Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix
Two for Two
by Esteban Morales
June 4 , 2006
Coming off a blisteringly hot Indy 500 the IndyCar Series took to a wet track for the second annual Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix. The grid was set through combined practice speeds after showers and threatening skies all weekend long cancelled qualifying. Though some familiar faces such as Buddy Lazier and P.J. Chesson were absent, Ryan Briscoe made an impressive return to the series substituting for Lazier in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry. After setting some of the fastest combined laps all weekend long, Helio Castroneves was back on form and led the grid from pole. However, an anxious Tony Kanaan steered through the outside groove of the first turn to take the lead in his Andretti Green Racing machine.
After starting third and falling back to fifth, Marco Andretti began to prove that his Indy performance was no fluke by passing former champions Scott Dixon and Sam Hornish Jr. in one go. Just as Andretti began closing on Castroneves Tomas Scheckter strategically dove into the pits for slicks as the track began to dry. Andretti took the position and Scheckter posted the quickest laps thus far; once the rest of the field ultimately pitted Scheckter emerged right behind Kanaan and soon took the lead. Simultaneously, Jeff Simmons spun while exiting the pits on cold slicks and brought out the first of many yellows. Following a lap 13 restart Hornish also spun in turn 7. Two laps later a similar situation took place as Dario Franchitti and Buddy Rice slid off the course right after the drop of the green.
The trend continued after Scheckter led field back to the green for the third time only to have Danica Patrick spin in turn 11. Kanaan and most of the leaders took the opportunity to pit while Scheckter ill fatedly stayed on the track. When the Vision Racing driver finally pulled into pit lane just before the drop of the green flag Dan Wheldon, who topped off his fuel tank during an earlier yellow, slid into the top spot with Bryan Herta and Eddie Cheever Jr. in second and third, respectively. Wheldon easily held onto the lead through the halfway point while Andretti continued to impress with astounding speed and car control, setting some of the fastest laps of the day with a car that was sideways more often than not.
When Wheldon pitted for fuel Castroneves regained command of the race with Dixon second and Andretti closing. Unfortunately for Andretti, his day came to an abrupt end when another chapter was added to the Andretti-Cheever feud as the veteran unknowingly pushed the rookie off the course and into an Armco. Almost the entire field headed down pit road after the accident; Buddy Rice kept his car on the track and inherited the lead of the race while Castroneves dropped back after a bad pit stop. At the restart Dixon muscled his way back into the lead in the inner loop section of the track. In the midst of the shuffle Herta clipped teammate Kanaan who spun just two laps later. Dixon led Vitor Meira and Ryan Briscoe, who quietly moved through the carnage with a mistake-free run, to the flag. The race was now a timed event with only three laps remaining. Meira looked to the inside of Dixon 's Panoz to no avail and the last yellow fell as Scheckter spun his car in turn 8. After a final restart with one lap to run Dixon cruised to his first victory of the season and second consecutive win at The Glen while Briscoe recorded his first IndyCar podium in his only start this year.