Suntrust Indy Challenge
by Esteban Morales
June 27, 2009
In a bid to improve its on-track product, the IndyCar Series has announced a variety of aerodynamic options for 1.5-mile ovals that will take effect later this season. Teams will now have the option of using tire ramps, sidepod extensions, and brake backing plates. Together, the options are expected to add 300 pounds of downforce to the series’ Dallaras. More surprising, however, was an announcement on June 30 indicating that Tony George will no longer serve as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though it is unclear how this will impact the IndyCar Series in the long run, it appears the series will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Both announcements were made following another hum-drum oval performance that saw a red and white livery in victory lane for the eighth time this season. Before scoring his third victory of the year, Scott Dixon had to contend with teammate and points leader, Dario Franchitti, who started from pole. Franchitti held onto the lead in the early stages of the event despite two yellows in the first 30 laps. Jaques Lazier triggered the first yellow on the opening lap while Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe uncharacteristically spun while exiting Turn 2 on lap 27. Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick moved to the head of the field during the second yellow while most of the grid pitted. Despite an early challenge by Franchitti after the restart, Mutoh held onto the lead until he was forced to pit on lap 105.
Mutoh picked up the pace following his stop, immediately lapping half a second quicker than the leaders. Mutoh needed Franchitti to have a caution-free stint in order to retake the lead and nearly had his prayers answered but for a lap 137 accident involving Mike Conway. Franchitti was on the verge of pitting for fuel when Conway smacked the wall in the fourth turn, bringing out the yellow flag. Running on vapors, Franchitti was forced to pit for a splash of fuel after the yellow flew but before the pits opened. The splash of fuel dropped Franchitti behind Dixon but ahead of Newman Haas Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal. The order remained the same after the field pitted.
Following the drop of the green on lap 154, Dixon dominated the second half of the race. Between the restart and lap 212, Dixon, Franchitti, Rahal, Mutoh, and Patrick made up the top five in that order. Mutoh disrupted the order when he pitted on lap 213. Patrick followed suit eleven laps later. On lap 248, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, who was having a relatively quiet race, collided with the outside retaining wall while exiting Turn 4. With both cars from the only other team to win this season out of the race, one of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars was virtually guaranteed the win. After the restart, Dixon cruised through the last 40 laps and crossed the line .2422 of a second ahead of Franchitti.