Delphi Indy 300
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Air Jacks? What For?
by Esteban Morales

     Pit stops are considered one of the most critical deciding points of any race, especially in the Indy Racing League where all are run on an eclectic mix of ovals.

photo: Hanson

Losing five to six seconds by manually lifting your car during each pit stop sounds pretty disastrous to any race day strategy. Not to the Fernandez Racing squad though, apparently this was just what they needed to get to the front at the Delphi Indy 300. All with a little persistence, patience and of course some luck.

     Marlboro Team Penske’s, Helio Castroneves, led the seventeenth race of the season to the green after taking pole for the second time this year with a revised Toyota power plant. The opening of the event did not go as smoothly as the Brazilian would have liked as fellow countryman, Tony Kanaan, dove into the lead on the backstretch of the Chigacoland Speedway dropping Castroneves to third by lap 3. Kanaan led cleanly through the opening stint of the event while teammate and championship contenders, Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice, pursued in second and third respectively.
Lap 52 saw Kanaan pit under green and give up his lead to Wheldon. A few laps later Wheldon was followed into the pits by Adrian Fernandez; Fernandez had a blistering stop that propelled him into the lead once all stops cycled through. Soon after, the Mexican driver held off some stiff opposition from Vitor Meira for some time until a lap 87 yellow for debris brought Meira’s challenge to a halt and gave way to the second set of stops. Fernandez led the field back into the pits only to have his well earned charge to the front eradicated by a failed air jack.

photo: Hanson

     While Fernandez slid to the tail end of the grid Wheldon resumed at the front of the pack for the lap 96 restart. Once the green was out Buddy Rice immediately challenged the Briton for the lead to little success. The pair went wheel to wheel for numerous laps with Wheldon in the lead until Townsend Bell was pinched into a retaining wall along the backstretch by Scott Sharp. Although Sharp was able to continue, Bell’s car suffered considerable damage ending his day and leading to a second caution. While most frontrunner's pitted, a select group including Felipe Giaffone elected to stay out, this gave Giaffone the chance to keep his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing machine at the front of the pack for the restart.

     With the green flag out Rice charged to the front in an attempt to keep his championship hopes alive and dropped Giaffone back to fourth. Rice led for a little over twenty laps looking to add a fourth win to his tally but was momentarily sidetracked by a caution flag. The yellow was thrown due to a bizarre incident involving Jaques Lazier, Tomas Scheckter and Vitor Meira. As Meira and Lazier drove through turn 1 both got a bit too close for comfort and made slight contact sending Lazier into the turn 2 SAFER barrier. Scheckter, who was behind Lazier, followed him up the track after moving to the right in anticipation. Although the two never actually touched, Scheckter seemed quite vocal as he approached Lazier following the accident. While the IRL’s safety crew was busy clearing the track some of the grid flowed into the pits. All stayed the same at the front while Fernandez lost what little progress he had made as his crew manually jacked his car.

     The field went green for a single lap with Rice in front but was slowed one lap later for debris on the track. Most took this opportunity to come into the pits with the exception of Bryan Herta and Adrian Fernandez who now found themselves at the front of the order. As the only Andretti Green Racing driver yet to win this season, Herta valiantly protected his lead for a few laps after the restart until Fernandez finally took command just six laps before a fifth caution; A.J. Foyt IV who had been running very competitively all afternoon made hard contact with Mark Taylor sending the two into the front straight SAFER barrier. The long yellow was pivotal to Fernandez as he would not need an additional splash of fuel at the end of his run.

photo: Hanson

     The restart gave Herta a second opportunity to attack, Fernandez though stayed out in front with twenty laps to go. With only fifteen laps left in the event Buddy Rice’s championship hopes were dashed after making contact with Darren Manning. While Manning did not suffer too much damage Rice found himself catapulted into the air landing upside down along the backstretch; both drivers climbed out of their cars uninjured. Fernandez saw the green flag thrown one final time with only seven laps remaining and cruised to his second victory this year. Fernandez climbed to sixth in points with only Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon left to contest the championship. Kanaan leads Wheldon by a seventy-five point margin and looks set to capture his first series championship for the AGR squad with only two events left on the calendar.

Results:

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