Sonoma: Justin Wilson race report

Justin scythes through field to 7th in Sonoma Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing team were rewarded with 7th place in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma after starting from the back in 22nd. A last-minute switch to a unique alternate strategy...

Justin scythes through field to 7th in Sonoma

Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing team were rewarded with 7th place in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma after starting from the back in 22nd. A last-minute switch to a unique alternate strategy allowed the #18 Z-Line Designs car to run on the faster, red-sidewalled Firestone tyres for most of the race. Dario Franchitti led all 75 laps to take victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, the Scot having been chased hard for most of it by runner-up Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske). Mike Conway (Dreyer & Reinbold) was third, scoring his maiden IndyCar Series podium.

Justin’s #18 Z-Line Designs car was slated for a 19th starting position after a rear suspension part folded under heavy braking in the first round of Saturday’s qualifying session. The only silver lining was that he still had three new sets of the softer Firestone “reds” available for the race and, after some successful changes in Sunday’s warm-up, the team made a late decision to gamble on a three stop race strategy. The plan was to start briefly on the harder primary tyres, before allowing Justin to run the early phase of the race in clear air on reds. Changing the starting tyre designation forced Justin to start from the back of the grid, but he and the team hoped that the faster compound would allow him to make progress.

The race got off to a messy start when several cars tangled in Turn 1 on the opening lap, but Justin was able to steer around the carnage and moved up to 13th as several cars pitted for repairs. He made up two more spots at the restart on Lap 5 before pitting on Lap 6 to get the primary Firestones out of the way and switch to faster rubber. Although he lost initial track position, for much of the next 25 laps Justin was able to lap in the 79s bracket, enjoying a clear track and relentlessly closing down the drivers in front of him.

Although a hoped-for full course yellow, which would have vaulted Justin to the front, never came, the off-sequence strategy meant that when the field pitted again Justin had caught a number of the backmarkers and was able to run several laps longer than them before pitting. It was this ability to run longer into each stop, coupled with decisive overtaking when the opportunities arose, that allowed him to move up to 15th after his second stop (Lap 29) and then 9th place after his third and final stop on Lap 53.

The closing stages offered nail-biting entertainment, with Justin passing Dan Wheldon (Panther Racing) on Lap 58 to move up to 8th. Not long after he was hard on the heels of Oriol Servia (Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing). Ahead of the duelling pair, the Team Penske of Helio Castroneves speared off the track at Turn 1 on Lap 66, bunching the field up under a second full course caution before the track went green for a four lap blast to the chequered flag.

On the restart Justin was once again all over the back of Oriol. He made a move on the Spaniard into the hairpin with two laps to go, but lost the rear of the #18 car under braking and drifted into the corner. In an amazing demonstration of quick reflexes, Justin managed to keep the engine lit and regained momentum with the loss of only one place which he regained a lap later to take the chequered flag in 7th.

"The race today was long and tough, but the unique strategy we used allowed me to move up 15 positions," said Justin. "The Z-Line Designs car was very fast today, the pit stops were quick and everyone worked hard to get the most of our starting position."

Justin’s exploits have been acknowledged in his nomination for the Firestone "Tire-ific" Move of the Race. Fans can vote until Wednesday at www.indycar.com to determine the winner.

Justin lies 11th in the driver standings with three races remaining in the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule, all of them on 1.5 mile ovals. The first is under the lights at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois on Saturday night.

-credit: justinwilson.co.uk

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Oriol Servia , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Briscoe , Mike Conway , Dale Coyne
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Dale Coyne Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing