Justin salvages 11th from eventful São Paulo Indy 300
After a top 3 qualifying performance Justin had high hopes for a strong run in the season-opening São Paulo Indy 300. Instead, in an eventful, rain-interrupted race, the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car endured cut tyres on both the opening and final laps and Justin had to settle for 11th place. Will Power took victory for Team Penske while Ryan Hunter-Reay was runner-up for Andretti Autosport. Brazilian Vitor Meira rounded out the podium for A.J. Foyt Racing. Justin's Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team-mates finished 8th (Mike Conway, No. 22 Dad's Root Beer) and 13th (Ana Beatriz, No. 24 Ipiranga).
Justin's race fell apart right at the start when a rear tyre was cut as a result of the carnage behind him going into Turn 1. Forced to pit right away to replace a rear tyre when the pits were closed, he had to pit again once they had re-opened. So with only a few laps gone Justin found himself back in 18th position with a hard day's work ahead. In typical fashion he worked his way steadily through the field and by the time the next yellow was called on Lap 22 he was up to 13th - this despite a piece of track-side advertising banner draping itself rather un-aerodynamically over the in-car camera, partially obscuring the airbox and leaving the No. 22 car down on power for several laps.
After a good pit-stop on Lap 23 normal aspiration was resumed and Justin was solidly inside the top 10, but rain clouds were massing and on Lap 29 the heavens opened. Most of the field with any sense pitted for wets as soon as possible, but once it became clear just how much standing water there was the IRL officials red-flagged the race on Lap 35.
Almost forty minutes later the sun was shining and the track was drying quickly. With 44 minutes to the finish once engines were re-started, it was merely a question of when, not if, the whole field would be back on slick Firestones. Those who ultimately finished on the podium opted to take an early gamble of pitting for slicks during the pace car laps before the race went green. Others, including Justin, opted to make the most of their Firestone wets before pitting.
After the restart Justin was running in 4th, behind the Ganassi cars of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon and DRR team-mate Mike Conway. With the wets not offering a sufficient advantage to pull out a significant gap, the chance of a podium evaporated once the inevitable pit-stop for slicks took place on Lap 41. In the final stint the No. 22 car struggled to make progress but, undeterred, Justin was still solidly in 9th until the final lap when another flat tyre dropped him back to 11th by the finish.
"It was tough out there today," said Justin. "After cutting a tyre on the first lap from all the crash damage the Z-Line Designs crew battled back. I was holding on to a top-10 going into the final lap, but my left rear tyre went flat, causing massive understeer. I'm happy with what we accomplished today and I think we showed that we can run strong. It's just unfortunate that the tyre went down on the first lap. I'm really looking forward to St. Petersburg."
The Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg takes place on March 28.