The Honda 200
Birthday Three Peat
by Esteban Morales
July 22 , 2007
A flurry of controversy and surprises marked the IndyCar Series’ inaugural foray to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for The Honda 200. On the Thursday leading up to the event Rahal Letterman Racing announced that it was replacing driver Jeff Simmons in its Ethanol-sponsored entry with former Champ Car pilot Ryan Hunter-Reay, who went on to qualify ahead of teammate Scott Sharp and recorded a respectable finish in the top ten. Meanwhile Kosuke Matsuura’s tribulations continued at Panther Racing. On Saturday Matsuura’s team announced that they will add a third car during the final round of the season for their Indy Pro Series driver Hideki Mutoh. Mutoh currently sits second in the Indy Pro Series standings and is rumored as a possible replacement for Matsuura in 2008. The surprises continued on Saturday when Danica Patrick emerged as the quickest of the Andretti Green Racing camp and recorded her best road racing qualifying effort to line up on the outside of the front row for the start of the event.
Once the green dropped, however, Patrick’s efforts were dashed in the first turn of the race. “I got into Turn 1 – or 4 as it would be called on the track – and slid just a little at mid-corner and then felt that I had been tapped. It's always tough coming into the first turn carrying the speed we were. Helio (Castroneves) really jumped the start pretty well.” While Patrick blamed the pole-sitter others such as eventual winner Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti pointed fingers at the pace car, which momentarily blocked Patrick as it pulled off the track. Patrick’s contact with Tony Kanaan forced the Brazilian to slide into Marco Andretti whose Dallara spectacularly flipped onto its airbox. Andretti emerged unscathed but the accident mired Patrick and Kanaan back in the pack. Patrick and Kanaan restarted ninth and seventeenth, and clawed their way back to fifth and fourth respectively.
At the head of the field Dixon kept Castroneves within half a second before the first round of pit stops. While Castroneves entered the pits on lap 29 Dixon pushed hard for one crucial extra lap. The strategy paid off and handed Dixon the lead after the stops cycled through. Dixon quickly opened a five-second advantage before Sam Hornish Jr. spun out of the fourth position just after the halfway mark. Castroneves forced Dixon into a fight for the eventual race lead after beating the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver out of the pits while Kanaan, who was on an alternate fuel strategy, assumed the lead with Scott Sharp right behind.
The alternate fuel strategy along with Sharp, who could not keep pace with the leaders and held up Castroneves and Dixon, allowed Kanaan to build nearly ten seconds between himself and his pursuers. Kanaan ultimately handed the lead back to Castroneves as he made his final pit stop on lap 60. Castroneves then led for ten laps before entering pit road one final time. Dixon again extended his fuel one lap further than Castroneves and emerged with the lead on lap 77. Dixon claimed his third consecutive victory on his twenty-seventh birthday and continues to close on Franchitti’s championship lead.