29 August 2011
Perfect Penske performance at Infineon
No surprise then that Power was actually quite relieved when the one and only caution of the race came out on lap 66: first-time IndyCar racer Ho-Pin Tung - who had done a nice job on his début and made up a few positions here and there, sometimes by creative misunderstanding of the sort of moves the IndyCar rulebook allows in the series - found himself caught out braking into turn 9 and coming up rapidly ont he back of Alex Tagliani, and in an effort to miss ploughing into the back of him Tung put a tyre onto the dirt verge and from there it was a blink of an eye to broadsiding the wall and coming to a rest just in front of the bank of tyres guarding a run-off area.
"I was following Alex for a good number of laps and he was significantly slower than I was," explained Tung afterwards. "I was trying to position myself where it would be possible to overtake him and he braked a lot earlier than the laps before in the chicane. So I locked up trying to avoid him and not hit him from behind, but unfortunately I took myself out of the race."
Power confirmed that "I was happy for that last restart because I had a lot of traffic in front of me that I was lapping and I knew that would make it tough." The downside was that his lead was wiped out and he would face a double file restart that could give his rivals a chance to jump him for the front position: but that risk was mitigated by the presence of his Penske team mates gathered around him. They had firm instructions to not fight each other and they provided a nice buffer zone for Will from any non-Penske cars.
The level of team trust between the Penske cars allowed for one of the most perfectly formed double file restarts of the entire season to date, a model of its kind. And it served Power perfectly, sending him away to his inevitable meeting with the chequered flag that was just minutes ahead. Dario Franchitti wobbled on cool tyres but also maintained his position ahead of Dixon.
It was a somewhat more feisty time further back down the field with some genuine hairy moments, with the worst of them starting when Sebastian Saavedra made a nice move on the inside of Mike Conway, but then got careless and drifted wide on the exit, perhaps in an attempt to cut off Conway and prevent a counter-attack. But he kept coming, and Conway moved out of the way and as wide as possible until he was onto the dirt verge at risk of an accident and could go no further. Saavedra carried on moving over, there was a brief fusing of tyres, and Saavedra was spun - shooting off track and straight up a steep dirt hill in a cloud of dust.
"I tried the outside in turn two and Saavedra pushed me off the track and I held my ground," said Conway. "He spun around and punctured my tire. That was the day ended. Not a good finish for us."
There was also a near-hit between Oriol Servia and the lapped Marco Andretti, who had already been in the wars with JR Hildebrand on lap 57, sticking his nose down the inside of #4 only to end up with his front wing shattering on Hildebrand's right rear tyre. Hildebrand had needed to pit immediately with a puncture to take new tyres, while Andretti had come in soon after for a new wing.
Surprisingly, Marco avoided any penalties for his activities. Instead, the wrath of control descended first on Simon Pagenaud who was caught trying to unlap himself by overtaking Will Power behind the safety car, a definite no-no. That got him a drive-thru penalty that left him finishing in 15th as he stood in at short notice for the waylaid Simona de Silvestro in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing #22.
But worse was awaiting Giorgio Pantano: coming into the final corners of the race he found fellow road racer Sebastien Bourdais shooting down the inside, set to snatch sixth place from him at the last gasp. Pantano headed him off, and as they swept into the last turn the move almost resulted in Bourdais making contact with the concrete wall, a dangerous moment which would have made the officials wince. Not happy, they slapped a penalty on Pantano for blocking - but since the race was already finished a drive-thru wasn't possible, so instead Pantano was classified in the results as being at the back of the lead lap, resulting in a harsh drop from sixth to 17th.
"Giorgio Pantano blocked me at the end," complained Bourdais. "I was going to dive in and he just blocked me. He pushed me over the rumble strip to finish the job."
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