27 August 2012
Briscoe pips Power after Bourdais crashes out
The early pit stops left the leaders coming up fast on the back of the slower cars fresh out of the pits, and Power followed the sensible route by coming in for an earlier than planned pit stop on lap 19 in order to keep him away from unnecessary danger. Unfortunately for Power, he came back out on track just behind the still-to-pit Hunter-Reay, who had good reason to do whatever he could to frustrate Power's progress until his own stop on lap 22.
A brief off into the California dirt for Josef Newgarden on lap 19 didn't trouble the officials with the need for a yellow flag, so as the first cycle of pit stops was completed it was Power back in charge at the front once more ahead of Briscoe, Bourdais, Franchitti and Tagliani, with Hunter-Reay restored to sixth after his own late stop.
Dixon had partially recovered from his first lap disaster and was back up to seventh with a move on Rubens Barrichello, albeit over half a minute off the leader and fast coming up on his next trip don pit road after having gone off-sync with his early first stop. There was no such quick recovery for Castroneves, who was unable to even ward off a beautifully smooth move from Sebastian Saavedra for 19th place as the two circulated at the middle of a train of cars forming behind an ailing James Hinchcliffe, that also included Oriol Servia, Charlie Kimball, Justin Wilson and James Jakes. Saavedra later put in a fiercely brave and clean move on Servia on lap 47, but that was after he'd lost positions again for speeding on pit lane.
Servia himself did manage to get past Hinchcliffe, but less tidily than Saavedra had managed in his own overtaking moves. Contact between the two left Hinchcliffe off line and off the pace, although Servia escaped sanctions from race control. A few minutes later Hinchcliffe was on pit road with an oil pressure problem which after brief inspection resulted in the Andretti Autosport team calling it a day on the GoDaddy.com #27 on lap 35.
With the next round of pit stops now underway, Dixon fell back from seventh spot and right into the middle of a different pack of cars that were being held up by a struggling Tony Kanaan in tenth with front wing damage of his own. Among those frustrated by the #11's pace were Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, EJ Viso, Mike Conway and JR Hildebrand. Andretti managed to tap the back of Rahal's car and damage his front wing, making him easy prey for Viso and Conway to get past even before he headed to pit lane with an engine problem that forced his retirement from the race on lap 46; meanwhile Kanaan himself finally had to yield positions to both Rahal and Dixon who were using their push-to-pass buttons.
The ongoing cycle of pit stops ended up temporarily breaking what had been up a spirited battle between Bourdais and Franchitti over third place, and when Franchitti exited from his pit stop he found that not only had Bourdais pulled away from him but that Scott Dixon had once again stolen a march on his rivals and slipped in between them thanks to his early stop. Dixon was able to harry Bourdais much more effectively, but next time around Ryan Hunter-Reay emerged from pit road to join the party and become a complicating factor. Bourdais managed to get past him while the Andretti Autosports #28 was still warming up its cold new tyres, but when it came to his turn Dixon found himself stymied. In frustration he ended up locking up his brakes and running into the back of Hunter-Reay's car, damaging the Ganassi #9's front wing and causing him to briefly run off the track because of the lack of downforce that ensued.
Dixon was determined to tough it out long enough to reach lap 58, the earliest possible to make it home on a full tank of gas. He haemorrhaged positions in the attempt and briefly ran off course again, finally falling to tenth place by the time he was able to come in for his stop; and then to rub salt in the wound he ran over an air hose exiting his pit stall and was handed a drive-thru penalty. His chances of a heroic recovery drive through to the field to glory was terminally over.
Not that things were going entirely to plan for race leader Will Power at this point either, as he was finding himself increasingly held up as he came up on more and more cars to put a lap down. He was looking forward to his own final visit to pit lane on lap 65, but it was an unusually problematic stop as the crew hit problems and vital seconds ticked away.
And then a more serious development occurred out on the course: Sebastien Bourdais had pitted a lap earlier and come out into traffic that included a feisty Josef Newgarden, and the two battled their way through the turn 7 hairpin without incident. But Bourdais put too much faith in those cold tyres, lost grip on the marbles offline on the way down the hill to turn 8, and ended up sliding off the track and through the dirt - rejoining the track right at the point that Newgarden was already attempting to occupy.
The contact was bad enough, but the thump sent both cars flying off the left hand side of the track with Newgarden taking a hard hit into the tyre wall. Newgarden's car bounced back out, hit Bourdais' car which was still sliding past on the dirt, and was promptly knocked into the tyres for a second time. The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car was badly wrecked and Newgarden himself clearly very shaken, but escaped the frightening hit relatively unscathed.
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