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"Check, Please!"
by Esteban Morales

September 19, 2009

Part timers Will Power and Nelson Philippe saw their weekend at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma curtailed following a serious incident prior to the race.  During a practice session, Philippe spun and was t-boned by Power.  Both suffered significant injuries but are expected to make full recoveries.  The tumult continued through the opening stages of the race.  After pole-sitter Dario Franchitti led the grid up the hill through the first turn, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti touched, setting off a chain reaction involving Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, E.J. Viso, Mike Conway, and Franck Montagny.  Franchitti continued to lead over Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves following a full course yellow and restart.

On lap 23, championship contender Scott Dixon dropped out of the fifteenth position and brought his ill handling Dallara into the pits while Helio Castroneves was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 27.  Castroneves, who was running third prior to pitting, was followed by Briscoe and Franchitti on laps 28 and 29, respectively.  Following his stop, Franchitti increased his lead to over one second and led over Briscoe, Castroneves, Hideki Mutoh, and Mario Moraes.

By lap 35, Castroneves, who switched to the alternate red tires, caught teammate Ryan Briscoe, who was running on standard black tires.  The Team Penske drivers continued to run nose to tail without losing touch with Franchitti.  Despite his tire advantage, Castroneves initially did not attempt to pass his teammate, who led the championship while running second to Franchitti.  As the black tires began to drop off further into the run, however, Castroneves began to put the pressure on Briscoe.  Further in the pack, Dixon was mired in the eleventh position while several drivers struggled to make the Turn 9 chicane, running through the grass instead.

Just before the leaders’ final stop, the Penske cars closed in on Franchitti, who continued to drive flawlessly.  Castroneves eventually pitted out of third on lap 52, taking option red tires for his final stop.  During his out lap, Castroneves made contact with Tony Kanaan, which eventually ended his day.  Briscoe pitted on lap 54 while Franchitti again held onto the lead by keeping his Dallara on the track longer than the rest.  Soon after making contact with Kanaan, Castroneves’ right rear tire began to smoke as a piece of his car flew off.  On lap 60, Mutoh caught Castroneves and took the third position in Turn 9.

With fifteen laps remaining, Briscoe continued to pressure Franchitti.  Two laps later, Briscoe substantially closed in on Franchitti as the two lapped Milka Duno, but was unable to take the lead.  The final yellow flew on lap 67 after Castroneves shot into the dirt while cresting the hill towards the second turn.  With Castroneves’ car cleared from the track, Franchitti led Briscoe, Mutoh, Moraes, and Conway to the restart with five laps remaining.  Though Briscoe did not challenge for the lead, the closing laps unfolded frantically behind the leaders.  After taking fourth from Moraes, Conway moved to third in the seventh turn while Moraes retook the fourth position from Mutoh in Turn 9 with three laps to go.  A few spots behind, Justin Wilson slid heading towards the front stretch but held onto seventh while Dixon spun on the final lap after having been tapped by Marco Andretti.  Conway and Moraes recorded career best finishes in third and fourth, respectively, while Franchitti described his win as “critical [and] crucial for the championship.”  The result moved Briscoe into the championship lead with Franchitti in second and dropped Dixon to third. 

Results:

  1. Dario Franchitti
  2. Ryan Briscoe
  3. Mike Conway
  4. Mario Moraes
  5. Hideki Mutoh
  6. Oriol Servia
  7. Justin Wilson
  8. Tony Kanaan
  9. Raphael Matos
  10. Robert Doornbos
  11. Ed Carpenter
  12. Dan Wheldon
  13. Scott Dixon
  14. Marco Andretti
  15. Richard Antinucci
  16. Danica Patrick
  17. Milka Duno
  18. Helio Castroneves
  19. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  20. Franck Montagny
  21. Graham Rahal
  22. E.J. Viso