11 October 2009
Dario Franchitti wins IRL title at Homestead
Dario Franchitti clinched a second IndyCar Series title after a bold fuel strategy played out in his favour after a three-way championship showdown with Target Chip Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon and Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe.
Despite claiming the pole for the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale, the Scot ran third for much of the 200-lap distance, allowing Dixon and Briscoe to duel for the lead - and the two bonus points that came for heading most laps.
In the end, however, the antipodeans' scrap counted for nothing as Franchitti's superior fuel management ability saw him run crucially longer than his rivals on every stint of the yellow-free race, and escape the need for a 'splash-and-dash' in the closing stages of the 300-mile event.
When, first, Dixon and then Briscoe peeled off in the final ten laps, Franchitti was able to remain on track and, despite running a reduced pace, was able to come home comfortably ahead of both, claiming a second title in his first season back from a frustrating sojourn in NASCAR.
Briscoe finished second on the road, with Dixon third, as the three title contenders came home as the only runners on the lead lap. The victory was Franchitti's fifth of the season, and he managed a victory burn-out on the home straight before finally running out of fuel. He dedicated the win to the late Greg Moore, who perished while Franchitti was chasing the CART title ten years ago this month.
Luczo Dragon's Raphael Matos did enough to claim the Rookie of the Year crown in his head-to-head with Team HVM's Robert Doornbos, although series returnee Alex Lloyd claimed the highest finish by a rookie in the race, coming home eighth overall.
"I'm very happy, it couldn't be better," Matos admitted, "I think this title means a lot to me and a lot to the team. There's a lot of famous names in the Rookie of the Year gallery and I dreamed about [joining them]. I think this shows that we are ready for bigger and better things in the series."
The top three finishers were the only drivers who entered the season-ending race with a chance to win the title on the 1.5-mile oval. Franchitti finished the season with 616 points, Dixon with 605 and Briscoe with 604. It was the second consecutive title for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as Dixon won in 2008, and the second in three years for Franchitti, who claimed his first championship in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing. The three title contenders led 198 of the 200 laps in the finale, such was their dominance.
After polesitter Franchitti had led the opening exchanges, Briscoe and Dixon contented themselves with sharing the pacesetting as they adopted a sprint mentality to Franchitti's slow-but-sure approach. Briscoe took the lead on lap 151, with Dixon in close pursuit, when Franchitti entered the pits for the final time six laps after his rivals had been forced to stop on lap 144.
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