If the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway oval owed Helio Castroneves anything after his crash a week ago Friday in testing for Saturday's night SunTrust Indy Challenge, Castroneves got plenty of repayment after 250 hard-fought laps. The ...
If the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway oval owed Helio Castroneves anything after his crash a week ago Friday in testing for Saturday's night SunTrust Indy Challenge, Castroneves got plenty of repayment after 250 hard-fought laps.
The Brazilian known as Spiderman took his first IndyCar victory this season in a one-lap shootout over Dario Franchitti, with a 0.5588 second margin of victory. Patrick Carpentier finished third, his best result of his IndyCar career.
In securing his seventh Indy Racing League career victory Castroneves remarked, "We've been close so many times. Today was fantastic," he gloated. "The car was very good, very fast and I couldn't ask for a better result. We kept our composure (with all the action around him) and could pull away at any time I wanted. I didn't want to do too much," and suffer the consequences.
Castroneves' shoulder was injured in the crash last week and applied an ice pack as soon as he completed his traditional fence climb and Victory Lane appearance. "I just want to make sure it isn't worse. After the crash I was very worried and Monday, Tuesday of this week I could barely lift a glass of water. By today I had full range of movement, thank God."
Castroneves battled with teammate Sam Hornish Jr. throughout the first part of the contest, the duo giving way to Vitor Meira who was on an alternate pit stop strategy and Franchitti after the second round of stops.
When the leaders pitted on the 149th lap Castroneves took over and was never headed, particularly after Hornish clouted the turn 4 wall on his own, bringing out the fifth of seven caution periods. In all, Castroneves led 112 of 250 laps.
Franchitti had his best result of the season after finishing third in St Petersburg a couple of months ago. The Scot called it "not a bad evening. The Penske cars and myself were fighting and, while I was better in traffic they could pull away.
"It was nice at the end," Franchitti continued, "because we all pitted at the same time and there was no strange strategy. I wasn't quick enough to pass Helio but I tried. I got a run in traffic and then Jimmy Kite came down and almost took me out."
There was a lot of that type of activity going on with this type of short bullring and, indeed all but one of the seven cautions was due to contact.
Carpentier, finishing third after being frustrated by a lack of power in the first six races called the Richmond contest "the most fun race! When we tested here last week we found something and immediately gained 4/10ths, which is a lot on a 3/4-mile oval," the French Canadian remarked.
"We didn't touch the car after that. I could go outside, inside, everywhere and it was so much fun tonight. I'd race every week here because there's a lot of action and it's a lot of fun. We didn't change the car at all during the race and I avoided the accidents and got on the podium. I was laughing in the car because I was having such a good time," he explained.
After winning in Texas, Tomas Scheckter parlayed that result into a fourth place finish today, giving all three engine makes, Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet top-five results. Happy with his result Scheckter "pushed only when I needed to and didn't take any dumb chances. We were great in the pits and the car was great all night. We're really happy to bring the car home in one piece."
Point leader Dan Wheldon finished fifth and was happy with that result. "It's always exciting here at Richmond and you just have to be careful," he said. Carpentier's teammate Alex Barron, the final driver - of 14 still running - on the lead lap took sixth place and related, "The car was really solid all race. We really needed that and it just shows that all of the hard work has paid off."
Recovering from a late-race drive-through penalty for blocking Carpentier, Tomas Enge was the highest place rookie driver tonight, in seventh place. Obviously disappointed with the black flag, "I was defending my line against the 83 [Carpentier] but it was mainly because I was having so much trouble getting by the 91 car," the Czech explained. "I had a great car today and the race was great. It's great to finally get a strong finish."
Brian Barnhart defended the penalty: "Anytime you weave your car to impede the progress of the car behind you it is not what we are looking for on the track. It's a tough circuit and heavy traffic. If you get bogged down it doesn't give you a right to weave. I felt he crossed the line."
Bryan Herta had a quiet drive to eighth and was disappointed. "I thought our car would be good in the race but it just got away from us." Kosuke Matsuura (who set the fastest overall lap of the race on the 162nd tour - 171.372mph) took ninth place while Danica Patrick rounded out the top ten.
Patrick's team "made a lot of changes coming into the race. As a team we struggled last night and our aero consistency was an issue. It was tough to be behind people and not be able to do anything about it," she explained. "It was awful not to be able to pass and passing is the best part" of racing, she believes.
Buddy Rice's car was "sliding all over at the end of the fuel run and it was tough to hold on at one point," yet the veteran earned 11th tonight. Ed Carpenter secured his best finish of the season in 12th place, while Kite and A.J. Foyt IV were the final drivers still on the track at the close of the evening.
The Richmond circuit is well known for taking no prisoners and tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge had plenty of action. The first caution came when Foyt spun on the backstretch, hitting nothing.
Caution #2 came out when Scott Dixon, who dominated the contest in 2003 didn't see Franchitti passing him and ended up in the turn 2 wall. "We were running together and Dario went down to the inside. I think he touched me and I went into the wall," the Kiwi explained.
Teammate Ryan Briscoe, who began the race in third and had quite a few drivers displeased with his tactics hit the turn 4 wall in a single-car incident. "I just got up in the groove a bit fast and then went wide to avoid Dan," the Australian explained. "I ended up in the marbles" and hence, the wall.
Current champion Tony Kanaan, who last failed to finish an Indy car race in August of 2003 (at Nazareth Speedway), came to grief on lap 145, taking Vitor Meira into the turn 4 wall with him as he tried to avoid an incident with teammate Herta.
After completing 25 races, Kanaan realized "it had to happen one day. We didn't start the weekend too good (crashing on his qualifying warmup lap) so let's forget about it and go to Kansas."
Meira was pleased with his different strategy "and the car was good. I got caught in traffic then Bryan got into Tony and Tony spun. I really had nowhere to go. This place is so busy for a driver and I wanted to get to the end tonight. He led once for 40 laps.
Hornish brought out the fifth caution on lap 164 and acknowledged, "It was driver error. I was trying to push it too hard trying to get around Helio and it's a shame. The car was pretty good throughout the race. It was a big mistake on my part," he declared.
Caution #6 occurred when Roger Yasukawa pushed Scott Sharp into the turn 2 wall on lap 202. Sharp had just yielded third place to Carpentier and "Yasukawa decided to block me to the inside going down the front straightaway.
"I basically had nothing else to do but go down the outside of him and had to keep it tight because of the marbles," the veteran retold. "I guess he decided he wanted to race me and his right front tagged my left rear and he spun me up into the wall. That was the end of our night and it was a real shame," the disgusted Sharp stated.
Yasukawa took part in the final caution period, too, coming together with Darren Manning and putting out the last of the three Ganassi cars at turn 2. Their dispute over that particular area of real estate gave the Indy cars a one-lap shootout, one in which only Castroneves could prevail.
There are only a few days to recoup before the Argent Mortgage Kansas Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway July 3rd. Wheldon continues to lead the standings with 292 points, while Kanaan retains 209 and Castroneves owns 206 third place points. Hornish holds 198 points and Franchitti has 187 to stay in the top five.