4 September 2011
Power avoids the traps at Baltimore
With race control still trying to reset the running order, the caution dragged on - and then Marco Andretti's car suddenly started dropping fuel down on the track. He had to come into pit lane to retire, but it meant the caution was extended still further while the quick-dry dust was laid down to mop up the spillage. Suddenly alarm bells were ringing in the cockpits of the top nine cars who still had to make one more pit stop: with all these yellow-flag laps they were running out of time to get the restart and pull out a big enough lead under green to be able to come in, pit, and rejoin the race without losing positions.
Finally the track went green again on lap 50: Rahal didn't get a a great start and didn't seem minded to take all that much extra care of Franchitti immediately behind him either. Dario was squeezed into light contact with the inside wall, but he just held it together. He was passed for position by Briscoe, but Franchitti got the place back into the hairpin while Briscoe didn't even defend, having been told that he had been handed a drive-thru penalty for causing the avoidable contact with Hunter-Reay that had brought out the previous caution.
Briscoe wasn't happy about the penalty. Admitting that he understood it had been for hitting Hunter-Reay, he pointed out on Twitter: "If Hunter-Reay didn't block and then change lanes again back to the outside we would never have touched." He was also mystified as to why he had initially been put back into his pre-caution position for the restart only to them be told to serve a drive-thru penalty.
"First I was given back 4th position, which I didn't understand, then after 30min of yellow I'm told to serve a penalty. I don't get it," he tweeted. "I really just don't get the officiating here at the moment."
Up front, Will Power was going like the proverbial bat-shot-out-of-a-canon-from-hell. He was a full 3s a lap faster than Oriol Servia, who was still the first of the cars that did not need to stop again. Power needed a 27s lead over before he could safely come in for his pit stop and come back out in front. It was a critical moment in the race, and Power nailed in with some phenomenal qualifying-speed laps over the next few minutes.
In second place, Rahal couldn't match it. Worse, he was shorter on fuel and had to come in on lap 57 long before he had anywhere near a big enough cushion over Servia and the other already-stopped cars. When he emerged from his own inevitable trip to pit lane it was down in traffic in 14th place, and just to rub salt in the wound he was promptly overtaken by Ryan Hunter-Reay and lost another position on top. He would never recover, and once all the pit stops had filtered through he ended up running to the chequered flag in tenth place.
"It just didn't go our way. Up until those final 15 laps, we were one of the cars to beat and to finish 10th is just frustrating," he said. "Power and I were miles ahead today. Really bummed we didn't get the result we thought we would get," he added on Twitter later, having earlier also made his feelings about the standard of officiating known during a trackside interview with VERSUS TV.
Rahal's experience was a cautionary tale for everyone yet to pit - no one could pull out the requisite margin over Servia and Kanaan, and one by one they returned to the track from pit lane down in the middle of traffic: Dario came out just behind Kanaan, and would find no way past, and he was lucky to find Scott Dixon immediately behind him in a very friendly frame of mind not inclined to give him further headaches.
Hunter-Reay wasn't happy that the best cars on the track were losing out. "It's just that some other guy's running around saving fuel the whole time and finishes second, which is a shame."
The one exception to this rule was the leader, Will Power. Those stunning qualifying laps in the middle of the race pulled out exactly the gap he needed and just in time for him to dive into the pits on lap 59 before he ran dry. He came out of pit lane, and Penske team held its breath - and it wasn't even close. He had blitzed Servia and retained the race lead, and wouldn't be at risk again for the rest of the afternoon until the chequered flag came out.
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