Lisa Davidson, IndyCar Correspondent
Justin Wilson landed his first ever victory on an oval track. The Englishman was in contention all night on the Texas Motor Speedway 1.5 mile oval, and ended up chasing Ryan Briscoe before putting pressure on Graham Rahal.
“I thought it was a lot of fun, to be honest,” said Wilson. “The car was fantastic. And on the long runs, it just got better and better. I saw people sliding around and knew I just had to hit my marks.”
Dale Coyne won his second race as an IZOD IndyCar Series owner, and his first on an oval. Wilson’s victory was the second one for the team owner; his first was in 2009 on the road circuit in Watkins Glen. Wilson commented, “I have to thank Bill (Pappas) and everyone who works at Dale Coyne Racing. They work so hard and some long hours trying to get ready. Dale has put so much into it. I just can't believe we managed to pull this off.”
I didn't give myself enough of a margin for error.
The win was setup with Wilson powering past Briscoe before challenging Rahal, who appeared to be on his way of notching his second series race win until he got loose and brushed the wall on lap 226 coming out of turn 4. A rear tire went down, but the young Service Central Ganassi Racing driver hung on for a second place finish.
“I saw him sliding more and more every lap, and I didn't think there was no chance, but when I saw him hit the wall, I thought ‘OK, now it's time to go’. It was four-wheel drifting all the way into Turn 3 and all the way out of Turn 4. You were having to hang on out there,” Wilson said.
Rahal took the lead on lap 200 in the third turn admitted, “I just made a mistake, you know, I mean the car was pushing through the center of 3 and 4 pretty well the last stint, and it would kind of grip up for me late in the corner and I kind of stayed with it because they told me Justin was coming. So I was trying to pick up the pace a little bit, and honestly it just never gripped up, and I didn't give myself enough of a margin for error.”
In third place was a smiling Briscoe who scored the win in Texas in 2010. Apparently Briscoe’s car was quite difficult to handle. "It was tough,” admitted the Australian. “My car, the last two sets of tires just went off really badly in the back, so I was battling a loose car, which is hard work. I'm glad the race is over, you know, the guys put me in position to win tonight; I had the lead I just didn't have the car to bring it home and stay in front. It's disappointing, but I had a huge moment out there at one point tonight and I'll take third."
The top five was rounded by Andretti Racing’s James Hinchcliffe in fourth and Panther Racing’s sophomore racer J.R. Hildebrand in fifth.
Will Power, who retains the series point lead going in to next week’s race at the Milwaukee Mile, commented that for him, “it was my best race ever on an oval”. Power looked likely to win until he tangled with KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan late in the race. Kanaan definitely came out worse for the wear in the exchange, because Power blocked him and then he ended up needing a nose from teammate Rubens Barrichello’s. Race leader Power then received a drive through penalty from Race Control for blocking, and Will said after the race he felt badly for effectively robbing his friend of a good finish – TK would finish 11th for the day.
It was not a good day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti had problems all night, and finished the race 3 laps down in 14th. Even more disappointing was Detroit victor Scott Dixon’s solo collision with the wall while leading the race late in the contest. It appeared that his tires were going away for several laps and his crash proved the point. With Ganassi also heading up the satellite team of Rahal and Kimball, it was nearly an altogether unsatisfactory result as Kimball was the first car to go out of the race due to contact with the wall. Total disaster was averted by Rahal’s second place finish.
Of the 25 cars entered at the Texas 550, two actually did not start. Emerging series superstar Rubens Barrichello was unable to start the race. It appeared that he and Lotus’s one entry, HVM’s Simona DiSilvestro, could not get fired.
The race was a satisfactory showing for the IndyCar Series. There was concern about the contest taking place on heavily banked mile and a half oval tracks as is Las Vegas, scene of the tragic final race of 2011. But, the series was proactive in making changes so that the cars would not race in packs as they do at LVMS, and Director of Racing Beaux Barfield also listened to the drivers’ feedback after practice and qualifying to make further changes to ensure that the competition was safer. As Hinchcliffe commented, “before there was worry about the drivers, with the changes we can now worry about our cars”.
Wilson, one of four English drivers in the series (the others are Mike Conway, James Jakes and Katherine Legge) has thus far had a successful, if not stellar, career in the US. Justin has competed in the colonies since 2004. He has expressed concerns about running on ovals before this evening’s win, but as one of the commentators calling the race said, “Justin has now turned into an oval monster”. Wilson is also one of four FIA Formula One drivers running in Indy Car (the others are Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais who did not run at Texas and Takuma Sato), and today’s win showed that he is a force to be reckoned with, and not just on road courses.
The series moves north next week to Milwaukee in an event being promoted by Michael Andretti Promotion Corporation. After Saturday’s exciting race at the Firestone 550, it is a race to look forward to!