18 September 2011
Dixon wins as Dario makes crucial error
"I apologized to Graham and I apologized to Chip, Briscoe and Charlie I will apologize to when I see them," said Dario. "I own up to the mistake and Chip is right to be critical. It was a stupid move, and I shouldn't have done it."
Given that this season has been dominated by controversy over decisions from race control, Motegi was no different: eyebrows were raised at the applied penalty which put Franchitti to the back of the lead lap rather than the usual drive-thru penalty once the track went green. Given that Franchitti was already pretty near the back anyway, the applied penalty did him little harm - whereas a drive-thru would have dropped him even further back in track position.
Once the race got back underway, Dario spent the rest of the race working his way up from the back, finding some cars easier to overtake - such as Hideki Mutoh on lap 36 - than others. Giorgio Pantano made it clear he wasn't going to make things easy when he cut off Dario's attempt to pass on the next lap, only to then drift off into the dirt and lose momentum which gave Dario the position a few minutes later anyway.
Franchitti was also helped by a third and final full course caution that came out on lap 58, when Sebastien Bourdais delivered a forceful hit on the rear left wheel of Ryan Hunter-Reay's #28 on the entry to turn 4. Hunter-Reay was sent off into the sandtrap where he was beached, and the caution came out to allow the crane to move into action.
Surprisingly, Bourdais received no penalty for the accident despite the superficial similarity to the earlier Franchitti/Briscoe collision. "The reason we deemed it a racing incident is because Bourdais made a mistake coming off of Turn 2," said race steward Al Unser Jr. "Ryan's choice to go on driver's right, and then didn't give him enough room going around Turn 3."
The restart proved eventful: the first attempt at taking the green was foiled by a strangely unprepared and out of position Will Power; the second attempt proved successful at going green, but then KV Racing Technology team mates Takuma Sato and EJ Viso made contact - leaving Viso spun off the track - while Ryan Briscoe also went off-road and Vitor Meira likewise ended up beached on the side of the track.
None of those were in a dangerous enough position to force a full course caution, and given that there were only a couple of laps remaining at this point, race control made the decision to handle it under local waved yellows instead and allow the race to end under green.
Helio Castroneves was seen to overtake JR Hildebrand for seventh place under one of these local waved yellows on the final lap, and was duly penalised for the transgression - which meant being put to the back of the lead lap in the final positions, leaving him mired in 22nd. He wasn't happy when he found out.
"I am very disappointed in the result and the decision to penalize us at the end," he said afterwards. "I have said it before: the decisions by Race Control have been very inconsistent, this season especially, and I think today was just another example. I am really upset about it and I think it is very unfortunate for the fans and my fellow drivers."
It was a sad end to Castroneves' day, which had also started with drama when he tried a move on Ryan Briscoe and Graham Rahal who were battling in front of him: that make it three-wide into turn 1 at the start, and Briscoe and Rahal ended up running deep which left Castroneves no where to go except into the sand trap, costing him a huge number of positions after he rally crossed back to the tarmac in 21st position.
Joao Paulo de Oliveira
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