26 June 2011
Marco blazes his way back to victory lane
Dario once again leapt away in front, but this time Sato was showing signs of vigour for the first time in a while and swept past his KV Racing team mate Tony Kanaan for second place. Marco was then challenging for third place, running just ahead of Dixon who was now in fifth place having started from 23rd, when the track went straight back to yellow again on lap 115.
This time it was another rookie - albeit one who won at Iowa in Indy Lights last year - who had found out the problem with Iowa's turn 2 in the most brutal way possible when something in the suspension seemed to fail in a shower of sparks sending the #34 into the wall in probably the most violent of the night and certainly prompting the safety crew to take extra care in stabilising him and checking for neck injuries before allowing him to be extricated. Despite looking very shaken and having to sit on the monocoque of the car once he stepped out, Saavedra was checked over by the in-field care centre and released with no problems, not even a minor concussion as Power had sustained - thankful no doubt for Iowa's introduction of the SAFER barrier all around the perimeter, with no concrete wall left at the facility any more.
"I have no idea what happened," said Saavedra. "We had some mild understeer which we were working through and out of nowhere the rear just snapped without any indication. It is one of those things that we will check out very closely to see what broke and try to figure it out."
As the field got ready to go back to green flag racing, it emerged that the KV Racing team harmony wasn't as solid as it had looked early in the evening, when Kanaan got on the radio to Jimmy Vasser to complain about his team mate Sato chopping him since getting in front. If he did it again, "He'll learn a lesson he'll never forget," warned TK. Vasser said shortly afterwards that things had been smoothed out between them and that Sato hadn't been aware of the problems he had been causing for Kanaan.
At the restart on lap 128, Dario once again maintained the lead - but this time didn't do so with the same ease, and didn't pull away to a safe distance. Behind him, a still annoyed Kanaan tried to get around Sato but found himself unable to get past and had to get off the throttle, which cost him vital momentum and saw him drop behind Marco Andretti and have to fend off JR Hildebrand in thrilling wheel-to-wheel combat over the next few laps.
Marco meanwhile had been stalking Takuma Sato for second, looking to be lining up a move on the outside only to swoop down to the inside line when Sato left the door open and pass him that way instead in a very sharp, intelligent move. Marco then immediately used his momentum to catch up with the race leader, and on lap 15 he went side-by-side with Dario and finally passed him, only for Dario to then line-up right on Marco's tail and retake the lead in a decisive move four laps later in a perfect example of tough-but-fair oval racing at its best (and rather better than the ongoing ill-tempered spat between the KV team mates behind them.)
With under 50 laps to go before the end, it was time for pit stops - and with no yellows in the offing, cars were starting to pit under green. Sato came in on lap 181, and four laps later Dario dived for pit lane with Marco right on his tail (so close, in fact, that there was nearly contact at the entrance.)
While they were on pit road, the caution finally came out as if on cue to help them: and it was Sato who had caused it, spinning in the predictable turn 2 while on tyres that had not yet fully heated up and weren't yet at optimum operating temperature. Sato himself was uninjured and was quickly out of the wrecked #5, but he wasn't happy with how the race which had promised so much had ended with so little reward.
"I lost at the bump in turn 2. The tyres weren't up to temperature," he confirmed. "I'm very disappointed to finish the race this way. I feel very sorry for the team and the fans. It's unfortunate because up until then it was looking good."
Marco and Dario were able to finish off their already-underway pit stops, and Marco emerged from pit lane in front of Dario to take the lead for the second time that night. Franchitti had led 172 laps to this point: he couldn't know it, but he would not get another turn in the lead for the rest of the race. Instead, when the race restarted, he not only didn't have the raw speed in traffic that he had enjoyed earlier, but the #10 had a tendency to get loose and fly up alarmingly high near the wall, forcing him to back off the throttle and lose critical momentum. As the final stint wore on, Franchitti would sink back to fifth place by the chequered flag despite all that early domination, passed in the closing laps first by his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon and then by Panther's JR Hildebrand.
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