2 October 2011
Carpenter wins thriller at Kentucky
Ed Carpenter claimed his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory, winning a thrilling 215mph side-by-side battle with Dario Franchitti that lasted 22 laps to the chequered flag.
It would be wrong to say that no one saw Ed Carpenter having a chance of winning the Kentucky Indy 300: he's always been strong here, starting from pole position in 2010 and finishing as a runner-up to Helio Castroneves. The year before, he'd been runner-up to Ryan Briscoe. But it just seemed that Carpenter was fated to be the bridesmaid here and never the bride - until this time, thanks to the small matter of 0.0098s at the chequered flag.
Carpenter had qualified in fourth place for this year's race, and at the start he could see the polesitter Will Power take off out front to quickly build a formidable lead over Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe. Carpenter himself had to contend with a strong challenge from JR Hildebrand in the opening laps, only for both of them to succumb to a pass from Marco Andretti whose #26 Venom car was looking very strong.
Further back it was a quieter time for some of the big names like Dario Franchitti, starting from 11th and who was up to eighth place after passing his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon in the first 25 laps. Dan Wheldon, who had started from the back row after failing tech inspection before qualifying on Saturday, was working his way through the pack but stalled when he got to the midfield, showing how hard his $5m prize challenge was likely to be in Las Vegas in a fortnight.
There was an early exit from the race for last year's winner Castroneves, who reported that there was a water leak in the #3 on lap 34. He came onto pit road, and sure enough the problem was terminal for the engine and it was time for Helio and his crew to pack up for the day.
"We were moving up to the front when we noticed a water issue," he explained afterwards. "We came into the pits and once the guys took a look, we just lost power. It's just one of those things. It rarely happens, but it seems everything is happening to us this season."
Otherwise, everyone was playing the game close to the chest by the time Wheldon and Andretti were the first to take to pit road for scheduled stops on lap 48, in the window for a three-stop race strategy. Franchitti was one of the later cars to pit once activity in pit lane had quietened down on lap 51 and benefited from the clear entry and exit with one of the best stops of the cycle.
That proved to be a very wise strategy, one that race leader Power would have been well advised to adopt. Instead he was in on lap 49 when the pits were at their busiest, and as he moved to pull into his pit box the Dreyer & Reinbold team working in the box just behind were busy ushering Ana Beatriz back out: she ran straight into Power's sidepod.
Initially it looked as though Beatriz had come off the worst from the contact, needing to be fitted with a new front wing. But then Penske Racing's Tim Cindric confirmed that Power's car had been holed in the sidepod, a massive open wound that was slowing the car by something in the region of 4mph which meant that even when he finally got back on track, he was falling away from the leaders.
All of that had left Dario Franchitti in the lead ahead of James Hinchcliffe, with Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti ahead of a fierce battle between Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay over fifth place. Power had dropped back to ninth place and struggled to maintain even that position.
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