PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300
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Cruising to the Crown
by Esteban Morales

September 11, 2005

     After a less than stellar showing at Sonoma the Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew was hoping for a promising weekend at Chicagoland Speedway for the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300. All started well enough for Chip Ganassi’s team as Ryan Briscoe looked set to collect his second pole of the season. Much to Ganassi’s dismay, however, his three entries were disqualified after failing tech inspection and had to start from the back of the grid. Danica Patrick inherited pole while TCGR never seemed to recover from the major set back.

     With the drop of the green Patrick was forced to defend her position at the front of the pack with little success. Tomas Scheckter immediately dueled with Patrick during the opening lap and secured the lead one lap later. Scheckter led with little opposition but was halted by a horrific accident involving Ryan Briscoe, Alex Barron and Kosuke Matsuura. Reminiscent of Kenny Brack’s massive shunt at the end of 2003, Briscoe was launched into the air as he and Barron locked wheels. His Panoz chassis dismembered through turn 3 after being caught by the track’s safety fence sheering off side pods, engine and suspension but leaving the cockpit safely intact. Unlike Brack, Briscoe was virtually unharmed by the incident and looks set to make a quick recovery.

     All cars pitted during the yellow but due to the massive amount of debris on the track and damage to the retaining fence, officials thought it best to red flag the event for the time being. The field went silent and patiently awaited a restart for nearly 20 minutes and finally saw the green on lap 31.

     Scheckter continued to lead while Dan Wheldon began to emerge at the front after complaining of a possible gearbox problem. By lap 39 the two grappled wheel to wheel with Wheldon ultimately taking the lead a lap later. From then on Wheldon led comfortably until the onset of green flag pit stops during which he lost the lead to Penske’s Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian surfaced ahead of Wheldon and teammate Sam Hornish Jr. Unable to assist his teammate at the front, Hornish dropped back slightly allowing Tony Kanaan to join Wheldon and Castroneves at the front. Kanaan made a charge on lap 96 although Castroneves came right back refusing to relinquish the lead. Both went side by side just before a second yellow emerged for debris in turn 3.

     Kanaan led the leaders in and out of pit lane; Wheldon, however, was sent to the back of the grid for speeding in the pits. On an alternate fuel strategy, Bryan Herta moved into the lead ahead of Kanaan after electing to gamble and not pitting. With the drop of the green on lap 105 Kanaan wasted no time in hounding Herta. Herta fought his Andretti Green Racing teammate off to little avail, Kanaan only managed to lead for over a dozen green flag laps due to a third caution for Scott Dixon’s slowing TCGR machine. The green unfurled once more on lap 126; Kanaan continued to lead until Wheldon again showed up at the front of the pack. Wheldon stalked the leader and retook command of the event on the 151st circuit.

     The pack pitted a final time as the event neared its closing laps and Wheldon began to easily pull out ahead of the group as he closed on yet another victory. He was prematurely halted one final time, however, when a second yellow flew for Scott Dixon who was encountering gearbox issues. With just 12 laps to go and a very hungry Team Penske right behind, Wheldon had some trouble hanging on for the win. Castroneves tucked in behind looking for any possible advantage and sprung out on the penultimate lap setting up a photo finish that saw Wheldon just barely collect his sixth win this year (a new record for wins in a single season). With the victory Wheldon added a new record to an impressive season that includes an Indy 500 triumph and a championship waiting in the wings.

Results:

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