SunTrust Indy Challenge
by Esteban Morales
June 30 , 2007
Nature continued to comply with Dario Franchitti’s 2007 IndyCar campaign by washing out qualifying for the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway and handing the Scotsman the pole by virtue of points. Franchitti maximized pole position and turned 250 near flawless laps in his Canadian Club Dallara. Andretti Green Racing’s championship leader only gave up the lead momentarily during the first set of pit stops allowing teammate Tony Kanaan to head the field for a few laps before retaking the lead at the restart and dominating the rest of the event.
While Franchitti capitalized on another victory Team Penske continued to struggle. The first yellow of the event emerged when Sam Hornish Jr. slid across the infield on the opening lap. Though the incident looked harmless, Hornish developed a heavy push in his Dallara after damaging the underside of his front wing. Hornish was able to climb three positions after the restart but was mired at the back of the pack for the rest of the event, ultimately finishing two laps behind Franchitti. Like Hornish, teammate Helio Castroneves also ran into trouble during the event and did not finish on the lead lap. The Brazilian kept the leaders within striking distance for most of the race but was penalized on lap 161, during a caution period, for a blend-line violation; the drive-through penalty cost Castroneves one lap once the track went back to green.
While Team Penske struggled the other red and white Dallaras on the grid capitalized. Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon was happy to come back to form with a well earned third place finish after dismal showings in Texas and Iowa. After the penultimate yellow, for a lone crash involving Jeff Simmons in turn 2, Wheldon and teammate Scott Dixon became Franchitti’s main antagonists as Kanaan fell to third following stops and faded to fourth by the finish. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Buddy Rice finished a strong fifth just behind Kanaan and continued to squeeze every ounce of performance from his equipment.
During the closing stages of the event the AGR crew kept an eye on Franchitti’s fuel consumption as Dixon and Wheldon ran in formation and considerably closed in on the Scotsman. Franchitti lost valuable time as Hornish attempted to regain one of his laps allowing the Target cars to close within half a second. Hornish ultimately gave way to Franchitti and made light contact with Kosuke Matsuura on lap 238 resulting in the final yellow. After a strong restart Franchitti crossed the finish line .4194 of a second ahead of Dixon to record his third win of the season. Despite refusing to comment on any championship prospects, Franchitti’s 2007 campaign is steadily becoming his championship to lose.