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St. Petersburg Retribution
by Esteban Morales

August 28, 2005

     Following a successful outing on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Indy Racing League made its penultimate appearance on a circuit featuring left and right turns when it visited Infineon Raceway for the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix. Plenty of road-racing purists were happy to see the series visit a proper road-course featuring elevation changes and plenty of run-off rather than another street-course, otherwise known as a concrete canyon. Similar to NASCAR, the IndyCar series saw a couple of ringers show up for the event; Jeff Bucknum sat in for A.J. Foyt IV and Giorgio Pantano filled the vacant Ganassi seat. Pantano impressed during practice but rookie Ryan Briscoe managed to secure pole for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, the first for the team since 2003.

     Briscoe decided to lead from the outside, key to cresting up to the first turn on the mountainous raceway. The field finished the first lap without a glitch with the exception of Sam Hornish Jr. who spun in turn 7 with a malfunctioning clutch. Hornish saw his championship hopes slip further away as points leader Dan Wheldon developed serious problems that dropped him out of the running later that afternoon. The spin brought out the first caution on the second lap of competition, by which time Dario Franchitti had vaulted to 13th after starting at the end of the grid. Briscoe maintained his lead through the restart as Helio Castroneves, Tomas Enge and Tony Kanaan battled just behind.

     Ganassi’s rookie kept his lead and even began pulling away just as Ed Carpenter spun and triggered a second full course yellow on lap 16. Briscoe led the way into pit lane while Bryan Herta and a few others rolled the dice on strategy. The green flew and Herta led just two laps before the yellow was back out after Briscoe ran out of patience. Looking to make up ground while the field bunched up, Briscoe hurtled through a non-existent inside line, sidelining himself as well as Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves. Herta continued leading following the drop of the green but had to come in for fuel and tires on lap 33. A patient Tomas Enge was then rewarded with the lead once the early gamblers finally pitted. Enge began to visibly push and extend the gap to the rest with his car twitching and bobbing under braking. The Panther Racing driver kept it on the ragged edge until he spun in turn 3 on lap 38. Miraculously, he gathered it back up with no damage to the car and continued to lead through the halfway mark.

     Enge’s 7-second lead was now cut down to under 3 seconds with Kanaan steadily closing; by lap 43 Kanaan was right on Enge’s gearbox. Enge pitted a few laps later while Kanaan chose to set fast lap after fast lap to ensure he would assume the lead following pit sequence. Lap 50 saw Kanaan finally pit as Dan Wheldon was handed the lead. Just one lap later Wheldon slowed to a halt handing the lead to Herta and leading to another caution. Herta, Enge and a few others made their final pit stops during the yellow, effectively ending any chance of victory. Kanaan led Buddy Rice, Alex Barron and the rest to the final restart and cruised unchallenged to Victory Circle. Had it not been for a late-race clash with Ryan Briscoe in St. Petersburg, this would have been Kanaan’s second victory on a non-oval. Kanaan moves up one position just behind points leader Dan Wheldon as the title slips further from Marlboro Team Penske’s fingers.

Results:

1. Tony Kanaan
2. Buddy Rice
3. Alex Barron
4. Patrick Carpentier
5. Tomas Enge
6. Kosuke Matsuura
7. Scott Dixon
8. Dario Franchitti
9. Vitor Meira
10. Jeff Bucknum
11. Roger Yasukawa
12. Scott Sharp
13. Bryan Herta
14. Giorgio Pantano
15. Ed Carpenter
16. Tomas Scheckter
17. Sam Hornish Jr.
18. Dan Wheldon
19. Ryan Briscoe
20. Danica Patrick
21. Helio Castroneves