IndyCar » 27 March 2011
Franchitti wins by staying out of trouble
Dario Franchitti rose above the crashes to take a calm, dominant victory over Will Power and Tony Kanaan at the 2011 IndyCar series opener on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida.
Moving to double file starts and restarts on all IndyCar races in 2011 is all well and good, but someone needs to remind the drivers that two lanes of traffic can't all head for the same apex of the first corner and expect to make it through without causing a crash.
The first - and biggest - accident occurred when Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves tried to dive down the inside of turn 1. Inevitably they found the apex packed with cars and duly ran into other cars and into each other; Andretti's car was sent sliding over the top of Scott Dixon before fatally clipping Mike Conway's rear suspension, and then rolling over and finishing upside down duly causing the first caution of the day.
Marco was of course out on the spot, and Conway's suspension was also too badly damaged to be able to continue, meaning that half the Andretti Autosports team were already done for the day. Oriol Servia had been caught up in the aftermath of the accident but was able to get back underway at the back of the field without significant delay - others were less fortunate. Helio Castroneves was eventually able to continue, as was - remarkably, and after extensive bodywork repairs - Scott Dixon, despite the #9 looking like a flattened pancake after having Marco bounce over it. Ryan Briscoe needed a lengthy visit to the pits for repairs to his front suspension before he could also rejoin the race.
At the restart, polesitter Will Power selected the inside line into turn 1 only to have Dario Franchitti sweep around the outside line and take the lead with ease. Tony Kanaan swept through behind him into second, leaving Power fighting to fend off Ryan Hunter-Reay to keep hold of third place.
This time the field made it through the first turn without incident, but a few corners later there was rough and tumble further back down the running order. First Ana Beatriz tipped Graham Rahal into a spin that put him rear-first into a tyre barrier and wrecked his rear wing; then seconds later Danica Patrick caught up to Beatriz and tried to pass, and got her front wing shattered by Beatriz for her efforts.
Both Rahal and Patrick needed to pit, and their luck was in because EJ Viso had spun into the gravel and beached himself in turn 13 on lap 7, bringing out the second caution of the race and allowing Rahal and Patrick the chance to come in for their respective new wings without losing too much time or position.
There was another caution on lap 12 after Ryan Briscoe ran into the back of Oriol Servia; the contact wrecked Briscoe's front wing which was left in the middle of the track in turn 11 - necessitating the caution for sizeable debris - while Seria's rear wheel was punctured by the sharp wing end plates and he ended up taking to an escape road, before reversing up once the yellow came out and heading for pit lane for a new set of tyres.
At the restart on lap 14, Franchitti was still in charge and leading the field to the green flag - and consequently avoided another outbreak of stupidity from the midfield drivers who all aimed for the apex of turn 1 and seemed surprised to find it already occupied by everyone else. A chief culprit was Sebastian Saavedra who lunged down the inside line and went off onto the grass, causing him to lose control and braking ability. He ended up going into the side of the hapless Ryan Hunter-Reay, who sustained serious damage from the collision that needed a lengthy stay on pit road to effect repairs. Saavedra himself spun round, stalled and finally ended up pointing the wrong direction which is what finally triggered the caution.
But one person had made the restart work brilliantly: Simona de Silvestro - who had started the race in 17th - had made a great lunge from sixth place on the double file rolling grid to come out of the confusion with a startling second place, tucking in behind Franchitti and ahead of Kanaan, Justin Wilson, birthday boy Vitor Meira and Alex Tagliani - Will Power having been badly caught out by the restart and back in seventh position, although he was soon on the move back up to fourth place during the next phase of racing.
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