8 July 2013
Ganassi pulls off shock podium lock-out at Pocono
The script had already been written and Sunday's race was Andretti Autosport and Chevrolet's to lose. And they did just that, as the advantage shifted entirely to Ganassi and Honda.
Ever since the IZOD IndyCar Series team and drivers had first turned a wheel at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval on Thursday during open testing, it had been painfully clear to the Honda contingent that they were doomed. Chevrolet and in particular Andretti Autosport had been in the ascendency all week, and Marco Andretti had absolutely dominated every single session on his way to claiming pole position for the Pocono IndyCar 400, the first open wheel race at the Tricky Triangle since 1989.
Surely nothing could possibly go to wrong on the day?
The three-wide start went without incident, the all-Andretti Autosport front row quickly dropping into what looked like a pre-arranged single file through turn 1 with Marco Andretti taking point. If that had been planned, however, then what followed most definitely hadn't as the team plan went awry seconds later: the #27 bobbled innocuously, but James Hinchcliffe's attempts to catch the spin backfired and the car snapped into a hard hit against the wall to bring out the first caution. Scratch one.
Having banged his knee in the impact, Hinchcliffe limped away from the shattered GoDaddy.com car but he was quickly cleared by the doctors in the infield medical centre, now simply disappointed to be watching the remainder of the 160-lap race from the sidelines. He was quickly joined there by Dragon Racing's Sebastian Saavedra, whose car had suffered a stuck throttle even before the green flag and forced the Colombian to take the car to the garage where attempts to rectify the issue came to nought.
Marco Andretti led at the restart on lap 5 with KV Racing's Tony Kanaan moving into second spot ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco was still comfortably in charge when it came to the first round of green flag pit stops: Andretti himself was in unexpectedly early on lap 31, while the majority stayed out another five laps before coming in, but once the stops had cycled through the #25 was still on point, now with Hunter-Reay in second and AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato up into third spot after a stuck fuel nozzle cost Kanaan some time on pit road. Nothing to the time lost by Tristan Vautier, however, who overshot his Schmidt-Peterson pit box and spun the #55 trying to correct the mistake, all of which left him two laps off the pace.
Marco Andretti was in for his next green flag pit stop on schedule on lap 61; behind him, his team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay followed him on the same lap in as did third-place man Takuma Sato. Only, the #14 seemed to be completely oblivious of the pit lane speed limit and was a good 20mph faster than allowed, meaning that he went flying into the side of the slowing #1 car directly ahead of him.
"I think I misjudged it, simply too fast. We came off the corner, and I lost the back end and slid into Ryan," said Sato, not offering any excuses for the incident. "Extremely sorry to Andretti Autosport and their crew and my crew."
Hunter-Reay had been punted into a sharp impact with the outside pit wall causing front wing and right suspension damage, while the left rear of Sato's car had a large crack in it that looked very terminal for the Japanese driver's hopes of continuing. Hunter-Reay faced a lengthy wait on pit road to see if the damage to the #1 could be repaired and eventually did come back out albeit 20 laps down, but retired once there was no further prospect of gaining any further positions and revealed that the impact had exacerbated an injury to his right hand that had been sustained at Barber Motorsports Park earlier in the season which was a concern heading into the bumpy Toronto street track double-header next weekend.
Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves were among those able to make their stops before the track went full course caution and pit road briefly closed, leaving Will Power, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti among those having to wait for Hunter-Reay's car to be recovered before being able to make their stops. All of this jumbled the running order up somewhat for the restart on lap 72 with Tony Kanaan ahead of Andretti and Castroneves, with Simon Pagenaud finding himself up into fourth place ahead of Power who was running in front of a Ganassi trio consisting of Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti.
This rise of the Honda teams was against expectations after their dismal showing at Pocono all week. Several of the cars - Dixon, Pagenaud, Vautier and Sato - had taken receipt on Friday of a new specification of Honda engine that they had run for the first time on Saturday, successfully enough to persuade other Honda runners Franchitti, Justin Wilson and Pippa Mann to make the change as well even at the cost of a ten-place grid penalty that had them at the back of the field for the start. Dixon had joined them there after it was found his 'approved' engine change had been a miscommunication, and Alex Tagliani also had a grid penalty after being forced to change his own Honda after crashing in qualifying. Despite the grid handicaps, however, it was clearly paying off for the Dixon and Franchitti and for Wilson who was also up into the top ten. But could there new engines propel them any further up the standings in the remaining laps of the race? Chevrolet still looked in control and Marco Andretti still marching to victory despite the woes that had waylaid his team mates.
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