IRL New Era Begins – Pyrotechnics boomed above Turn 4, members of 3 Doors Down gave the “start your engines” command, and drivers followed the Honda Accord Safety Car to the ethanol green flag.
As a new era began in American open-wheel racing – holding the promise of expansive growth and exposure under the unified IndyCar Series banner – enthusiastic fans and series officials held a collective breath.
How would the drivers who transitioned from Champ Car – many of whom don’t have appreciable oval-racing experience — fare? How would their equipment stack up after crews labored in multiple shifts to prepare the Dallara/Honda/Firestone packages after the unification announcement?
The answers were mixed – as would be expected. But a scintillating and frenetic season opener under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway left most satisfied. Most notably Scott Dixon.
The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who won the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award a day earlier, held off Andretti Green Racing’s Marco Andretti after a Lap 197 restart to win the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 by 0.5828 of a second.
“It was one of those races where we didn’t exactly have the speed all the time, or things weren’t really going our way, but we still came out on top,” said Dixon, the 2007 IndyCar Series championship runner-up. “If you can have races like that, where you have a bad day, or a day where you don’t think you’re at your best, and you still come out on top, that’s a great way to take some points away from others and hopefully it works for the rest of the season.”
Dixon’s teammate, Dan Wheldon, who had won the previous three season openers on the 1.5-mile oval, advanced from the 22nd starting position to finish third. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was fourth and Vision Racing’s Ed Carpenter, who started 24th after being moved from his front-row qualifying position because his No. 20 car failed post-quals technical inspection, was fifth.
“It was a good recovery for the team after having to start in the back,” said Carpenter, whose teammate, A.J. Foyt IV, finished ninth after his No. 2 car also failed technical inspection and he started 25th. “All things considered, to come out of here with a top-five finish is a great start for the team.”
Tony Kanaan also had a great start, but wound up the most unsatisfied in the field of 25. The Andretti Green Racing driver appeared to have the first victory at his “home” track in his back pocket (if his firesuit had one) until being caught up in a Lap 192 accident. Kanaan’s No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car led Dixon by 2.1136 seconds two laps before the No. 33 HVM Racing car of Ernesto Viso made contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier. Kanaan, unable to avoid the car sliding down the banking, made slight contact that left the right-front tire useless.
Kanaan was able to keep pace with the Honda Accord Safety car under caution, but Dixon blew past on the restart as Kanaan dipped low on the racing ribbon.
“I’ve been around a long time and the race is not finished until the checkered flag,” said Kanaan, who was credited with eighth place. “This was a misfortune – yes. But, how many times have I won races because some other guy was unlucky? With 10 laps to go, I was looking around and I was thinking, ‘This looks too easy.’
“When somebody spins and he’s doing 230 miles an hour, you’re like, ‘Where should I go?’ I slowed down, he was on the bottom, so I went to the top. Then, all of a sudden he started to go to the top and I was trying to go to the bottom, so there was nothing I could do about it. The way I look at it, this is right where I finished here in 2004 and we know the way that year turned out.”
Oriol Servia, with 27 previous oval starts, paced the transition drivers with a 12th place in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology car.
“It was a long day in the office, but that means we achieved our first goal, which was to finish the race with no damage to the car,” he said.
Danica Patrick, who was in striking range until pitting for the final time on Lap 185, finished sixth. Rahal Letterman Racing’s Ryan Hunter-Reay posted his best IndyCar Series oval finished in seventh. Vitor Meira in the No. 4 Delphi National Guard car finished 10th, and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Buddy Rice was 11th.
“We had a fifth-place finish in the bag and got robbed on the last restart,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We went through this in the driver’s meeting and I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it killed our race. We really had a good rhythm going to day and the car was strong, but we didn’t get the points we deserved for it.”
The only other incident came on Lap 127, when the No. 23 CITGO car driven by Milka Duno spun in Turn 2. The No. 6 car driven by Ryan Briscoe, attempting to squeeze past on the outside, didn’t have enough room and the cars made contact. Neither driver was injured.
“I saw that Milka got her air taken off of her and she slowed out there,” said Briscoe, making his Team Penske IndyCar Series debut. “Unfortunately, I was already up the track and I had no where to go, so she collected me. Tonight, I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Tony George Intent To Lure F1 Back To Brickyard – Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George has acknowledged that he is trying to get new sponsors on board in an attempt to get the United States Grand Prix reinstated next year.
There is no USGP this season for the first time since 2000, after George failed to agree terms on a new deal with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone
“It really all depends on finding the right sponsor partners for Formula One to come back”, George told Indianapolis radio station, 1070 The Fan Radio.
“We need to improve the financial performance of the event in order to justify bringing it back. We’re talking to some folks that may have interest, and that could happen as early as 2009 if we can go to Bernie with a proposal.”
[Source: Auto Racing Daily]
Schumacher Races Again – Michael Schumacher finished fourth in his first competitive motorbike race at Misano today, but denied it was the beginning of a new career.
The seven-time Formula One world champion took part in a round of a one-make KTM series at the Italian circuit, on a 990cc Super Duke.
He qualified third and went on to finish fourth, five seconds behind the winner, but his best lap was just one tenth of a second slower than the fastest lap of the race.
“It was really fun,” said Schumacher. “At the start I was a bit cautious but I also wasn’t really good at it and fell back to 14th position. But to fight back through the field was great and the overtaking was just great too.”
But the German, who remains an advisor and occasional test driver for Ferrari in Formula One, played down suggestions that he is considering a career on bikes.
“This is not the start of a second career, even if I do a race from time to time it doesn’t mean anything other than I do it because I want to enjoy myself. I just enjoy motorbiking.
“I don’t have any ambitions to step into any kind of racing series. I’m also not presumptuous enough to imagine I could step into a professional series. I want to try myself on two wheels but one thing is sure, I will strongly take care not to go over the top.”