SunTrust Indy Challenge
Saturday Night Demo Derby
by Esteban Morales
June 28, 2008
Saturday night’s SunTrust Indy Challenge from Richmond International Raceway featured one of the most interesting starting grids in recent memory. Graham Rahal made the most of the short track layout to qualify third while Buddy Rice continued to squeeze every ounce of performance out of his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara to line up an impressive fifth. Further back in the grid Bruno Junqueira cracked the top ten and Marty Roth managed to qualify ahead of Will Power, Vitor Meira, Helio Castroneves, and Justin Wilson, albeit in the fifteenth starting position. Unfortunately any interest that was generated by the starting lineup was quickly forgotten as the tenth round of the IndyCar Series morphed into a short track Saturday night demolition derby.
Ryan Hunter-Reay gave fans a preview of the rest of the event when he brought out the first caution of the race by spinning while exiting turn 4 on the opening lap. Eight laps later Will Power lost control in the same turn and collided with the SAFER Barrier while pole-sitter Tony Kanaan led. The event ultimately featured a whopping nine cautions during the first two thirds of the race. Kanaan led the opening stint and gave up the lead during yellow pit stops to rookie Jaime Camara who was on an alternate fuel strategy along with Danica Patrick. When the field went back to green on lap 91 the rookie began to impress by comfortably leading the grid to the restart for the first time in his career. Although the field was abruptly slowed one lap later for an accident between Vitor Meira and John Andretti, Camara kept his cool and held off a charging Kanaan after the lap 108 restart. Camara ultimately lost the lead to Marco Andretti on lap 116 but held onto second and stayed with the Andretti Green Racing driver.
Camara lost ground to Andretti after two additional yellows but clawed his way back to third driving like a man possessed. After grabbing the crowd’s attention with his stellar drive Camara overdrove his car exiting turn 4 on lap 218, bringing out the final caution of the night. Camara slid into the wall at the start/finish line and buried his head into his gloves before heading back to the garage area. “It’s a real shame for the Sangari Conquest team. That was going to be a good result for us” said a dejected Camara following the accident.
When the smoke cleared Kanaan had regained the lead as the final yellow flew after Andretti had pitted but before he had regained a lost lap during the pit sequence. With the field decimated to twelve cars after nine cautions, Kanaan was able to cruise to his first win of the season without much of a challenge. Though he had Helio Castroneves behind him, Castroneves was never able to close the gap to Kanaan after the final restart. With only twenty laps to go Kanaan led Castroneves by over six seconds. Kanaan backed off slightly in the closing stages but still managed to cross the line 4.5 seconds clear of Castroneves with championship leader Scott Dixon quietly edging teammate Dan Wheldon for third.