IndyCar » 10 April 2011
Flawless full-Power victory in Alabama
There was simply no stopping Will Power at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, and he proved the point by leading every one of the 90 laps of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The signs were there throughout the practice and qualifying sessions that Will Power would be nigh-on impossible to beat at Barber Motorsports Park, but even so it was doubtful that anyone expected this level of domination from the Australian.
As he led the field to the green flag at the start of the race, everyone had their fingers crossed that there wouldn't be multiple accidents stemming from the new-style double-file restarts as we saw two weeks ago on the streets of St Petersburg in Florida. And at first the signs appeared good: Graham Rahal dabbed a wheel onto the dirt on the outside of turn 1, and rookie driver James Hinchcliffe managed to spin his way out of eighth place a few corners later, but otherwise everyone got through cleanly and no one was caught up in anything more serious.
Tony Kanaan in particular revelled in the opening moments, climbing from a poor 24th position in qualifying right up to 14th in just a few corners starting with an impressive run down the inside line into turn 1 that made up four places right away. The KV Racing Technology Team, which had been planning an extremely early pit stop to try an off-sync strategy to make up positions, suddenly found itself ripping up the pre-prepared plans and contemplating a whole new reality.
Sadly the green flag stint ended seconds later when JR Hildebrand clashed wheels with Raphael Matos in turn 6 which ended with Matos spun round and in the gravel, requiring the first caution of the afternoon. Both cars were able to rejoin the race, but after initially thinking the car was okay Hildebrand was forced to pit on lap 8 for a new nose after all.
Were we about to see another frustrating spell of continual cautions as we had at the season opener? In fact the next double-file restart on lap 3 was successful and the race was on for 35 laps of uninterrupted running, despite a spin at the back of the field for James Jakes which was dealt with by local waved yellows. Jakes would be one of the race's earliest retirements, his car catching fire when he was in the pits on lap 30; three laps earlier, Sebastian Saavedra has become the race's first official retirement with mechanical problems.
The relatively calm green flag period was not without its moments: Helio Castroneves had run wide into turn 1 at the restart and lost five places, dropping from fourth to ninth place; Sebastian Bourdais made a very nice move on Mike Conway on lap 12 to take away 17th position; on lap 27 Takuma Sato tried a move on Castroneves through turn 5 that resulted in contact and a spin for the Japanese driver from which he was able to recover; and shortly afterwards Graham Rahal made an aggressive overtaking move on Hildebrand - who was a lap down after his earlier extra pit stop - and the two made heavy contact as a result but were able to get going again without bringing out a full course caution.
With two pit stops a seriously tight call at Barber over 90 laps, some drivers including Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay opted for a three-stop strategy that saw them come in as early as lap 14; the majority of the cars eked out their fuel till lap 30. But when a caution came out on lap 37 it was clear that everyone was going to pit and get back in sync, and that fuel strategies were not going to be as important to proceedings as they had initially seemed to be.
The second caution of the afternoon came out on lap 37 when Alex Tagliani oversteered into turn 16 and lost the backend, beaching him in the gravel. Unfortunately this heralded a series of four more cautions over the next 25 laps, as the drivers - feeling a bit more cocky by this point - started to get racy and to forget the lessons learned in the multiple crashes of St Pete. And all the better for the fan enjoyment and racing entertainment it proved to be, for the most part.
It started in lap 40, after a three-lap yellow flag period to allow the track officials to sweep the track for debris and tyre remnants off the racing line that might interfere with the double-file restart. The cars all navigated the first turn 1 safely, but Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti were squabbling over third place. Briscoe shut the door on Dario, and the Scot didn't take it well and fought back robustly through the following turns and finally the two banged wheels in a way that meant it was amazing that neither broke their suspension or the rubber didn't fuse together and throw one or both cars up into the air. Instead, Franchitti had the racing line while Briscoe was sent wide and lost momentum, making him easy prey for Oriol Servia.
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