AJ Foyt Indy 225
Breath of Fresh Air
by Esteban Morales
July 23 , 2006
Nine rounds into the IndyCar season Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing were the only teams to have visited victory lane and looked set to sweep the year. By the end of the tenth round however, a new face made its way to winner's circle, Tony Kanaan. After extensive testing at the Milwaukee Mile, Andretti Green Racing knew they were in good shape headed into the ABC Supply AJ Foyt Indy 225. Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan qualified in the second row behind pole sitter Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. The odds looked even better after TCGR's Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon uncharacteristically qualified mid-pack, tenth and eleventh respectively.
With one of his best shots at victory all season long Kanaan wasted no time and moved into second at the start of the race while Hornish and Andretti battled for third. Twenty-five laps into the event Castroneves began to lap the back of the grid and Kanaan took the opportunity to snatch the lead just a few laps later headed into turn 1. By lap 54 Kanaan had Andretti in tow after the rookie passed Castroneves in the same spot. Vitor Meira soon joined the leaders at the head of the pack while Castroneves continued to fall back. Meira began closing in on Andretti but slowed with the commencement of pit stops on lap 70. With the sequence over Kanaan still found himself at the front while Hornish was suddenly one lap behind the leaders in eighth.
Hornish was helped by a lap 96 yellow for debris that allowed him to make a stop with some of the leaders while Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Meira stayed out. Kanaan led Franchitti and Meira to the green on lap 107. Tomas Scheckter dove to the inside of Kanaan in an attempt to get back on the lead lap and opened the door for Franchitti to take the lead. Franchitti led over Kanaan and Meira just before the second caution flag of the afternoon flew. In the midst of his championship bid, Castroneves bumped wheels with the lapped car of Ed Carpenter damaging both cars. A disgusted Castroneves furiously stormed out of his Dallara as the series title continued to slip further away.
Following the restart Kanaan passed Franchitti in turn 1 and retook the lead. A handful of laps later Meira spun and smacked turn 4 after looking set to capture another podium if not his first win. The leaders took the opportunity to file into the pits for their last stop of the day; Kanaan led them in but Andretti, anxious for his first win, beat the field out and assumed the lead. Before long Andretti led an AGR freight train with Kanaan, Franchitti and Bryan Herta running first through fourth. However, Andretti's command was only temporary as Kanaan dove for the lead on lap 180. Just two laps later AGR's stronghold was suddenly threatened by Hornish who quietly moved back onto the lead lap and took fourth from Herta. Though Hornish was on the move Kanaan was simply too far ahead for him to seriously challenge for the lead. What he needed was a yellow in the closing stages of the race.
With 25 laps to go the race was blown wide open as Jeff Bucknum collided with the turn 4 SAFER Barrier and the yellow was unfurled for the last time. Andretti attempted to challenge Kanaan but was no match for the leader or Hornish who rocketed into second. Hornish looked capable of running down the leader but was unable to squeeze anymore out of his equipment after developing a vibration in the closing stages. Though Kanaan held onto the lead until the checkered flags dropped the AGR brigade collapsed with Tomas Scheckter and Danica Patrick finishing third and fourth respectively.