Bombardier Learjet 500
Back on Form
by Esteban Morales
June 11, 2006
Coming off two disappointing results at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International, Helio Castroneves rebounded in style at the Bombardier Learjet 500 by stealing the win in the closing stages of the event. Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. took pole on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway while Castroneves started in third behind Dan Wheldon and Watkins Glen winner Scott Dixon as Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing filled out the first two rows.
With the drop of the green Hornish led the field into turn 1 and held onto his lead for just one lap before Dan Wheldon charged to the front to take command of the race. The front four soon settled with Hornish, Castroneves and Dixon in pursuit of the leader. Meanwhile Kosuke Matsuura raised some eyebrows by moving from his mid-pack starting position up to fourth by lap 27.
A quarter way through the race Wheldon began to check out and opened up a one second lead just before the first set of green flag pit stops were underway. As Wheldon was in the process of pitting for fuel and tires on lap 58 one of only two yellows flew after Buddy Lazier began slowing with an electrical gremlin. Pit stops shook up the order somewhat; Wheldon led over Hornish though Tony Kanaan moved into third ahead of Castroneves and Tomas Scheckter who ran in fourth and fifth respectively.
Wheldon attempted to stretch out a lead on the restart but Hornish easily caught the Englishman just before the final yellow emerged on lap 71 for Buddy Rice’s blown Honda powerplant. The leaders remained the same and the battle continued on lap 80. Castroneves muscled into third during the restart but was unable to move around Hornish and catch the leader. Although Wheldon did not pull out a strong lead the way he had earlier he was clearly in control of the race as the sun set through the halfway mark. Twenty-five laps later the field began to pit under green once again. With the leaders having pitted Fernandez Racing led the field for a few laps with Scott Sharp and Matsuura running 1-2.
However, once the stops cycled through Wheldon emerged at the head of the field and continued to dominate ahead of Castroneves who finally moved around his teammate for second. With fifty laps remaining the top four pulled away by eight seconds over the rest of the pack. The race remained relatively uneventful as Wheldon comfortably led while robbing fans of characteristic wheel-to-wheel TMS battles at the head of the pack. With one final pit stop remaining Wheldon was on his way to an easy victory. Unfortunately for the defending series champion Castroneves left his pit box in a blistering 6.6 seconds. After spending 8.8 seconds in his box due to trouble with his right rear tire Wheldon exited behind Castroneves and Dixon. Wheldon set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to no avail and remained third while Castroneves cruised to the checkered flags.
After dominating the race team owner Chip Ganassi was understandably distraught while his driver stormed out of his car. The Penske camp was all smiles however; Castroneves collected his third IndyCar win this year continuing his early season domination. Following the race the jubilant Brazilian credited the win to his crew, “These guys are unbelievable in the pits….This is looking fantastic!” He continues to lead the overall standings with Dixon twenty-two points behind.