4 June 2012
Ganassi 1-2 in shortened Belle Isle event
"[The] team did a great job getting me back out on track after I came in for brake troubles," he said. "I hoped we'd be able to make a bit of that lost time up. The throttle just didn't want to cooperate though."
Now it was coming up to the first round of pit stops: the magic number was 30 laps to make this a two-stopper, but it was a big ask and some cars such as Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti (and Tagliani by default) made an early call to go off-sync, get away from the traffic jam behind Viso and then use the extra stop to allow them to burn some fuel in the newly acquired clear space.
Dario Franchitti was the first of the main group to come in to the pits on lap 26, not least to have that damaged front wing looked over; a replacement was not deemed necessary. The struggling Viso - who had in the meantime clouted the wall with his loose-handling car - was in a lap later, earlier than his fuel usage required and still outside the two-stop window; freed of the KV-shaped road block ahead, Hunter-Reay was finally able to get his foot down and pull away a little from Helio Castroneves now running behind him in fifth before they too had to come into pit lane for their first fuel stops.
Pagenaud was in from third on lap 29, still needing a touch of yellow to make it on just one more stop after this; but there was no such problem for the two leaders, Dixon and Power, with regards to making it to the magic 30 lap distance - and indeed three laps beyond. Dixon certainly had the measure of Power at this point and not only retained the lead when he came back out, but had a mighty ten seconds over Power in second.
After the first pit stops had completed, the off-sync early pit stops of Kanaan, Tagliani and Andretti now put those drivers in the top six - but they still had two stops to make where the others likely just had the one. Still, given their lowly positions stuck way down the field on lap 1, it was as good a gamble as any. You never know, anything could happen in the next half hour ...
It looked as though Kanaan's gamble hadn't worked out when there were no cautions and he finally had came in for his next pit stop on lap 39; but as he emerged out on the track, all hell was suddenly breaking lose. To start with there was Takuma Sato cutting a corner too close, clattering over the curbing and losing the handling putting him into the wall at turn 12.
"I clipped a very high curb and that made a huge kickback in the steering wheel and it slipped from my grip and that was the end of the race," Sato confirmed.
That was a caution to be sure, but it was nothing compared to what was unfolding at the same moment going into turn 6: James Hinchcliffe's left wheel was suddenly jolted upwards by what looked like a massive chunk of debris, losing him his handling and sending him burrowing deep into the tyre barrier. Hinchcliffe climbed out and walked over to where the debris had been to check that he could believe what he'd just seen with his own eyes: sure enough, the track was coming apart.
"I have never seen anything like it," he said. "We had these big pieces of tar just sort of ripping up from lap 5. The debris was out there. It was tough to drive around it.
"The lap before the accident, I had this chunk hit me in the wing in turn 9. I radioed to the guys to make sure the wing was all right because it was a big hit," he continued. "Then going through 6, I turned in and a piece of the tar, whatever, just folded over with a giant chunk of concrete. It launched the front-end of the car in the air. I was just a passenger at that point."
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