IndyCar » 26 June 2011
Marco blazes his way back to victory lane
It's been almost five years and 78 races since Marco Andretti last stood in victory lane, but there was no doubt that he earned the glory in a thrilling Iowa Corn Indy 250.
It was dusk at Iowa Speedway when the cars headed out onto the 0.894 mile short oval track for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 and the floodlights were already blazing overhead, nicely highlighting the vapour trails streaming off the rear wings of the IndyCar field in the cooling night air as they got up to speed and approached the green flag for the start of the Saturday night race.
Takuma Sato had pole position but he would have been forgiven for not feeling entirely confident as he put his foot down in the #5, since this was his first time on track in the car since his final practice accident on Friday evening which saw him collide with Alex Tagliani. The KV Racing Technology pit crew had been hard at work reassembling it, but a car is never quite the same after major damage and Sato needed to feel out the changes before he would be fully happy with the new state of affairs.
Sato's version of "feeling out the changes" was to leap away at the first sight of green and leave Danica Patrick standing, neatly opening up a hole for his KV team mate Tony Kanaan to follow him through. The team tactic was for the two of them to take up a side-by-side configuration that would all but ensure no one would be able to pass them - not exactly the most sporting of tactics, but it's one long used by the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport teams of this world.
Unfortunately for Sato and Kanaan, one car proved too strong for them to fend off, and before they knew it Dario Franchitti had managed to slalom between them both and take up the top spot on lap 8, and then ease away from them without any problem. That rather wrecked the KV plan, but they would still do what they could to maintain formation which ensured that Danica and the rest of the pursuers were stymied for a time.
The cars flew at speeds of nearly 176mph until the first caution came out on lap 24: unfortunate British rookie James Jakes had found out the unsettling truth behind the notorious Iowa Speedway bumps, and in particular the spot through turn 2 where the track passes over an underground tunnel allowing access to the infield. The uneven surface is enough to catch out even the most experienced driver, and for someone as new to oval racing as Jakes it was a trap waiting for him to fall into. The bump shot his rear end around and sent him up into a heavy contact with the wall, although despite the seeming violence of the impact Jakes was quickly out of the car and walking away with no problems.
"It is only the third oval I have driven on and I know we are going to have these incidents so I just need to move on to Toronto," admitted Jakes. "It is unfortunate because I think I had a quick car here."
Although it was still relatively early in the race, everyone opted to come in for fuel and tyres. But it proved a disastrous visit to pit lane for Will Power, who was ushered out of his pit stall right into the path of Charlie Kimball who was just coming in. Power ended up running straight into the side of the #83 as it turned in. Kimball's car was seriously injured despite the team's best attempts to take it behind the wall and repair it, while Power's #12 was also now a wounded animal with damage not only to the soon-replaced front-wing but also to the steering of the car that was more intractable. It did not stop him from rejoining the race albeit down in 23rd position, just behind James Hinchcliffe who had suffered refuelling problems in his own stop.
"It was really disappointing to get hit in pit lane during that first pit stop," said Kimball. "There wasn't anything I could do about it, I didn't even see him."
Officially the blame lies with the Penske pit crew for the unsafe release; unofficially, Kimball himself also bears some element of the blame, as he was coming down to pit lane unusually far out to the right and its quite probable that Power's pit team simply didn't realise that Kimball as in for his regular stop and could be swerving to the left into his pit box in that way. Still, the damage was done to both parties - time to move on.
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