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Ganassi duo too good in first Texas race

12 June 2011

It's the first double-header event seen in the CART/IndyCar history for three decades, and the first time that the running order for the second event has been set by blind draw: expectations were high for an unusual and entertaining night of racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

The sun was still above the horizon when the green flag dropped for race 1, but the lights were on at the track and the sparks made quite a sight as they flew from under the fuel-laden cars as they grounded through the first turns of the race.

Dario Franchitti quickly asserted himself and took the lead from Alex Tagliani, but Tag wasn't about to go anywhere and spent a long time close behind Dario seeking a way back to the front.

Behind him, Will Power was battling with a surprisingly assured Takuma Sato - at one point, Power's front wing made visible contact with the rear right tyre of Sato's car but fortunately neither wing nor tyre were harmed by the encounter.

Further back, Indianapolis 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand was struggling and falling back through the field, at one point banging wheels with Charlie Kimball, the backmarker whose presence had sparked JR's exit to the wall on the final corner of the Indy 500. Hildebrand was not at all happy tonight with the running of his Panther Racing car, and was one of the first cars to come in for fuel and tyres before lap 40.

Danica Patrick was also in early on lap 43 complaining of understeer, but most of the leaders made it a little further with Power in on lap 50 having managed to pass Tagliani for second, Franchitti in the from the lead on lap 51 and Scott Dixon in next time around.

By the time the pit stops had cycled through, Dario was back in the lead and now had a comfortable 3.6s lead over Dixon on lap 58, with the race going blisteringly fast with an average speed of that point of nearly 213mph, and already half over just 20 minutes into proceedings.

It was just as well that this was going to be a double-header, because the absence of any cautions and the pace that the Ganassi duo was setting threatened to lap pretty much everyone by the end of the race: by lap 75, still with no yellow, Dario put Tony Kanaan a lap down leaving only 12 cars on the lead lap - although Kanaan then fought back and briefly unlapped himself, such was his determination not to drop off the lead.

The lack of incident on track left many wondering whether everyone was taking it easy to make sure they were in a fit state to make it through to race 2, but KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser said it looked pretty no-holds-barred and scary to him: "We talked about it, but doesn't look like it from here!" he said.

The race was now getting to the last 25 laps and no one could make it full distance without an extended yellow, so a second round of pit stops was required. JR Hildebrand was first in on lap 91, but the leaders had not yet come in by lap 97 when suddenly Charlie Kimball got a bad push and took off up the track, collecting fellow rookie Wade Cunningham on the way to the wall. Sadly, that meant that Cunningham's car was crunched - and it was the car that had powered Dan Wheldon's win at the centennial Indy 500 two weeks early, meaning that piece of automotive history was now rather shop-worn. However, both cars were expected to be repaired in time for race 2.

The resulting caution gave everyone the opportunity to come in for tyres and a final amount of fuel - Ganassi presumably taking extra care not to cut things too tight and risk running dry as happened embarrassingly often at Indianapolis in May. Dario beat Scott off pit road, but Kanaan had the best pit stop of all and emerged off pit road in front, effectively unlapping himself once the wave-arounds went ahead.

That left Franchitti and Dixon leading Power, Tagliani, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Vitor Meira, Graham Rahal and EJ Viso as the top ten for the restart: this time, Dario didn't seem to have the same edge he'd enjoyed earlier in the race and he found Dixon and Power sticking right up close on his rear wing; Tagliani was also not far back, and the lead four quickly pulled away and made the final 10 laps a private but fierce battle among themselves.

Dario resorted to push to pass to protect his track position and did all he could to make sure Dixon was never given a chance of taking the inside line, but even so Dixon looked to have the momentum as he slingshot off turn 4 on the final lap and he came within just a few feet of pulling it off - a 0.0527s winning margin for Dario being in the top 25 all-time closest finishes in IndyCar.

Dixon admitted afterwards that he's done all he could, but that there had been no way past his team mate; Will Power was equally clear in conceding that he just didn't have enough speed to take on the Ganassi cars in that first race, and of the top three he was the one looking most hot and bothered in the late Texan evening heat - but he was quickly reenergised by drawing a third place start for the second race of the evening, while Dario Franchitti was stuck down in 28th
and Scott Dixon in 18th.

But perhaps the most worked up driver in the field was Danica Patrick, who finished in 16th position, but she was furious with Jay Howard, who twice appeared to run up the track and pinch her against the wall in a way that she clearly felt had come close to causing a dangerous accident. She was on the team radio telling the Andretti Autosport team that if Howard did it again she was going to "chop him" next time he tried it - and it sounded like she meant it Richard Childress-style at that.

After a brief victory lane celebration for the #10, the cars returned to pit road so that the crews could start making the changes that the drivers wanted for the second, now-nighttime race while the drivers headed to the stage to perform the blind draw for their starting positions.

The night was only half done!

Full race results available.


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