PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300
by Esteban Morales
September 9 , 2007
Depending on whom you ask, this year’s IndyCar season ended with a bang or a sputter. With only three points separating championship contenders Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, the Hollywood scripted battle for the title came down to the final corner of the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Heading into the last two turns of the event Dixon looked set to capture his second IndyCar title, but unexpectedly ran out of fuel in the final turn allowing Franchitti to take the checkered flags and the $1,000,000 championship bonus. Long known as one of openwheel’s best, Franchitti finally collected his first major openwheel title after narrowly missing out on the 1999 CART championship. Despite the wait, Franchitti earned the championship in style during a season that saw ups and plenty of downs.
After two controversial finishes at Sonoma and Belle Isle, Franchitti took pole while Dixon qualified on the outside of the third row. Although some expected Franchitti to dominate, the Scotsman had a difficult time running at the front for most of the afternoon. During the start of the race the IndyCar champ fell back a few spots and battled the Penske and Target cars by himself after teammate Tony Kanaan abruptly pitted due to a punctured tire on lap 17. In what may have been his last openwheel start in the near future, Sam Hornish Jr. stormed to the front of the field and led the red and white brigade through the early stages of the race. By lap 35 Franchitti fell back to fifth and began to challenge Dixon for fourth just as Marco Andretti suffered another DNF.
Following pit stops and the restart Castroneves emerged on point with Hornish in tow while Franchitti struggled to keep up at the front. Prior to their second set of stops Franchitti held onto fifth for most of the stint and peeled off the track on lap 92, three laps later than Dixon. Though the Scot’s Dallara was pushing, he ultimately won the race and championship due to outstanding fuel economy. Castroneves continued to lead for two laps after the halfway mark before Hornish retook the lead in turn 3. Hornish then dominated during the latter half of the race while Dixon easily ran ahead of Franchitti. Hornish held onto the lead for about thirty laps before diving back into the pits ahead of Castroneves. Dixon led temporarily before stopping on lap 136, at which point Vitor Meira spun into the turns 3 and 4 SAFER Barrier. Franchitti temporarily inherited the lead before finally pitting under yellow. Following a wave-around, a lengthy caution, and splashes of ethanol for the title contenders, Dixon emerged in the lead with Franchitti, Danica Patrick, Hornish and Castroneves behind.
After the restart Franchitti held onto second for four laps before relinquishing the position to Hornish. By lap 160 Hornish took the lead from Dixon in turn 2. A few laps later the leaders fell back into their rhythm with Hornish at the head of the pack and Franchitti struggling to keep up with Dixon, who ran in second. As Hornish and Castroneves peeled into the pits the battle at the front began to take shape. Surprisingly Wheldon dove to the front ahead of his teammate with just ten laps to go. Three laps later, however, the new leader slowed after running out of fuel. During the same lap Patrick spun while entering the pits and brought out the final yellow of the race. Dixon and Franchitti, running first and second, gambled after taking a splash during the penultimate caution and kept their cars on the track. With the drop of the green for the final time this season Dixon and Franchitti ran wheel to wheel through lap 199. On the final lap Dixon led into the third turn before sputtering out of fuel and handing Franchitti the title in what George Franchitti, the champ’s father, called an “unbelievable!” finish.