Michigan Indy 400
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Pressure’s On
by Esteban Morales

     Tony Kanaan is typically found at any racetrack with an ear to ear grin before or after an event. As far as post-race interviews are concerned, the Brazilian is always one of the most jovial and approachable. However, that was not the case after the Michigan Indy 400 following a runner-up finish. As Kanaan sped away from all media, his displeasure with the podium finish was very apparent. Why? Because Buddy Rice edged him out for the victory on the two-mile oval and has now begun a serious bid to catch the points-leader after claiming second in the championship at the Milwaukee Mile.

     Kanaan began the weekend strongly enough by claiming pole at the Michigan International Speedway; the same track where he recorded his first major open wheel victory in the CART series. After two aborted starts, Kanaan accelerated with the green flag in sight and led the field through the opening lap and then some. As Kanaan maintained his lead, Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr. were busy fighting for position. By lap 15 Rice took second from outside pole-sitter, Kosuke Matsuura. On lap 34 the Japanese rookie was the first to hit the pits under green flag conditions. After battling his way up to the front following a 13th place starting position, Tomas Scheckter was hit by Tora Takagi while entering his pit stall; after hitting a crew member and damaging a front wing, Scheckter’s luckless string continued while losing a lap to the leaders. This would be the first of three major pit incidents, the most in any race this season.

     Just after Kanaan cleanly pitted, the yellow flag flew for debris on lap 39. Kanaan kept the lead through the lap 46 restart and continued to dominate the event on a track that routinely sees multiple lead changes in a single lap. Rice was soon joined at the front by teammate, Vitor Meira; both ran 2-3 to no avail unable to catch the leader. Matsuura again was the first to pit under green on lap 76. As the field cycled through its stops Kanaan emerged with an impressive lead over the competition. Halfway through the event the leaders caught major traffic yet Rice and Meira were still unable to overhaul Andretti Green Racing’s Tony Kanaan. 10 laps later another caution for debris emerged and afforded the leaders with a chance to pit. Little changed at the front with Kanaan emerging in the lead.

     The leader picked up the pace on lap 116 for the restart. With his best opportunity yet, Buddy Rice took the lead heading into turns 1 and 2. The two flew through the backstretch wheel to wheel until Kanaan simply powered himself back into the lead. After starting 20th due to an engine swap, Helio Castroneves went on a tirade charging back through the field. Poised to take third from Vitor Meira on lap 124, Castroneves made light contact with Meira damaging his own right front wing endplate and Meira’s left rear tire. On the same lap Milwaukee winner, Dario Franchitti, pulled off the track with a blown engine bringing out the yellow for the third time. With the commotion on pit lane Adrian Fernandez hit Meira spinning him into one of Dan Wheldon’s crewmen and into Wheldon’s path; Fernandez was forced to come in a second time to replace a damaged front wing.

     Darren Manning led the grid to the green following fast pit work courtesy of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew only to have Kanaan relentlessly snatch the lead. At this stage in the event it appeared Kanaan’s fourth win of the season was clearly in sight. Ironically the only car able to match Kanaan’s pace was the lapped car of Tomas Scheckter who was furiously attempting to get back on the lead lap. By the 149th lap of competition, Kanaan, Scheckter and Rice were running at the front neck and neck; just a handful of laps later Scheckter slowed dramatically after running out of fuel causing the final yellow of the day to fly. The grid snaked down pit lane one last time during the caution. After having worked into the top five, Fernandez again was involved in an incident. Failing to adequately slow, he spun backwards into his pit stall hitting one of Kosuke Matsuura’s crewmen in the process. Fernandez was later given the black flag and a stop and go penalty.

     Rice anticipated the lap 162 restart knowing this may be his last chance to pass Kanaan. As the two lapped Fernandez they kept within close proximity. With about 15 to go and little methanol left in the fuel tanks the pace began to slow. With a slowing Kanaan and only 11 laps left, Rice looked to the outside and grabbed the lead for the first time and never looked back. After exiting his Dallara, Kanaan immediately stormed away from the media, understandably so after an almost certain victory slipped through his fingers. Former sub, Buddy Rice, collected his third win of the season warning Kanaan that he intends to “…take this to the end and bring that championship home to Rahal-Letterman!”

Results:

1. Buddy Rice
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Dan Wheldon
4. Sam Hornish Jr.
5. Vitor Meira
6. Bryan Herta
7. Scott Dixon
8. Townsend Bell
9. Scott Sharp
10. Helio Castroneves
11. Alex Barron
12. Adrian Fernandez
13. Darren Manning
14. Ed Carpenter
15. A.J. Foyt IV
16. Felipe Giaffone
17. Kosuke Matsuura
18. Jaques Lazier
19. Tomas Scheckter
20. Tora Takagi
21. Mark Taylor
22. Dario Franchitti