Castroneves Edges Meira in Michigan In the third-fastest race in IndyCar Series history, Helio Castroneves worked first with teammate Sam Hornish Jr., and then with Panther Racing's Vitor Meira to pull away from the pack of challengers...
Castroneves Edges Meira in Michigan
In the third-fastest race in IndyCar Series history, Helio Castroneves worked first with teammate Sam Hornish Jr., and then with Panther Racing's Vitor Meira to pull away from the pack of challengers at Sunday's Firestone Indy 400. Castroneves took advantage of quick and efficient pit stops from Marlboro Team Penske late in the race to edge Meira by just over one and a half seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
Although the race start was delayed nearly three hours by heavy early-afternoon showers, it was a clean and thrilling event, slowed only twice by caution flags and run at a 193.972 mph average, a Michigan race record and the third-fastest event in Indy Racing League history.
It was another successful race weekend for Honda and the engineers of Honda Performance Development, as the 19-car field of Honda HI6R Indy V-8 engines once again performed reliably throughout the 400-mile event, second-longest on the series schedule. Hornish suffered the only mechanical retirement in the race, dropping out on Lap 71 due to overheating.
Starting from the pole, Castroneves ran second behind Hornish in the opening laps, then teamed up with Meira as the pair ran nose-to-tail to pull away from the main pack of challengers, which was led by Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, and included Tomas Scheckter, Ed Carpenter, Buddy Rice and an impressive Marco Andretti, who had started 19th and last in the field. The later six were in a constant battle, often running two and sometimes three abreast on the Michigan banking.
Further back, a second pack of Danica Patrick, Bryan Herta, Jeff Simmons, Kosuke Matsuura, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti also continuously drafted one another and swapped positions throughout the second half of the 200-lap contest.
Meira led the most laps -- 75 -- but lost ground to Castroneves at each of the final two pit stops, falling three seconds behind as the two leaders emerged from their final stops on Lap 175. Meira closed the gap as both he and Castroneves worked their way through lapped traffic in the closing laps, but came up 1.629 seconds short at the finish.
Castroneves' league-leading fourth victory of the season gives him a narrow, eight-point lead in the championship over Hornish, with Wheldon just 17 points back in third and three races remaining. After races on three consecutive weekends, the IndyCar Series now takes a one-week break before resuming August 13 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Marlboro Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, his league-leading fourth victory of 2006, 11th career IndyCar win, Team Penske's first win at Michigan since 1991:
"It was incredible. Obviously, I have to thank the entire team for giving me a fantastic car. We were really pumped coming into this weekend after the disappointment of Milwaukee [due to contact with Ed Carpenter]. It was a long day, long for us and long for the fans, and I appreciate them staying around for us. But our car was very fast today. Early in the race, I was trying to work with Vitor. It was too early to try anything crazy. So I tried to be patient until the final pit stops. And the stops today were great, my guys are the best. It's great to have the points lead, but it's still very tight. I think [the championship] will come down to the last race of the season."
Robert Clarke (President, Honda Performance Development) on Honda peformance in today's race:
"From a engine point of view, this is our most difficult race of the season. The sustained high speeds are demanding of both the engines and the drivers. But it was one of the most exciting super speedway races that I have ever witnessed, and one of the fastest in IndyCar history. The racing within the pack was intense and extremely close throughout the race. I'm very happy with the progress of our IndyCar engine program, both in terms of competitiveness and reliability. Once again, congratulations to Helio Castroneves and the Penske organization. This is shaping up to be a great championship battle."