Until this afternoon, Bryan Herta led only 64 laps of IndyCar Series competition. The Warren, MI native remedied that situation in the Firestone Indy 400 on Michigan International Speedway's 2- mile oval, leading 159 laps from pole position and...
Until this afternoon, Bryan Herta led only 64 laps of IndyCar Series competition. The Warren, MI native remedied that situation in the Firestone Indy 400 on Michigan International Speedway's 2- mile oval, leading 159 laps from pole position and coming to the checkered flags first ahead of teammate Dan Wheldon by 0.0374 seconds, the 11th- closest IRL finish.
This victory was Herta's second IRL win (his first came in 2003 at Kansas when he was substituting for injured teammate Dario Franchitti) and first of the year. He is the third driver to win from pole position this season. "It was a great day, obviously," Herta pronounced. "We had a dominant car - the best I've ever head - and we were able to pull out a big lead in the first half of the race.
"I didn't want a yellow because I didn't want to lose the lead on the restart. On that last restart I held my line on the bottom and made the best restart of my life."
At one point Herta had half the track on the balance of the field - nearly 13 seconds just before the first caution - and "turned the fuel down. We dialed it back to maintain the same pace as the cars in second and third because we didn't want to short ourselves on fuel too much. Actually," Herta admitted, "we thought about this race and how it can end up being a 'fuel conservation' race and decided to win on speed today."
Wheldon had hoped to taste victory once again but had nothing for Herta. "What Bryan had was one fast race car. Sometimes I can have the same setup as my teammates and I can be happy or I can be slow. Today was Bryan's day and the setup he had worked for him. Please remember that he dropped back on some restarts and worked his way back up."
Tomas Scheckter was third after overcoming a pit speed violation and drive- through penalty to gain his fifth top-five result of the season. "I was saving fuel because I knew Bryan would be pretty tough to deal with," Scheckter explained.
"I know I speeded on pit road and I was lucky not to get lapped." Driving solo at that point in the race, the South African thought it a "horrible feeling moving along slowly" while trying to catch the lead pack from 25 seconds back. "I was running three miles per hour slower than they were and just couldn't do a thing."
Tony Kanaan finished fourth and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top five. "The car handled well all afternoon," Hornish reported, "and we did everything we could do." Buddy Lazier earned sixth place and "felt like I had a car that could have won the race."
Scott Sharp was seventh and called it "a good day. The best we really had the car was at the end." Dario Franchitti took eighth, the final driver on the lead lap.
In a typical Michigan race of attrition in which 14 of 23 starters were classified, Patrick Carpentier was ninth (his 7th top-10 result), one lap back, followed by high placing rookie Ryan Briscoe, earning his third top- 10 finish. Alex Barron, A.J. Foyt IV (2 laps down), Jimmy Kite (3 laps back) and Vitor Meira (14 laps back) were the final finishers.
The race was slowed three times for separate mechanical problems yet went green from the start until the 121st lap. Ed Carpenter's engine let go in a cloud of smoke down the front straight on the 120th race, erasing Herta's near-13-second lead.
After cleanup the race went green on the 129th lap but slowed again when Helio Castroneves suffered a similar problem and pulled off, as Carpenter did in the first turn.
That yellow lasted until lap 146 and green flag racing ensued once more. Danica Patrick would bring out the third caution when she pulled her smoking Panoz/Honda onto pit road prior to the first pit stall and retired for the second straight race. Despite qualifying eighth, Patrick had a difficult contest and was a lap down, trying to regain her lost lap below the white line, a "no-no" not tolerated by Brian Barnhart, president and COO of the Indy Racing League.
"Brian says 'below the white line is not an option'," Herta stated during his post-race remarks. "I came on a lapped car and that car (Patrick) wasn't clean racing. I thought when you go below the white line you got penalized."
The sole caution for on-track skirmishes came on lap 181 when Townsend Bell, trying to pass Sam Hornish Jr. lost control of his car entering the second turn. While trying to save it, Jaques Lazier, the first driver behind Bell slowed and was touched by Kosuke Matsuura.
That momentum pushed Lazier into Bell, found Matsuura riding the back straight wall, where Roger Yasukawa discovered he had nowhere to go. All four retired on the spot yet none of them was injured.
After a lengthy Turn 2 and back straight cleanup a seven-lap sprint to the finish saw the lead pack skirmish with a few wheel-touches that had the crowd firmly on their feet. "The one advantage, the one thing I had was my teammates to race with. I feel most comfortable racing with those guys. We could go 2-3 wide and still come out okay."
With 11 of 17 races in the books, Wheldon owns a 78-point lead over Hornish in second, 417-339. Kanaan lies third, one point back with 338, Franchitti owns 333 fourth-place points and Herta lies fifth with 291.
With his team owning seven victories in 11 races, Michael Andretti calls this 2005 campaign "a dream come true. It's been a dream since I got out of the car and so much fun. I hope I never wake up."
In two weeks time the IndyCar Series attacks the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval in the Amber Alert 300.