2 October 2011
Carpenter wins thriller at Kentucky
When a caution came out on lap 80 for debris on the backstretch, Power must have breathed a big sigh of relief because it meant he could take the #12 back to pit road for emergency surgery. The Penske team's first attempt to duct tape it up was an abject failure, the tape tearing off even at safety car speeds and depositing itself as a new debris hazard before the race could even consider resuming. Several more visits to pit lane ensued for Power, carefully timed to at least keep him on the lead lap, but it was dawning on everyone that there was little anyone could do to improve the situation. Power's afternoon was all about damage limitation and scrabbling any points from the back that he could.
"Nothing we could do about that one," he said. "We lost 4mph with the hole in the side of the car. Guys had done such a good job with the car, we had the fastest car on the track, best car I've ever had on an oval. Handling was still there, just no speed."
Everyone had pitted for fuel even though it was too far outside the window for getting home with just one more stop, unless there were a lot of yellow flag laps along the way. At the restart on lap 92, Marco Andretti got the drop on Scott Dixon to take second place, and proceeded to attach himself to the rear of Franchitti's #10 for the next 45 laps. Marco's car was surely the faster, but the clear air and the low line that Dario controlled by virtue of having the lead made him impossible for Andretti to pass no matter how much sustained pressure Marco applied.
Pit stops were just starting on lap 138, beginning with Dan Wheldon, whose pace had fallen off with handling problems in the latter half of the afternoon. Simona de Silvestro was also on pit road, but when she pulled out of her pit box the cold tyres reacted badly and snapped her to the left, causing her to run sideways through the KV Racing Technology pit box of EJ Viso. The chief mechanic DJ McMahon was already in position for his man, and instead he was broadsided by the skidding #78 and sent flying. He was sent to the medical centre for check-ups which confirmed a fractured knee; a shaken de Silvestro soon retired from the race.
The commotion meant that pit lane needed to be closed to stop the accident involving anyone else thinking of coming in - and that meant throwing a full course caution. Once pit road was tidied up, the pits were opened again and everyone came in under the yellow. It was another perfect stop for the Ganassi duo of Franchitti and Dixon, but an even quicker stop for Rahal popped him up to second place between them.
But elsewhere on pit road there were two more serious incidents - one of which enveloped the car that seemed the biggest threat to the Ganassi team, Marco Andretti's #26. He had completed his stop and was trying to race Graham Rahal down to pit exit when they closed up fast on the rear of Alex Lloyd just pulling into the Dale Coyne pit box: Marco was caught out and ran straight into the back of Lloyd, scatting pit crew and ending both their races on the spot, while also trapping EJ Viso in his pit box right behind and costing him a huge time delay as a result.
JR Hildebrand's pit box was also not a great place to be during this caution, as he misjudged his entry and ran into the inside wall, trapping and knocking over several of his pit crew waiting to service him. One of them was clearly badly injured in the leg and in considerable pain, needing attention on the spot from the IndyCar medical team before being transferred to the in-field care centre and from there to the local hospital for treatment. That all this put Hildebrand off the lead lap was rather inconsequential by comparison.
At the restart on lap 145, Franchitti still had the advantage of the lead - but once again seemed to have the weaker car compared with the driver in second place, now Graham Rahal. Rahal knew he was pacier and wanted past the #10 but Franchitti was unwilling to cede the position even to another member of the extended Ganassi family. He grimly held on, but all the time he was being pressed by Rahal he was unable to save fuel - and without a major yellow there was no way Franchitti (or anyone, most likely) was going to make it through to lap 200.
Fortunately for the drivers, the extended yellow did finally come on lap 166 and lasted 12 laps, more than enough to allay fuel-conservation headaches. Unfortunately for Ana Beatriz, it was she who triggered it when she spun in turn 3 and planted the #24 car into a nasty rear-end impact against the out-side wall. Beatriz needed help walking to the medical car but did not require a stretcher or neck and back brace, which was a promising sign. The car was badly damaged however and there were fluids leaking all over the track, which is what necessitated the lengthy run behind the safety car.
There was bad news for Graham Rahal as well, as he was summoned to pit road. He was stunned by the call: how come he had been short-filled while everyone else seemingly had enough to make it to the end of the race? He fumed on the radio but had no choice but to pit, dropping him from the second spot to 13th for the restart on lap 177.
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