Camping World Grand Prix
25 Yeas in the Making
by Esteban Morales
JuLy 5, 2009
The closing laps of the Camping World Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International featured a familiar site. Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe battled a loose Dallara as he tried to fend off Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. Behind Dixon was Briscoe’s teammate, Helio Castroneves. The odd man out in the mix was Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson. Wilson was not struggling to keep up with the red and white trio in a bid to make the podium. Instead, Wilson was leading the Penske and Ganassi Dallaras. A few laps later, Wilson collected his first victory of the season and earned Dale Coyne Racing’s first win in its twenty-five year history.
Despite the strength of the Penske and Ganassi camps, fuel strategy and luck did not guide Wilson into victory lane. Wilson earned Dale Coyne’s first major open wheel win the hard way. After qualifying in the second position, behind Briscoe, Wilson challenged the Penske Dallara from the drop of the green. On the fourth lap, as the cars climbed the hill heading towards the Bus Stop chicane on the backstretch, Wilson moved to the inside of Briscoe and took the lead. One lap later, E.J. Viso made contact with Marco Andretti, destroying Viso’s left-front wing and cutting into Andretti’s right-rear tire. After making a pit stop to replace the flat tire and top off his fuel, Andretti emerged just ahead of the leaders. With Andretti in Wilson’s way, Briscoe nearly retook the lead on lap 8. A few corners later, Wilson cleared Andretti and continued ahead of Briscoe.
Wilson slowly widened the gap to Briscoe to just under one second before entering the pits for his first stop of the day on lap 18. Briscoe followed suit one lap later. To Briscoe’s chagrin, the first caution of the race flew for Richard Antinucci’s lone spin just as Briscoe entered the pits. Because the pits were closed Briscoe was forced to take a splash of fuel and rejoined the rest of the grid before pitting with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Robert Doornbos, Mario Moraes, E.J. Viso, and Milka Duno. After Briscoe and the rest made their stops, Wilson cycled to the front with Mike Conway and Graham Rahal in tow. The track went green for one lap, during which Rahal took second from Conway. That same lap, Dario Franchitti backed into the gravel trap alongside the Bus Stop chicane. The incident led to the second yellow of the day.
Wilson led for another five laps once the green dropped on lap 25. At the halfway mark, Wilson found himself leading the pack under yellow after Paul Tracy slid into the Armco in the eighth turn. Wilson led Conway, Hideki Mutoh, Dan Wheldon, and Castroneves back to the restart on lap 33. Dale Coyne’s driver led for eight laps before entering the pits, followed by Conway, on lap 41. Wilson’s last stop was drama free but for a small bobble as he pulled out of the pits. From then on, Wilson wrung the race by the neck until the drop of the checkered flags.
As the stops cycled through, Conway, who was driving an excellent race, lost several positions, dropping to fifth. Briscoe found himself less than one second behind Wilson before the final caution emerged for Hideki Mutoh’s spin. Wilson controlled the restart and led by about one second. Wilson then opened his lead in the next few laps, taking the checkered flags nearly five seconds ahead of Briscoe. Following the race, team owner Dale Coyne noted that the victory was no fluke. “The last few years we've tried to do a better job with what we've put together. We've put some top quality drivers in from Mario (Dominguez) to Cristiano (da Matta) to Bruno (Junqueira),” said Coyne.