Indycar Thrills and Spills in the Wild West!

 

Australian Will Power triumphed in an action packed race at the Texas Motor Speedway. This was his 31st overall victory in the Indycar series and his second in Texas, although he is more known for his road and street course skills. He led 180 of the 248 laps, which may show that it was a breeze for the Penske driver but it was far from it.

Everyone sees Indianapolis as the pinnacle of the Indycar season, but Texas is often overlooked, as it is a 600 mile race from dusk into the night on a smaller 1.44 mile high banked oval, resulting in 248 laps compared to 200 at Indy.

Charlie Kimball looked strong, securing pole after a lengthened delay due to bad weather, unlike Indy the race begins in a two by two formation, alongside him was his team mate Scott Dixon. Tristan Vautier was filling in for Sebastian Bourdais, the third driver since the Frenchman’s horrific crash at Indianapolis. His first Indycar race in two years, he secured fifth place. It was a relatively clean start, the top five kept mixing between themselves but Kimball was in control. Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden towards the end of the first stint began to make their moves. Lap 29 Vautier managed to past Kimball for the lead, and he began to tumble down the field. Alexander Rossi who qualified third, has been very impressive this season, but today was not his day, he got the wrong side of Kanaan and lost control going up high on Lap 37.

The pit lane opened and Newgarden won the race off pit road ahead of the field ahead of Power. Hinchcliffe exiting the pits lost control, hindering the exits of Indy 500 winner Sato and runner up Castroneves. They all managed to continue, during the period early-leader Kimball suffered technical issues and had to retire. Various penalties were given out to new race leader Newgarden for speeding in the pits and Hinchcliffe for the collision he caused. This resulted in the restart with Will Power in the lead when they went green on lap 47.
Will Power began to pull away, Vautier and Dixon hot on his heels, and the field began to mix and match going two/three wide on rare occasions, still a bit dirty on the edge of the oval. Late 60’s reigning championship Simon Pagenaud, not known for his ovals, began to make a move and catch Power. Pagenaud moved to second to push pressure onto Power, but towards the end of the race the field began to struggle with blistering on tyres. These came to further fruition when Castroneves front tyre failed resulting in an accident at Turn 2 on lap 91. Power won the race off pit lane, and due to the caution the likes of Sato and Newgarden managed to return onto the lead lap. The race went back off well, but Ed Carpenter who is known for his oval skills as he tends to only race them in the season made contact with Vautier resulting in the third caution of the day.

The caution period was very short, and near enough instantaneously went back to green flag, Power continued to lead, whilst the top five behind chasing him would always mix and match every other lap or so. Pagenaud, expert Tony Kanaan and very impressive Vautier were amongst the battle for the podium positions behind Power. He was dominating the event, always having a few lengths over the competition. On lap 139 the fourth caution came out for the day, this time for debris off one of the cars, this allowed a chance for everyone to pit, just over half distance. Max Chilton tried to mix things up, and was the sole person not to pit, resulting in himself taking the lead from Power. We went green 10 laps later, and with a lighter car Chilton began to gap himself to Power, but the fresh rubber Chilton lost ground with Power passing back into the lead.

The biggest event of the night happened on lap 152, resulting in a massive collision wiping out the majority of the field, Tony Kanaan being the catalyst for the 8 car pile up. Vautier’s return ended in the crash, an impressive showing for his first race in two years, the likes of Hildebrand, previous champion Hunter-Reay and rookie Ed Jones were also part of the eight retirements. Ed Carpenter and Hildebrand managed to slowly get back to the pits, and rejoin albeit considerable laps behind the leader. Huge amount of debris on the track resulted in a red flag, a 30 minute period whilst they cleaned up the track, Kanaan in that time was dealt with a 20 second stop and go penalty from the result. Kanaan as a result went two laps down upon the restart. The tyres were also reviewed, and the amount of blistering the Firestone tyres received for safety reason they elected if green for 30 laps we would have mandatory pit stops.

We went green on lap 159, and 30 laps later onto lap 189 we went to the caution for pits, Kanaan managed as a result regain one of his laps he fell behind because of his penalty. Hildebrand was struggling massively and had to pit prior to the period, and went laps down just like Kanaan. Scott Dixon managed to beat Power off the pit lane, a new race leader was placed, but Power was in Dixon’s shadow ready to pounce. Pagenaud and Sato behind him, with Graham Rahal managing to move himself up the field, albeit due to previous crashes, we had half the field racing. After the period near enough Power managed went around Dixon to retake the lead, he was unbeatable tonight. Newgarden tried to move over, he had great pace, going three wide, but the track out wide in certain areas had still very little grip, resulting in him hitting the wall with caution issued. Only a few laps after the previous caution no one decided to pit. Kanaan managed to return to the lead lap with this caution.

Racing continued following the clean up on lap 210, Power continued to lead, the likes of Pagenaud and Sato continued to battle over the final podium positions. Kanaan now on the lead lap begun to make himself up the field. On lap 229 we had the last tyre change which Firestone agreed due to the blister scenario on the tyres. The top five remained the same, no changes amongst the pit lane, Power winning off the pits, unlike the previous. We went green for the last time, Dixon seemed to have better pace towards the end, and managed to overtake Power. It seemed Dixon timed the pass brilliantly as we head towards the last 10% of the race. Power was having none of it, and they traded the lead for multiple laps, Kanaan had moved up and Indy champion Sato were closing in on the two. Sato tried to pass Dixon on the front straight, but Texas isn’t like Indianapolis a slight dogleg on the start/finish straight, he clipped the grass losing his car into the side of Dixon. Chilton who was amongst the battle for top five had nowhere to go, ending his race, with only five laps to go.

The race was agreed to end under yellow flag, Power took the line first, for victory. Remarkably Kanaan who was two laps down at lap 209 managed to take the line second, with Pagenaud in third. Only six drivers finished on the lead lap, but only eight

Photo courtesy of Eric Barnes

were technically still running, albeit Ed Carpenter being so many laps down, the likes of Chilton, Kanaan and Dixon were classified ahead of him. Dixon continued to lead the championship, Pagenaud moved back up to second, increasing his chances of retaining the championship, whilst Power moved up to fifth.

A truly amazing action packed race, we return to a road track next time out, the legendary Road America in a fortnight’s time, expect to see the likes of Dixon, Power and Pagenaud strong, more race/street experts than ovals.

Chris Lord

 

14 June 2016

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