10 April 2011
Flawless full-Power victory in Alabama
But none of this brought out a caution: it was what happened back in turn 6 that did that. Simona de Silvestro made light contact with EJ Viso and spun the #59 round one-eighty degrees. At this point the situation was still recoverable, but Viso continued to roll backwards and as a result strayed into the path of James Hinchcliffe who was taking evasive action around the outside of the turn. The two cars collided and ripped off a tyre apiece, ending both their races. De Silvestro also climbed out of her car at this point, despite having seemingly made only slight contact throughout the incident; she was ushered back into the cockpit and eventually resumed.
Hinchcliffe was furious with Viso in post-race interviews. "Day 1 of racing school, you learn you the brakes and clutch. He hit the gas," he told reporters, adding: "If he hasn't learned it yet there's no point talking to him about it." Viso denied the blame, but rued the fact that he has seemingly been involved in some sort of collision or accident in almost every session of the two IndyCar weekends thus far in 2011. The two were filmed having an animated discussion later on in pit road, but the conversation seemed to end amicably with a handshake.
The next restart on lap 46 also didn't fare well. As the cars went through turn 4, Justin Wilson strayed too far over and trod on the front wing of Takuma Sato. The wing broke, sending up carbon fibre debris into the air and puncturing Wilson's rear left tyre, sending both cars to pit road - which was actually quite timely for Wilson, as the wrist brace protecting his injury from St Pete had broken and he needed to have a new one brought out while the team saw to his tyres.
This incident didn't bring out a caution, but the one that happened at the same time just a few metres behind them did. Mike Conway found his car getting light as it topped the hill into turn 4, and he lost grip. The car wanted to go straight on instead of making the turn, and Danica Patrick was right in his path. Conway's car caught the front of Patrick's and the contact hooked him around, spinning him off onto the grass and into heavy impact against the barrier that did extensive damage to the #27. Conway climbed out but seemed to be moving rather gingerly and he appeared winded, perhaps unsurprisingly given that it's only his second race back from those horrific injuries sustained at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that put him out for almost a whole year.
The next restart on lap 49 was rather more successful despite several people staying onto the dirt verges and sending up clouds of earth through the first couple of turns, and finally resulted in some green flag laps. However, Scott Dixon and the Ganassi team were less than happy with the restart, complaining to the marshalls that Will Power wasn't abiding by the agreed line into the first corner and practically forcing Dixon off the track. The team muttered darkly that if Power did it again, they would order Dixon to "take him out."
During this period of the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay seemed to be having a grand old time of it - a move on Oriol Servia into turn 5 on lap 53 to take sixth place a particularly nice bit of driving. Unfortunately he then wrecked all that good work when he got alongside Ryan Briscoe on lap 58 into the turn 7 kink. It's not an overtaking point, as even Hunter-Reay seemed to conclude as he tried to back out of it: instead, he found himself out of room and he clipped the kerb, which destablised his car and sent it sideways into the side of Briscoe, who was propelled into a spin into the gravel that ultimately wrecked his suspension. Hunter-Reay was undamaged, but was outraged to be handed a penalty for causing an avoidable accident that saw him demoted to 18th position - a decision that seemed harsh but, on balance, unarguable.
The race went to caution for the recovery of Briscoe's beached Penske, and all the cars had the chance to come into the pits. With 30 laps remaining, the fuel situation was as marginal as could be, and the cars would definitely need more laps under caution to make it to the end. Would it all come down to people eking out their gas to the very end while others choked and died within metres of the chequered flag?
Will Power emerged from the pits still in first position, just as he had been right from the start of the race; and Scott Dixon was similarly still in second place. But suddenly right behind them was Danica Patrick, after she beat out Dario Franchitti for third via the highly risky gambit of going for a fuel-only pit stop which made up four positions for her on track. The Andretti Autosports team reasoned that her tyres were as good as the ones they had piled up for her in pit lane, so why take the time to make the change at all? They were about to find out the answer to that one ...
It was clear at the restart on lap 62 that Danica's car was sluggish to accelerate: Dario Franchitti immediately passed her to retrieve third place, and soon after she was also passed by Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia to push her down to sixth place.
She would have fallen further if the race hadn't gone yellow again almost at once. This time the cause was a clash between Justin Wilson and Raphael Matos out of turn 6. Contact from Wilson caused Matos to spin, and in doing so he turned right into the front and side of Wilson which lifted the #22 into the air in a nasty little crash that won't have helped Wilson's wrist injury one little bit. Wilson was most likely relieved to be done for the day and to be able to rest up and nurse his wrist in preparation for next week's outing on the streets of Long Beach; Matos was also out on the spot from the accident.
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