Crash.Net IndyCar News
Castroneves makes it seven from seven
25 June 2000
It took Penske three years to get from win number 99 to win number 100, but it took them just three races to take win number 101. Helio Castroneves stormed home at the tricky Belle Isle circuit, beating Max Papis home by four seconds.
The notorious Belle Isle parkland circuit once again proved to be a car breaker as long-time leader Juan Montoya was forced out of the lead with a broken driveshaft with just twenty laps to go.
Montoya had led the field away from pole position although fellow front row man Dario Franchitti challenged the Colombian hard into the first series of corners. Unlike last year Montoya didn't pull away and leave the field for dead and Franchitti was able to stay within three seconds until the first round of pit-stops.
Behind the lead two, Castroneves held his third place away from the grid and settled down with team-mate Gil De Ferran tucked in behind him. Behind these two there was a good deal of shuffling going on with Cristiano Da Matta nipping past Papis on the opening lap to take up fifth place with Christian Fittipaldi replicating his move on the Italian to take up sixth. Kenny Brack, in the second Team Rahal car, followed his team-mate in eighth place while Roberto Moreno and Michael Andretti rounded out the top ten.
Paul Tracy made a superb getaway from his 20th starting position overtaking five cars on the opening lap and settling in behind the second Ganassi car of Jimmy Vasser, the top two in the championship circulating just outside the points in 14th and 15th places.
Gradually Castroneves was able to ease away from his team-mate and turned his attention to Franchitti. However as is always the case in Detroit, the track quickly became very slippery off-line which made passing difficult and Castroneves had to be content with sitting in behind the Scot and hoping he made a mistake.
The gap between the lead pair stabilised at about 1.5 seconds after ten laps with the Lola-Toyota combination working very well on both the tight and twisty sections of the Belle Isle track aswell as the comparatively fast, sweeping sections. Franchitti appeared to be working much harder behind the wheel than Montoya while Castroneves just appeared to be biding his time and waiting for Dario to make a mistake.
The first re-shuffle in the pack came on lap ten when Kenny Brack nudges the wall also causing the closely following Michael Andretti to take evasive action. Andretti was able to continue back in twelfth place, just ahead of the scrapping Vasser and Tracy while Brack could only cruise back to the pits with a bent suspension.
Brack was not the first driver to touch the wall however. Two laps earlier Da Matta, still holding down his superb fifth position made light contact with the concrete on the exit of the penultimate turn although he was able to continue, albeit a little further behind De Ferran who was now left to plough a lonely furrow in fourth.
Sadly, on lap 14 Da Matta's fine run came to an end when his Toyota engine cried enough. The young Brazilian pulled forlornly into the pit-lane and climbed out of his machine to record another retirement and further watch his feint championship hopes disappear.
Cristiano's demise left Fittipaldi in fifth place although he was coming under increasing pressure from Papis, Moreno, Oriol Servia, Patrick Carpentier and Adrian Fernandez who completed the top ten. Andretti was still running in eleventh, a little way ahead of the still scrapping Vasser and Tracy who were now disputing the final points scoring position.
It had now become obvious to all and sundry that Franchitti was not happy with his car, Montoya's lead had suddenly grown to over four seconds and Castroneves was making an even more determined effort to pass the Scot. Indeed Franchitti told his team that his rear tyres were shot which allowed Castroneves to tuck in under the exhaust of the Team KOOL Green Reynard.
Franchitti wasn't the only driver who was unhappy with his car for Montoya had also radioed to his crew that there was something amiss with the balance of his car. Montoya's lack of balance, combined with traffic meant that as the leaders approached the 25 lap mark, the Colombian's lead had shrunk to a fraction over two seconds.
That gap was increased dramatically on the next lap when Franchitti made for the pit-lane for fuel and tyres. The Scotsman rejoined the track in ninth place behind the impressive Servia.
A lap later Montoya and Castroneves both pitted and although the Ganassi crew did enough to keep Montoya in the lead, Castroneves' stop was superb and the Penske driver came back onto the track ahead of Franchitti and closer to Montoya than he had been all afternoon.
Behind the lead trio, De Ferran had maintained his fourth position ahead of Fittipaldi, Papis, Moreno and Servia . Tracy had managed to find a way past Vasser and was now tenth while Andretti's day had gone from bad to worse when he was called back into the pits after breaking the pit-lane speed limit.
On lap 31 Fernandez, having an unspectacular run just outside the top twelve, spun at Turn 8 and stalled his Reynard-Ford. His machine needed to be cleared off the track which meant that the pace car was deployed for the first time.
The caution stayed out for a further three laps while the Mexican driver's machine was removed. As the green flag fell, Mark Blundell lost control of his Reynard-Mercedes and made light contact with the tyres. The Englishman kept the engine running and was able to rejoin the race after a slight delay, by which time the rest of the field had roared into the distance.
Montoya made a copybook getaway but so did Castroneves and during the next few laps, traditionally Montoya's strongest point in the race, Castroneves was able to peg the Colombian back. By lap 40 the gap between the top two was just 1.5 seconds and Castroneves looked comfortable in running at the same pace as Montoya. Behind them Franchitti had kept the pressure on Castroneves for several laps before he began to drop away, once again complaining of a poorly handling car.
The only other major changes in the top ten had occurred when Servia took advantage of Takuya Kurosawa accidentally blocking Moreno to snatch seventh and when Tracy lunged down the inside of Carpentier around the back of the circuit to take ninth.
As the race progressed into its second half Montoya was able to stabilise the gap between himself and Castroneves at two seconds although behind them, the race for third had come alive.
Franchitti had been struggling with his car for some time, finding that it had developed an alarming tendency to turn right whenever it wanted to. De Ferran noticed the Scotsman struggling and was swiftly past into third while Fittipaldi and Papis were soon harrying the Team Green driver. By lap 50 both had forced their way past Franchitti who was now losing three seconds a lap to Montoya.
Montoya had now begun to stretch the field somewhat, he has pulled out a four second advantage on Castroneves, who in-turn was well clear of his team-mate. Papis and Fittipaldi were several seconds further adrift of the second Penske. Franchitti was on his own in sixth, still fighting his evil car, but was being caught by a tremendous scrap for seventh involving Servia, Moreno, Tracy and Carpentier. Andretti was a little further back in eleventh but recovering well from his penalty while Alex Tagliani held the final points scoring position. An off-form Vasser came next under increasing pressure from Michel Jourdain Jr in a battle for thirteenth while Tarso Marques in the Swift headed the tail-enders. That number included both PacWest machines, after his spin Blundell had dropped to 18th, one place ahead of his team-mate who had been an early pit visitor with engine problems.
As the race approached its most critical period, the second round of pit-stops, Montoya kept the gap steady at around 4.5 seconds to Castroneves who now had De Ferran and Fittipaldi right with him. Montoya's Lola-Toyota was performing well on worn tyres and a light fuel load which enabled him to ease off slightly in an effort to save fuel.
Franchitti meanwhile had diagnosed his problem as a jammed brake disc in the suspension but was grimly holding onto sixth. Behind him Moreno grew tired of sitting in the queue and took a lunge at Servia. The move was fractionally mistimed and Moreno lost momentum allowing Tracy to get a run off the turn and move ahead. However the man on the move was Papis who had conserved his tyres and, now free of Franchitti, was rapidly closing on Fittipaldi.
On lap 56 Franchitti ducked into the pits to take on fuel and tyres and to have the debris removed from his car. With no replacement duct on, Franchitti would have to deal with a wildly inconsistent car under brakes, no mean feat around this cramped circuit.
Both Penske's came in on lap 57, returning to the track as one although for De Ferran, the pit-lane was filled with peril, for as he was leaving his stall, Tracy was arriving in the stall next-door. Somehow contact was avoided although Tracy was unfortunate to clip one of his crewmen as he took evasive action. This enabled Fittipaldi and Papis to close right up on De Ferran as they rejoined the circuit, a little way behind Castroneves.
Montoya's late economy run enabled him to run for an extra lap before pitting, once again his Ganassi crew turning him round in quick order which allowed him to maintain his lead.
Moreno now led for a lap, the Brazilian again making his fuel last longer than anyone else, but when he made his stop, normal service was resumed.
Montoya now resumed his perch at the head of the field but Castroneves was still within striking distance. Fittipaldi found a way past De Ferran to take third while Papis followed along closely. Moreno was now sixth while the Player's Forsythe crew had turned Tagliani round in record time and as a result the young Canadian had vaulted into seventh. Franchitti was next up ahead of Andretti but Tracy's afternoon had come to a sad end when he was black flagged for hitting one of his crewmen. After one stop/go penalty the championship leader was finally excluded when it was revealed that the crewman had injured his ankle. Thankfully the injury was not serious but Tracy's day was over.
On lap 60 the race was turned on it's head. Coming up to lap Blundell, De Ferran made a late effort to regain his third position. Despite Blundell's best efforts to get out of the way, De Ferran was boxed in and rammed the back of Fittpaldi's Newman-Haas machine. The impact sent all three cars off the prepared surface but whereas Blundell was able to keep his engine running and make his way back onto the track, De Ferran stalled and Fittipaldi suffered terminal damage to his Lola and was out.
Needless to say this brought about another pace-car period while De Ferran was pushed back into action and Fittpaldi's abandoned machine was hoisted away, the irate Brazilian sharing some choice words with his compatriot, in the process.
After just one lap behind the pace car, Montoya coasted into the pits with a feint trail of smoke emanating from the rear end, signalling his retirement from the race. The dejected Colombian stepped from his machine, knowing that the win could have easily been his.
When the race went green again on lap 66 the leaderboard looked distinctly strange. Castroneves was now leading from Papis, Moreno and Servia. Carpentier had risen to fifth ahead of Franchitti while Andretti, Tagliani, Vasser and Jourdain Jr rounded out the top ten.
Almost as soon as the racing had resumed, Moreno overcooked things as he tried to lap Kurosawa in Turn 4. The Patrick Reynard-Ford speared off the track and into the tyres causing another caution.
Two laps later and the green flag was waved again. Castroneves and Papis got the drop on new third placed man Servia, pulling away on the first green flag lap. Papis had a quick look into Turn 4 but thought against it although a second attempt later in the lap resulted in the Italian driver locking his tyres and running wide. Further down the order, Franchitti managed to fight his way past Carpentier for fourth place while Andretti was the next victim of the Kurosawa chicane when he found himself being chopped, allowing Tagliani to snatch sixth.
The situation up-front was tense with less than a second separating the top two. For lap after lap Castroneves and Papis circulated as one, the Penske driver not allowing his pursuer the chance to make a move. Servia was unable to stay on the same pace as the leaders but was clear of Franchitti who was spending much of his time simply trying to keep his car on the road.
As the race entered its closing stages, Castroneves upped the pace and finally broke Papis' challenge. Showing no nerves, the Penske driver recorded the fastest lap of the race, 1 minute 15.805 seconds, on lap 78 and eked out a three second advantage as the race wound down. Max clung on for all he was worth but eventually settled for a well deserved second place. Servia came home a delighted third ten seconds behind the winner while Franchitti was a gritty fourth, 13 seconds adrift.
For Helio, the slowing down lap was an occasion to savour. Almost standing on his seat, he punched the air and soaked up the crowds rapturous applause. Few recent winners have rivalled the utter joy that Castroneves displayed on his return to pit-lane. Unconcerned with TV interviews he sprinted across the start/finish straight to the grandstands where he celebrated with the fans.
The tearful driver exclaimed “I did it, I did it,” as he soaked up the occasion. There will not have been many in the pit-lane, Montoya aside perhaps, who could not have been pleased for Castroneves who has been so near and yet so far in the past.
Papis moved up to fourth in the championship table with his generous haul of points while Servia was similarly overjoyed with his first Champ Car podium.
Franchitti gained ground on his title rivals, moving into ninth place in the points chase although the effort required to keep his ill-handling car on the road, took its toll physically on the gallant Scot.
The Player's Forsythe outfit were highly pleased with fifth and sixth places while Vasser trimmed Paul Tracy's championship lead to five points with an unspectacular drive to seventh.
Honour's in the Mercedes battle went to Michel Jourdain Jr who ran well to eighth place while Gil De Ferran could only recover to ninth, one lap down, after his altercation with Fittipaldi.
Tarso Marques scored his best result of the year with a steady drive to tenth, the last car not to suffer at least one delay during the race.
Mark Blundell somehow survived both his off-track excursions to take eleventh place while the final point went to Kurosawa despite having to serve a stop/go penalty for blocking.
Andretti stopped out on the circuit with four laps remaining but was still classified 13th while Norberto Fontana also failed to make the finish but still covered more distance than the oft-delayed Shinji Nakano and Mauricio Gugelmin who were the last classified finishers.
Castroneves' win makes him the seventh different winner in seven races this season. With Tracy's failure to score and closest rivals' inability to capitalise, the series is now in the position where any one of ten drivers can move to the top of the championship at the next race. Roll on Portland in a weeks time.