Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix
Just What the Doctor Prescribed
by Esteban Morales
September 25, 2005
Judging from the display along the front straight following the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix presented by Argent Mortgage you would have thought an Andretti Green Racing car had just won. Though none of the four AGR drivers walked away with the Watkins Glen Indy G.P trophy, Dan Wheldon did manage to lug back another considerable piece of hardware. By simply starting the race and driving through the halfway mark, Wheldon effectively locked the 2005 IndyCar Series championship with one round left on the calendar. While AGR celebrated its second consecutive championship the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team looked just as enthralled with Scott Dixon's win on the 3.37 mile road course; the team's first win since 2003.
Watkins Glen International served as somewhat of an equalizer with several Toyota-powered teams being at a horsepower disadvantage on the ovals. Qualifying saw Helio Castroneves take pole with three other Toyota-powered cars right behind, including Giorgio Pantano on the outside pole in only his second start. Castroneves steadily controlled the race with a large gap to second after the drop of the green while the rest of the front runners jostled for position. Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were trying to keep up with the leader when Tomas Scheckter suffered suspension failure and was left in a gravel trap on only the fifth lap. The shunt called for a full course yellow that allowed the back markers, led by Wheldon, to pit out of sequence.
Castroneves restarted the field on lap 9 with little commotion behind. However, within a few laps Dixon began to close on Kanaan under braking, by lap 20 Dixon caught the Brazilian off guard with a run into turn 1 and took second. A few laps later the leaders made their first pit stops and relinquished the lead to Dan Wheldon who had initially gambled on strategy. Wheldon led a handful of laps before being slowed by a second yellow on lap 28 for Danica Patrick's stalled car. Wheldon led the way back into the pits while Castroneves retook command of the race on lap 30 with Dixon and Kanaan in tow. Just as Wheldon officially claimed the crown Dixon moved past Castroneves for the lead headed into the Inner Loop chicane. Dixon easily checked out and only slowed for his final scheduled pit stop on lap 43.
Sam Hornish Jr. technically led as Dixon pitted, though it was only a matter of time before he made his last stop. The real action took place behind Hornish as Kanaan and Dario Franchitti found themselves ahead of Dixon following pit sequence. Dixon made light contact with Franchitti but successfully found a way around the Scotsman. Kanaan did not last long either as Dixon lunged to the inside of turn 1 on lap 46 convincingly taking the position. Dixon again assumed the lead of the race as Hornish slowed into pit lane for his last stop one lap later.
With just a little over ten laps to go the leader looked poised to take his first win since Richmond 2003. Much changed within half a dozen laps though, just six laps from the checkered flag it looked like his sure victory may have been robbed as Alex Barron spun and stalled resulting in a late race yellow. Dixon 's form did not let up; the former champ handled the situation steadily and perfectly restarted the field leaving a large gap between himself and Kanaan. Chip Ganassi's driver cruised through the last four laps finishing under yellow as Helio Castroneves and Tomas Enge made heavy contact on the final circuit. Ganassi was all smiles as Dixon collected his first victory since his championship run in 03 while substitute driver Giorgio Pantano came home fourth despite an early pit violation.