Wheldon Wins Richmond Gamble Dan Wheldon and his Andretti Green Racing team rolled the dice and came out big winners Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, going "off sequence" with their pit strategy early in the race,...
Wheldon Wins Richmond Gamble
Dan Wheldon and his Andretti Green Racing team rolled the dice and came out big winners Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, going "off sequence" with their pit strategy early in the race, then stretching their fuel mileage to win the SunTrust Indy Challenge. It was Wheldon's second Indy Racing League IndyCar Series victory of the season, and the fifth win for Honda in six events this season.
Wheldon started only 20th after encountering handling problems during qualifying. As a result, team manager Tony Cotman elected to pit on only the 14th lap, during an early caution for a collision involving Kosuke Matsuura and Ed Carpenter. Wheldon then was able to turn a series of fast laps, free of traffic, and moved back up through the order throughout the race as the rest of the field made their stops. After the final round of pit stops on Lap 191, Wheldon was in the lead, but in danger of running out of fuel before the finish. However, contact between Dario Franchitti and the lapped car of Mark Taylor brought out another yellow flag, the sixth of the night, on Lap 223 and that gave Wheldon the fuel mileage he needed to make the finish.
At least three other Honda drivers also were potential winners at Richmond. Before his incident, Franchitti led a field-high total of 79 laps. After the final round of pit stops, the Andretti Green driver was running fifth and closing on the leaders when he had contact with Taylor's lapped car. The resulting spin dropped him to 12th.
Rahal Letterman Racing teammates Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice adopted the same "off sequence" strategy as Wheldon, with Meira in particular looking strong in the closing laps. But a miscue by race officials in an attempted Lap 249 restart, when the track caution lights remained on despite the green and white flags being waved, led to the race officially ending under caution, with the running order set as the crossed the finish line on Lap 249.
Rice faded with understeer in the final quarter of the race, and was passed by both Bryan Herta and series points leader Tony Kanaan. Adrian Fernandez was next, surviving late-race contact with Tomas Scheckter as part of the Franchitti-Taylor incident, and giving Honda six of the top seven finishing positions. Kosuke Matsuura was again the top-placed series rookie, finishing 14th despite an early stop-and-go penalty from series officials for the contact with Carpenter.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 20th, finished 1st, second career win and second win of 2004, fifth Honda IRL win in six events: "This is always a long, tough race, both physically and mentally. To run well here, you have to be decisive and aggressive, but not too aggressive. I think our car might not have been the quickest one out there, but it kept getting better and better as the night went on. To qualify 20th and come through to win, it's a whole team effort, and that's what it took tonight, and what makes our team so successful. It was a risky strategy, but it worked!"
Vitor Meira (#17 Centrix Financial Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 8th, finished 2nd: "The team did a great job with the strategy tonight. We ran a long way -- 115 laps -- with the same fuel and tires. At the end, I saw the yellow lights were still on, but the green flag was out. I wasn't sure what was happening, maybe someone crashed behind me. Dan [Wheldon]and Helio [Castroneves] kept going, but I wasn't sure. This was a good race for our new team together, we are learning more about each other and working with Buddy [Rice] has been excellent, too. We're getting better and better with each race."
Buddy Rice (#15 Argent/Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 2nd, finished 6th: "We just missed a little bit on our setup tonight, and the car had too much push [understeer]. At the end, I didn't have enough to hold off Tony [Kanaan] or Bryan [Herta]. We're moving in the right direction with our short track setup, this was a better race for us than Phoenix, but we still have some work to do."
Adrian Fernandez (#5 Quaker State/Telmex/Tecate Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 16th, finished 7th: "It was a good race. The guys gave me a great race car and I managed to pass a lot of people in the early laps. I thought I had a car good enough for a top three finish. But there was a lot of contact the whole race, a lot of avoiding accidents and a few close calls. At the end, I was hit by [Tomas] Scheckter trying to avoid the accident that Dario [Franchitti] had. I broke some of the aerodynamic pieces on the right side, but the rest of the car was fine. I couldn't believe it, these cars are built very strongly for sure."