spot to his rival and, despite the protestations of the Penske team, ceded the lead on lap 71. With just eleven laps possible before the chequer was raised, there was little time, especially on a course as sinuous as Belle Isle Park, for the Brazilian to retaliate, and he had to settle for a frustrated second - his eighth runners-up finish of the season.