IRL: Chicagoland: Honda race report

Last Lap Victory for Franchitti Seals 2007 IndyCar Title After seven months, 16 races and 198 laps of Sunday's Peak Antifreeze 300, the 2007 IndyCar Series Championship came down to a duel between two drivers and their respective teams,...

Last Lap Victory for Franchitti Seals 2007 IndyCar Title

After seven months, 16 races and 198 laps of Sunday's Peak Antifreeze 300, the 2007 IndyCar Series Championship came down to a duel between two drivers and their respective teams, both gambling on fuel strategy in their fight for both the race victory and the title at Chicagoland Speedway. And on the final lap of the final race of the season, it was Dario Franchitti taking the checker and the championship as rival Scott Dixon ran short of fuel less than one-half mile from the finish.

The exciting finish also capped a season of extraordinary reliability for the Honda Indy V-8 engine, as 36 drivers recorded a total of 166,608 miles in practice and racing throughout the 17-event season, with only one in-race engine failure. The run included the entire 'Month of May' at Indianapolis without a single engine failure throughout three weeks of practice, qualifying and the race.

The final duel between Franchitti and Dixon was set up on Lap 137, when Vitor Meira crashed hard, but without injury, into the Turn Four wall. An extended yellow to repair the Safer Barrier system allowed both Franchitti and Dixon to top off with fuel on Lap 147, putting them on a separate fuel strategy from the rest of the field. It still appeared as though both would have to make a final pit stop for a final splash of fuel, but at almost the same moment on Lap 195, Dixon's teammate Dan Wheldon ran out of fuel on the backstretch and Danica Patrick, one of Franchitti's teammates, spun while entering pit lane for her final stop.

The resulting caution allowed both Franchitti and Dixon to attempt to make the finish without that final stop, putting them a lap ahead of the field. The race went green for a final two-lap shootout with Dixon leading Franchitti. Franchitti pulled alongside on the restart, but was unable to complete the pass. Then as the pair entered Turn Three on the final lap, Dixon's car briefly sputtered as his fuel supply dwindled. Franchitti almost collided with his rival, but moved high and around to take the race victory and the title as Dixon coasted across the finish 1.8-seconds behind.

The remaining title contender going into today's race, Tony Kanaan, was taken out of contention early when a cut tire forced an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 17. He recovered to finish sixth, but out of the title hunt. The Team Penske duo of Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves dominated the early portion of the race, leading a combined 146 laps before finishing third and fourth, respectively, with Scott Sharp rounding out the top five in another strong oval-track outing for the Rahal Letterman Racing driver.

Despite not joining the IndyCar Series until the July Mid-Ohio round, Ryan Hunter-Reay secured series Rookie of the Year honors with a seventh-place finish for Rahal Letterman Racing. In addition, Honda Formula Dream and Indy Pro Series graduate Hideki Mutoh made a very impressive IndyCar debut, finishing an impressive eighth, and setting fast race lap in the process.

Dario Franchitti (#27 Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, 2007 IndyCar Series Champion: "I'm stunned. That was a hell of a finish. Most of the race I was just sitting in the car; I couldn't do anything out there. I was just sitting there watching everyone go side-by-side in front of me, and I couldn't do anything. The car came back stronger toward the end, and on the last lap I was trying to set up a pass on Scott [Dixon], and then he slowed down. I was so surprised I almost ran into the back of him. It was some good strategy by my boys on the team. The whole Andretti Green team is the best in the business. It's been a great season. I've loved working with my guys and racing in front of these great IndyCar fans."

Scott Dixon (#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 6th, finished 2nd, 2nd in the drivers' championship: "It's just a shame it came down to a fuel race. Our car was clearly quicker all day, but I think the [number] 27 car [Franchitti] was getting better fuel mileage, and that's what decided it. It's just too bad. We [Franchitti and Dixon] were on an even par with that last [pit] stop, both of us coming in and topping off [fuel] together, but Dario just seemed to be back in the pack saving fuel, and we didn't have enough."

Robert Clarke (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "First, I want to congratulate Dario Franchitti, his Andretti Green team, and Scott Dixon and the Chip Ganassi organization as well. It was a hard-fought, exciting finish to a great season of IndyCar racing. Both drivers and both teams performed admirably all year long, and today's race was a fitting end to their championship battle. Dario has been with the Honda family longer than any other driver in Honda history. He's won more races for Honda than any other driver in history. He came extremely close to winning a championship for us once before [the CART title in 1999], so we are particularly happy for him. I'd like to say thank you, also, to the entire HPD and Ilmor staff for another great season of giving us a reliable and consistently-performing engine. It was another perfect Indianapolis 500 and a nearly perfect remainder of the season. We are extremely proud of our product and its ability to consistently power the entire IndyCar field."

-credit: honda racing

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Chip Ganassi , Hideki Mutoh , Robert Clark , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing