8 July 2013
Ganassi pulls off shock podium lock-out at Pocono
And Marco wasted no time getting around Kanaan for the lead as the cars went four-wide on the restart, and Castroneves had his hands full with Pagenaud for third place while his Penske team mate Power quickly lost out to Dixon flexing his new-spec Honda's muscles. Andretti continued to lead until he kicked off the next round of green flag pit stops on lap 95, but a delay on the left front tyre change meant that he ended up running behind Tony Kanaan and Will Power after the pit stops shook out.
Scott Dixon had managed an even better seven-second flying pit stop, however, and came out into the lead ahead of the others. In contention for the $1 million Triple Crown bonus prize, Kanaan was in no mood to play second fiddle and soon made a passing move on Dixon - only to misjudge it by an inch and clip his front wing on the left rear wheel guard of the Ganassi #9. The wing was in a clearly precarious condition and the team had no choice to bring him in for a replacement, pretty much ending his race (and million dollar) winning hopes.
In the meantime Will Power and Marco Andretti had both passed Dixon, and Marco continued the momentum of that moment to also move into the lead ahead of Power on lap 109, rapidly extending out a six tenths margin of safety. However, the big concern on the Andretti pit wall was about fuel mileage, with most of the field - and certainly the #25 - looking around 5 laps shy of making it to the finish with just one more visit to pit road. The question now was whether to lean off and run the risk of running too slowly, or try planning a splash-and-dash late stop, or simply to put it into the lap of the Gods and hope for a safety car period to extend the current fuel window.
Aware of Marco's dilemma, Will Power applied the pressure to force Andretti keep his foot on the gas, and Marco was forced to drop from the lead as he was quickly passed by both Power and Dixon, both of whom were looking better for making it to the finish with just one more tank of gas.
The pit stops started to play out on lap 126 with Marco in with 34 laps to the finish of the race - still further than he'd managed in his previous stints. Castroneves was in two laps later and Power in next time by after that, but Dixon was comfortable cruising through to lap 131. By the time the pit stops had cycled through, Dixon was back out in front ahead of his Ganassi team mates Kimball and Franchitti, a Honda 1-2-3 that hadn't seemed remotely feasible at any stage through all the Andretti/Chevrolet-dominated testing, practice and qualifying sessions at Pocono before today - let alone Ganassi's comparatively dismal form all season by their own high standards which Franchitti himself had declared "embarrassing" as recently as 24 hours earlier. How much was it down to the new specification engines, and how much did it once again underline that while the Chevys might have the whip hand on raw speed, the Hondas hold the advantage when it came to fuel mileage?
Will Power's attempt to break through the Ganassi cabal took the air off his front wing and dropped him back behind Simon Pagenaud to fifth place, just ahead of the fuel-saving Marco Andretti in sixth. The rest of the top ten was rounded out by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden, Penske's Helio Castroneves, Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson and finally by owner-driver Ed Carpenter in the #20 who was just ahead of Tony Kanaan, although the Indy 500 champion was off-sync due to that enforced wing change and still had his final stop to make with came on lap 140 and put him a lap down again with 20 to go.
When he came out, Kanaan was on the freshest tyres and had the most fuel to burn, so Scott Dixon was wise enough not to do battle with him for track position and instead allowed the #11 to unlap itself. That had the bonus effect of giving Dixon and his team mates a fast-moving car running immediately ahead of them that could act as an early warning system others to assist their way past backmarkers such as Panther's Ryan Briscoe and Dale Coyne Racing's Pippa Mann, who were the last cars to go a lap down before the end of the race finally arrived.
There were no last minute upsets: the Ganassi cars flew in formation across the finish line to pick up the team's first-ever 1-2-3 finish in any motor racing series that they have ever competed in. Will Power managed to claim fourth position for Penske and for Chevrolet, but behind him was another trio of Honda cars - Newgarden, Pagenaud and Wilson - in a total inversion to what everyone had expected coming into race day.
Castroneves came home in eighth ahead of Carpenter, while long-time race leader and runaway favourite for the win Marco Andretti finally limped home in tenth place and then promptly ran out of fuel, having to pull over on the front straight, graphically demonstrating that his fuel woes had been very real indeed. "It absolutely ripped my guts out," said Marco after he ended up as the only Andretti Autosport car to finish the race out of four to star the race, leaving team boss Michael Andretti wondering just where their meticulous planning had gone awry.
Looking if anything more astounded with the outcome was race winner Scott Dixon, who had become the first Ganassi winner of a hitherto barren 2013 season. It's Dixon's 30th win in the IndyCar Series putting him tenth on the all‑time win list, the 100th for sponsor Target and and Honda's 200th victory.
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