Detroit Indy Grand Prix
Detroit Street Brawl
by Esteban Morales
September 2 , 2007
Dario Franchitti’s title slump finally ended during an eventful penultimate lap at the Detroit Indy Grand Prix. Following a frustrating weekend at Sonoma where Franchitti nearly collected a win, but instead collected teammate Marco Andretti, Franchitti was happy to limp across the finish line ahead of championship rival Scott Dixon. Before the accident Franchitti chased Dixon in the closing stages of the event and threatened to take third position. Ahead of Dixon was Buddy Rice who was on an alternate fuel strategy hoping to make it across the line on fumes. As the leaders headed into turn 13 Dixon looked to the inside of Rice, both cars made slight contact that sent Rice into the tire barrier and Dixon into a slide. For a brief moment it looked as if Franchitti had finally caught the break he desperately needed. The Scot moved to the outside of the track and would have squeezed through had it not been for Dixon’s car, which rolled back and collided with Franchitti. With both cars stuck Dixon nearly finished ahead of his title rival. Fortunately for Franchitti the safety crew restarted his wounded Dallara allowing him to finish ahead of Dixon and retake the championship lead with one round to go.
After starting on the outside of the front row, Franchitti ran strong throughout the day and threatened to win the event. During the early stages of the race he chased down Helio Castroneves and kept the Brazilian within one second of his Andretti Green Racing machine’s nose. Despite not being able to pass Castroneves, Franchitti was handed the race lead in the pits when Castroneves struggled behind lapped traffic. Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and Dixon dove into the pits at the end of lap 20, Castroneves kept his car on the track for five additional laps and lost a huge amount of time in the process. Once Castroneves finally came in and out of pit lane he had lost the lead and dropped down to fourth behind Franchitti, Kanaan, and Dixon. Just two laps later Ed Carpenter brought out the first full course yellow of the event after sliding off course in turn 8.
The cars were given the green flag on lap 31 but went right back to yellow after Sam Hornish Jr. made contact with Sarah Fisher’s lapped car. Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick were also involved in the incident, however, Patrick was able to rejoin the event without losing a lap. Franchitti restarted cleanly with help from teammate Tony Kanaan, who sat second and held Dixon off. The top three remained the same for 16 laps until a third yellow flew for contact between Danica Patrick and Scott Sharp. Patrick was able to continue and gave the leaders an opportunity to pit. Kanaan, who still has a mathematical chance at the title, beat out Franchitti and Dixon but did not find himself in the lead.
Instead, Kanaan was scored fourth behind new leader Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick, and Dan Wheldon, all of whom were off sequence. Following the restart Wheldon held up Kanaan while Rice pulled away from Patrick. In the midst of his battle for third, Kanaan also had fuel on his mind since his crew had not been able to load his car with as much ethanol as they intended. Kanaan continued to pressure Wheldon and before long Carpenter spun again resulting in a full course caution. Rice decided to pit out of the lead with Kanaan in tow leaving Patrick at the head of the pack. Patrick easily drove away from Wheldon after the restart and held onto the lead before making her final pit stop on lap 65. With the different sequences out of the way Franchitti emerged on point with Dixon right behind. Franchitti briefly led under green before Castroneves punted Tomas Scheckter into the turn 1 tire barriers while attempting to pass on lap 67.
During the caution period Franchitti and Dixon entered the pits for the final time. Though Franchitti had edged out Dixon during all his previous attempts Dixon came out in front when it mattered. With the green in sight Kanaan led Rice, Dixon, Franchitti and Patrick back to the line for the last restart of the time-shortened event. Rice kept Kanaan within striking distance until the 86th lap of the race, at which point Dixon began pressuring Rice. Kanaan kept himself clear of the lap 87 melee behind him and Patrick managed to thread the needle to post a career best second. After limping across the line in sixth, Franchitti retook the title lead by just three points. As the IndyCar circus heads to Chicagoland Speedway for the final race of the season the title might be decided by a final lap wheel to wheel battle between Dixon and Franchitti.