19 September 2010
Castroneves wins in Motegi
Unfortunately for Matos and Mutoh's pit strategy, the next caution came out very shortly after their off-sync stops. This time it was Paul Tracy (in what is likely to be his final outing for Dreyer and Reinbold) who had got up high on the marbles and delivered a glancing blow to the wall out of turn 4 on lap 114, which gave everyone a well-timed chance to come in for yellow flag pit stops but at the same time completely wrecked Matos and Mutoh's gambit. Helio got the better pit stop and retook first place from Ryan, and at the restart on lap 123 Dario was by far the more aggressive and quicker down the straightaway, immediately pouncing on Ryan Briscoe for second and making it stick.
The fifth and final caution came out on lap 148 when Alex Lloyd (who had rejoined following his early race stutter) ended up with a suspension failure going through turn 2 and headed to the wall just as Baguette and Moraes had before him. His trajectory to the wall was sharp and fast, and he took a nasty hit going into the SAFER barrier that left flames from severed fuel lines licking the right hand side of the car and encouraged him to make a hasty exit from the cockpit but Lloyd himself seemed completely unhurt. The clean up from the debris and spilt fluids proved a lengthy process and kept the track under caution for 18 laps.
All the cars came in for their final pit stops during this time, fuel and tyre strategy no longer any sort of issue. Helio was untouchable in the lead, but there was some controversy about whether or not Ryan Briscoe had beaten Dario Franchitti to the all-important exit line from pit road after he got a brilliant rocket launch from his pit box. Ryan admitted, however, that this had been achieved only when his thumb "slipped off" the pit lane speed regulator, and so there was a gentlemen's understanding that left second place in Dario's hands.
Briscoe quickly tried to reverse this situation at the restart, but Franchitti was having none of it and robustly rebuked the attempt. Will Power, keeping a watching brief immediately behind this battle in fourth thanks to an excellent final pit stop, realised that time was running out and he needed to make a move of his own, and was quickly allowed past his team mate to give chase to Franchitti. While he probably didn't have the pace to really challenge Dario at this point, he closed up on the tail of the Ganassi to make a point and nearly had a chance to pounce when Dario came up on slow lapped traffic in the form of Milka Duno with just four laps to go. Dario had it covered, though, and Will would have to settle for third: but finishing immediately behind Dario would be a very nice bit of damage limitation for Will with regard to the championship battle. After a few races of looking rattled and making slightly rash decisions, the Aussie was thinking smart at Motegi.
It was a great win for Castroneves, who never looked under threat for his third victory of the season (and his second at Motegi, having won here back in 2006) and he celebrated in trademark Spiderman style by climbing the wire catch fences to salute the crowd. But more significantly, the result trimmed Power's championship lead by 5pts to 12pts - a tiny margin in a series where a race win scores 50pts, and proof that the 2010 title could well come down to a pit stop blunder, a strategic mistake, or disastrous light contact during the last race in Homestead in two weeks. Power's strategy seems to be to shadow Franchitti and aim to come in immediately behind him, and that strategy successfully applied one more time at Homestead could well secure him the IndyCar championship.
As if to demonstrate how evenly balanced the fight is going into the final round, second place at Motegi was enough to win Dario Franchitti the trophy for the "mini-championship" of the season's oval-based races; Will Power had earlier clinched the equivalent trophy for road/street course races. One trophy apiece so far this season, and now just one more trophy to go - the tiebreaker, but also the only one that really matters at the end of the day.
Place your bets and tune in for the race at the start of October.
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