By Andrew Charman
Tony Kanaan took the win in round 2 of the Indy Racing League at Phoenix International Raceway, the Andretti-Green driver having dominated most of the race. Scott Dixon was second for Target Chip Ganassi Racing while Dan Wheldon took his second successive third place in his Andretti-Green car. Round one winner Sam Hornish Jnr had a poor day, his Penske suffering wing damage after a brush with the wall and ending up 15th.
Pole-winner Dan Wheldon led the 20-car field at the start of the Copper World Indy 200, but by turn 3 on the opening lap his #26 Andretti Green Dallara-Honda had been passed by team-mate Tony Kanaan's #11 car, and last year's winner then dominated the opening laps. Already out was Adrian Fernandez, the latest defector from the Champ Car series not even getting in a lap of his first IRL race before the gearbox broke on his #5 G-Force Honda.
It took 50 laps before Kanaan had a rival to worry about, and that was Sam Hornish Jnr, the round one winner's #6 Marlboro Penske Dallara-Toyota heading forwards as fast as team-mate Helio Castroneves went backwards in his ill-handling #3 car. Almost as soon as Hornish caught the leader, the pair came upon heavy lapped traffic and Kanaan was able to use this to keep the Penske car back until the first pit stops began on lap 65.
Kanaan pitted first followed by everyone else over the next 10 laps promoting the #11 car back to the lead, but then on lap 82 the yellow flew, Hornish sitting dejectedly at turn 2 after his car half-spun and gently backed into the wall, bending the rear wing. The resultant pit stop to change it cost five laps and dropped the points leader right out of the reckoning. “It got real loose, and it caught me by surprise,” Hornish said later.
At the green Kanaan soon pulled out a lead on the now second-placed Scott Dixon in the #1 Target Chip Ganassi G-Force-Toyota, particularly when Dixon struggled to lap Castroneves. Third was now Tomas Scheckter in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet, the South African holding a useful gap to strong-running Scot Dario Franchitti in the third Andretti Green Dallara. The top places remained stagnant until on lap 135 the yellow flew again when Ed Carpenter spun his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Chevrolet heavily into the turn 2 wall, wiping off the car's left side. “Impatience on my part,” was Carpenter's honest assessment.
The caution came just at the right time for the entire field to make their final pit stops, and in the process Helio Castroneves got back on the lead lap, a wing adjustment on the first round of stops having transformed his car from loose and horrible to far more competitive. When the green flag flew on lap 143 little had changed, Kanaan out front and seemingly cruising to victory, Dixon now in a somewhat lonely second. However the third and fourth place battle closed up when Scheckter had trouble getting around the #14 Dallara-Toyota of AJ Foyt IV, and Franchitti briefly got his car's nose in front. The two battled over the next 10 laps until their fight was ended in spectacular fashion on lap 178. coming through turn 4 Robbie Buhl lost his #24 Dallara-Chevrolet and slammed the wall. Schekter, following, saw the crash and backed off, but Franchitti didn't, running into Scheckter and both cars then cannoning into Buhl's stricken machine.
Scheckter climbed out, banging his fist on his car in frustration and looking accusingly at Franchitti. “"I heard yellow, yellow, yellow and I slowed down and got hit from behind,” he said. As for Dario, he pleaded innocencen; “I came up into Turn 3 behind him (Scheckter), and no one told me it was a yellow. The first thing I knew it was yellow was Tomas getting off the throttle, which he obviously had to do because there was a wreck. But nobody told me it had gone yellow, and I tried to slow down but I took both of us out. It's very frustrating because I understand it was yellow for a half a lap, but I don't why why I wasn't informed about it.
Thankfully all that was hurt in the crash was driver's pride but the resultant mess took a while to clear up, leaving Dixon with an eight lap shootout to try and overhaul Kanaan. It was never going to happen, the Andretti Green driver having led all but 10 laps of the race, and Kanaan duly reeled off the remaining tours to take only his second IRL victory, both of them at this track. “I'm happy,” said Kanaan in victory lane. “I think the team did a great job; it's not just me. I just drove the car around, but the team made great pit stops.”
Dixon was philosophical. “We had a really good car,” he said. “It's just sort of hard to pass here. You couldn't get a run on somebody. I think sometimes I had a better car than Tony (Kanaan). On new tyres, it looked like he was a little better. It's kind of a shame that we had that yellow towards the end there because I think his car would have have fallen off a little more, but a good day for Team Target. It's good points.”
Behind Dixon Dan Wheldon took his second third place in a row to confirm his potential this season, Alex Barron's #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara Chevrolet next up followed by Darren Manning in the second Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force and then Castroneves, recovering well from his early-race dramas.
All of which leaves the title race nice and tight as the teams enjoy another month off before heading for Japan, and round 3 of the series at the Twin-Ring Motegi track.
(Photos courtesy Firestone Media)