March 27, 2006

IRL: Toyota Indy 300, Homestead–Miami Speedway

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IRL: Toyota Indy 300
3 out of 5 stars

"There are only three true sports - mountain climbing, bullfighting and motor racing - all the rest being games." -- Ernest Hemingway.

Unfortunately yesterday's first race of the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) season was overshadowed by the death of Paul Dana in Sunday morning practice. Ed Carpenter spun and hit the wall into turn 2, slip down the banking, and several seconds later got hit in the left rear of the car by Dana at ~200mph, killing him.

A rather somber race got under way that evening minus Carpenter, Dana and his two teammates Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice. After the dark events of the morning, it turned out to be quite a race by the end. Although we only had a field of about 16 drivers, and were almost in single figures by the end, the final 40 laps were indeed exciting.

The drama started around 40 laps from the end when Tony Kanaan inexplicably lost control on the entrance to the pitlane. Under braking the car got sideways, collected an inflatable cone, and made light, but terminal contact with the pit wall, bringing out the 3rd caution of the day.

On the restart Herta lost control on cold tires hitting the wall causing the 4th caution of the day – he was unhurt. When the race finally got under way again on lap 178/200, Dan Wheldon began to reel in the Penske car of Helio Castroneves.

Wheldon hung on the outside of Castroneves for about 6 laps around lap 185–190, wheel to wheel stuff for about 3 minutes! Unfortunately Wheldon lost the overlap with about 10 laps to go and dropped into Castroneves' tow.

Just when it looked like 2nd place was the best Wheldon could do, he managed to get back alongside Castroneves down the back straight on the last lap. They took the final corner again alongside each other, with Wheldon about 18 inches behind Helio. Coming out of the final bend, Wheldon kept as low as he could (without making contact) so Helio couldn't run wide out the corner and build up speed across the line. It worked. Wheldon pulled back the 18 inches and another ~24 more to win the race by 0.0147 seconds, quite a final lap.

Believe it or not, not the closest finish I've seen, there were a few closer last season, one involving 3 cars abreast all within about 2 feet of each other, but the fact the Brit came out on top last night makes it all the more exciting. With the single engine manufacturer for all teams this year, we'll surely see closer races than last night's "ninth closest finish in IRL history" this season.

Good start to Wheldon's title defence in his new team, hopefully next weekend's race will be just as exciting – without the tragedy.

Race Statistics
Time of race: 01:46:14.5286.
Margin of victory: 0.0147 of a second.
Cautions: 4 for 32 laps.
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap leaders: Hornish Jr. 1–57, Castroneves 58–66, Sharp 67–68, Matsuura 69–71, Hornish Jr. 72–159, Castroneves 160–182, Wheldon 183–189, Castroneves 190–199, Wheldon 200.


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  1. I saw the highlights last night before qually came on…respect to Wheldon! I've not watched any IRL for quite a while, and before those final 40 laps it all looked a bit tedious. I was, however, really impressed with that wheel-to-wheel stuff. The onboard footage of Wheldon and Castroneves literally brushing wheels at insane speeds was truly spectacular. Kudos to the pair of them, that was some top-of-line driving. Wheldon drove intelligently as well in that final battle, which seems to be the key to winning an oval race (as opposed to outright car control). I dunno whether I'll be bothered to stay up til 0230 to watch the highlights of the next race though…but I guess for a national racing series it's quite entertaining ;-)

    01 Apr 2006, 13:24

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