4 June 2012
Ganassi 1-2 in shortened Belle Isle event
In various sections of the Belle Isle street course, parts of the track had been patched over before the weekend using long strips of inlaid tar sealants. This patchwork cure had held up through a packed program of Grand-Am and Firestone Indy Lights support races as well as IndyCar practice and qualifying, but under the sustained pounding of the race itself the aerodynamic ground force effects of the DW12 had literally sucked the strips out of the ground and started sending chunks of tar flying into the air. It had been picked up on early in the race: Hunter-Reay said that he'd radioed his team about the emerging problem as early as lap 18 and JR Hildebrand had considerable damage to his front wing to prove it.
There followed the astonishing sight of track workers literally peeling the strips of asphalt out of the concrete road surface at six different parts of the track, and then frantic contingency planning leading to the arrival of quick dry cement being poured into the deep long scars left in the road surface. In the meantime the drivers had parked in pit lane under red flag conditions, standing around chatting and getting interviewed by increasingly desperate TV crews trying to fill a huge amount of air time. Anything rather than sitting and watching concrete (rather than paint) dry. A brief shower didn't do much to steady nerves. Some of the drivers - Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia and Simon Pagenaud - were meanwhile getting some nasty blisters on their hands taken care off, testament to how much of a physical punishment the bumpy street course had inflicted on them in just 45 laps.
Finally the concrete was in place. Tony Kanaan and Will Power did a reconnaissance lap in a pace car to determine they were happy to green light the restart. Kanaan didn't sound thrilled, but agreed that it was good enough to try a 15-lap sprint finish to reward all the fans (both in Detroit and those watching on TV) for sticking with them during the extended delay: "It's borderline," he admitted. "I wouldn't feel comfortable running the full distance."
There was however a period of confusion surrounding the rules for the restart and whether they were allowed to get any car repairs (no - but Hildebrand had to, and took the penalty) or change tyres (yes, but only staying on the same tyre compound.) The latter ruling angered Briscoe, who was furious to be left stuck on the harder tyres at the crucial moment: the Penske pit crew brusquely told him to deal with it or park it - which shut him up pretty quickly.
Finally it was time to try getting the show back underway - for everyone except Graham Rahal, whose car refused to get refired with clutch problems, putting him two laps down. Everyone else still running took a couple of sighting laps with track officials pointing out the patched areas so everyone knew what to avoid if at all possible. The running order for the sighting lap was Dixon, Power and Pagenaud, followed by Kanaan whose pit stop had just worked out for him to retain the position after all. Then came Castroneves in fifth, followed by Franchitti who had worked his way back up to sixth place thanks to that slightly early stop of his own.
Then just as they lined up for the double-file restart came a brief but sharp shower to wet parts of the track and add another layer of uncertainty to the conditions. You just knew this wasn't going to go smoothly. As they came to the green flag, Dixon managed to back up the field heading to the start/finish line before then putting his foot down: that caught out Power, who promptly lost a position down the start/finish straight to Simon Pagenaud. Franchitti also benefited and moved up from sixth to fourth at the same time, taking Oriol Servia with him past Tony Kanaan.
But at least they were all still pointing in the right direction, unlike Helio Castroneves who spun going into turn 6 and then sustaining a secondary hit from Ed Carpenter who lost the back end of his own car and clipped the front end of the stalled #3. One turn on and Josef Newgarden had slid up against the tyre wall which caused a gaggle of cars to come to a near-stop as they navigated around the stalled #67.
"I feel bad that we got clipped from behind at the end, because we had already had bad luck for most of the race," said the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing rookie. " We had a great strategy going but had to come in to the pits early because I had a puncture on one of my tyres from the rough track."
Briscoe had also been caught up in that second incident and turned around after contact with JR Hildebrand: he took the opportunity to pit in order to finally change to the soft red tyres, but that plunged him down to 16th position in the process.
"A disappointing finish for sure," said Briscoe. "Unfortunately we got caught with too much pick up on the tyres when the race started then we got turned around on the restart. This is certainly not where we wanted to finish."
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