LOUDON, N.H. August 14, 2011—In a wild, crazy and confusing race, Vitor Meira came home with his second straight top-10 finish in the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 215 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Rain became a major factor throughout the race which was originally scheduled to run 225 laps around the 1 mile speedway in the IZOD IndyCar Series return to the Granite State.
Under threatening skies, the race began 20 minutes early but was under yellow on the first lap when Mike Conway (who started 12th) spun coming off turn 2. Although most drivers missed hitting the spinning No. 27, Graham Rahal was not so fortunate, hitting Conway and ending his race against the inside tire barrier.
On the lap 8 restart, Helio Castroneves also spun coming off turn 2. He was able to rejoin the race but was several laps down to the leaders. Pole winner Dario Franchitti had the measure of the field as he outpaced everyone, including Meira who was lapped by Franchitti early on.
Meira avoided a few close calls to pick up several positions by the time of the first caution for moisture on lap 75. The race restarted 32 laps later on lap 107. Three laps later, Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti touched wheels resulting in Scheckter crashing and taking out Tony Kanaan, who flipped after striking the infield tire barrier. All drivers escaped uninjured.
When the race restarted on lap 118, race leader Dario Franchitti and second place Takuma Sato tangled on the homestretch; Meira was running 13th at the time. Franchitti and J.R. Hildebrand , who was caught up in the melee, were out of the race but Sato continued after making a couple pit stops under caution.
The second set of pit stop cycles began on lap 161 and Meira stopped on lap 167 with the crew taking out a turn of front wing. Meira rejoined the race in 13th and as the pit stops cycled out by lap 192, he was 11th.
That was where he was running when IndyCar officials assessed a stop and go penalty to EJ Viso who had not taken it immediately so he was docked a lap on lap 204, moving Meira into 10th. The yellow came on lap 206 for moisture on the track for the second time. On lap 212, officials rearranged the cars so that the seven cars on the lead lap were nose to tail.
A restart on lap 218 saw Danica Patrick spin coming off turn 4 which triggered a multicar crash involving fourth place Will Power, fifth place Sato and backmarkers Ed Carpenter and Ana Beatriz. Meira was in eighth spot when the dust cleared with Patrick limping around the track with a damaged suspension.
Race officials decided to throw the red flag on lap 220 calling the race to a halt. They admitted they made a mistake in throwing the green flag when the track was still wet on lap 218. In an unprecedented move, they declared the race over after 215 laps, allowing the crashed cars to retain the positions they were in before the crash which reverted Meira back to 10th.
The decision to not restart the race was met with boos by the crowd in attendance and did not sit well with some of the drivers including Meira.
“All that happened at the end of the race isn’t worth talking about—everything speaks for itself-but I think it was big mistake [to not finish the race],” Meira said afterwards. “Our car was okay but we came from a very tough run of small ovals. We had a bad Milwaukee race and a bad race in Iowa so at least we got some points back and our confidence back here which is a very tough track. The ABC Supply team did a good job, we got places on the starts and a lot of people were having problems with cold tires and we were ok on that. We got a lot of positions by other people’s mistakes and crashes. It’s good to be top 10 but bittersweet – to be honest, we should have finished seventh but instead we’re 10th.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race. Second through seventh were Oriol Servia, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Patrick and Sato. Meira remains 14th in the point standings.
Indycar.com, the official web site if the IZOD IndyCar Series, reported the following:
INDYCAR president of competition and racing operations Brian Barnhart, the Race Director for the IZOD IndyCar Series, said it ultimately was a "mistake on Race Control's part" to call for the restart.
"The only right thing to do and the fair thing to do is to go to the running order before the restart," he said. "It would be one thing if it rained hard, your decision's a pretty easy one to make. But when you get calls from track safety and observer posts around the racetrack that report light moisture, the tough decision is to make that call whether you continue with the event or not.
"Because no matter what, our No. 1 priority in every decision we make is safety. They're counting on you to make the right decision. Obviously, toward the end of that race, with the attempted restart, we made the wrong one. And that's one of those things that just makes you feel sick to your stomach. You want to make every effort that you can for the fans watching on television and the ones that are in the grandstands here, but you can't do that at the expense of safety.
"We didn't receive any objections from our pit techs talking to the teams or the observers around the track or Johnny Rutherford out there in the pace car."