Dixon tops Franchitti in Richmond snoozefest
In perhaps the most boring race in IRL history, Scott Dixon cruised to a win in the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. Teammate Dario Franchitti came in second, followed by Graham Rahal. Those were the only three cars on the lead lap at the end of the race due to caution flags flying during green flag pit stops, in a race remarkable for its lack of passing.
When the race resumed on lap 38, Hideki Mutoh led the first laps of his IRL career. It is a widely know "fact" in the IRL garages that Mutoh won't be back in the Formula Dream car next year, losing his seat (according to rumor) to F1 ace Takuma Sato. Neither Mutoh or Danica Patrick pitted under this caution, figuring that they still needed 2 more stops to finish the race, and besides, every KNOWS that Richmond has lots of caution flags. The gamble worked for a while -- Mutoh led until he was forced to pit under green on lap 105. Danica pitted on lap 111, giving up second spot in the process. Mutoh finished fourth, and Danica finished 5th, only regaining their lost lap at the end of the race.
Sadly, the Hideki laps were among the most boring in IRL history. Aside from pit stops, there was absolutely -- and we mean, absolutely -- no passing during this stretch. In fact, it was now obvious that the IRL had badly missed the setup for the show. This was supposedly the same wing/tire package as previous years, but this year the show was a complete dud. If last year was an epidemic of "yellow fever" then this year was a case of watching ice cubes in a blender. By lap 170 people were walking out, like they were at a boring movie. If Robin Miller had a fit in previous weeks due to the lack of passing in IRL races, then this week he should give birth to a whole herd of cows on Wind Tunnel.
However, Hideki and Danica's strategy almost worked -- twice. On lap 131, green flags start, and everyone but the two Ganassi cars and Graham Rahal have pitted by lap 137. Sadly, on lap 137 rookie Mike Conway hit the wall in the exit of turn 4, causing everyone save those three cars to be a lap down. Suddenly, a boring race got even worse, as only 3 cars were realistically able to win the race.
At any rate, on lap 155, Danica and Hideki tried their off-sequence fuel run again when the green flew. Dixon led the race -- remember the "no passing" rule -- but other cars tried to get back on the lead lap. Sadly, on lap 248, Helio Castroneves came up on slow traffic and hit the wall in almost the same spot as his teammate. This meant that once again Dixon, Franchitti and Rahal were able to pit under caution, and fuel strategies were now out the window.
The green flew again on lap 260, but even with the cars pulling 5 G's, and even with everyone struggling with handling, there was no passing. In fact, leader Dixon was unable to lap traffic at the end of the race, and Franchitti and Rahal were unable to gain ground on Dixon behind that traffic. "It was a terrible race," commented Franchitti after the race. "We couldn't pass. We were a second slower when we were in traffic. I have to apologize to the fans because it was an awful, awful race. We're trying as hard as we can."
No doubt that the SunTrust Bank sponsorship was in place long before the financial market meltdown of last summer. However, it was totally absent beyond the name of the race, squandering opportunities to activate its sponsorship. No doubt government regulators and Congressmen are happy, but nothing good happened with that restraint, and one can argue that it wasted the money that was spent.
Equally as disappointing was the pre-race show -- or lack thereof -- of the IRL drivers. Many were taking in the sights of historic Richmond -- or in at least one case, out shopping -- before the race, leaving fans (and reporters) to wander the garage area talking to mechanics. The IRL blew a great fan opportunity that it easily could've managed with shifts of willing drivers (and perhaps a few of the team owners too?).
Former IRL driver Bryan Tyler won the James River Grounds 100 USAC Silver Crown race that preceded the IRL race. Former NASCAR drivers Aaron Fike and Shane Hmiel -- both banned for substance abuse by NASCAR -- also drove the race, as did Tracy Hines. This USAC show was actually much better than the IRL show, with at least a few passes, including one for the lead at the end of the race. For those not familiar with the USAC Silver Crown cars, they are basically sprint cars with NASCAR Craftsman Truck engines, albeit fuel injected instead of carbureted. These cars weigh 1800 pounds, and have about 800 hp, and absolutely no downforce. In other words, they are the high horsepower, low downforce, multiple-manufacturer series that some think would "fix" Indy car racing.
Kudos to the staff of Richmond International Raceway. The grounds are beautifully maintained, including very clean bathrooms. NASCAR's AmeriCrown division has lowered its concession prices as well. RIR also makes itself a key player in the Richmond community, with many non-racing events taking place on the grounds here.
Attention IndyCar.com web gurus!!! Could you PLEASE fix the Timing and Scoring web app? The timing and scoring was, at times, 30 laps behind the race, and ran many computers into 100% utilization rates.
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second): "It's a great 1-2 for the Target team. It came down to a yellow. We were very close on fuel and had to come in when the pits are closed. We couldn't pass. We were a second slower when we were in traffic. I have to apologize to the fans because that was an awful, awful race. There's nothing the drivers can do about it. We're trying as hard as we can. It was a terrible race, but the bright spot is a 1-2 for Team Target."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team, finished third): "It shows how hard the McDonald's guys worked because honestly at the start of this weekend we weren't where we wanted to be and we were struggling. We just kept working through it. It's great to be on the podium. We've been good on the short ovals but we just need to find some more speed on the mile-and-a-halfs."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, finished fourth): ""The car was great. We made some changes at practice yesterday so that made the car better. The guys did a fantastic job with the pit stops."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola, finished fifth): "It was good. I wasn't sure how staying out on that first yellow would work out. I guess it did work out. When we first went back out we were really fast and we were picking people off. I don't know if that had anything to do with that strategy working out. The guys did a real good job in the pits tonight. I would have liked to stay up with Scott and Dario in the beginning when we stayed out because I think we had the pace. The car got better and better all night. When you get lapped traffic in the way some are tougher than others and it makes for a long night. It was a solid run for AGR. We need to put our heads together and figure out what happened with our qualifying here and apply that to everywhere else. We will have to work harder."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 US Marines/Luczo Dragon Racing, finished eighth): "We're happy to finish top 10, but we had a top 5 car. We were held up on one of the restarts and that really hurt us. Overall it's a good result. After a DNF at Iowa it was extremely important for us to finish tonight. It was good for the Marines Luczo Dragon team to get another top 10, to increase the lead in the Rookie of the Year race and to pick up two positions in the point standings. We proved again that we are capable of running up front. We have the performance, it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together."
ROBERT DOORNBOS (No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, finished ninth): "That was very hard work for P9. It reminds me of my F1 days when you had to work really hard to get up there. I'm very happy with the experience. It was very good for us to come home like this. All my team did a great job in setting up the car, it was really good to drive. Unfortunately, we got unlucky with the yellow twice. I think we had the pace, especially with new tires. I was pushing really hard and really enjoyed that. For me it was like driving like in qualifying for 300 laps. With a bit more luck with the yellows we would have been higher but I'm happy with a good solid race. This will make me stronger on ovals but I have to be honest, I look forward to the road courses."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing): "It was a frustrating race. You could run a decent pace on your own but this was like no Richmond race I have ever run before. The no.20 Menards car was really affected by dirty air and loss of grip in traffic. We didn't have much luck with cautions coming out of the pits either. Finishing in 13th place is nothing to be happy with but we made it through in one piece when others didn't."
JAQUES LAZIER (No. 98 Novicomm LED Lighting Technology): "We've been battling a car that we just can't get a hold of. At the start of the race we went into the corner and got tied up with everyone slowing down I was just waiting when the thing just snapped around on me. It is a tough deal and I feel bad for the guys."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske): "The car just snapped on me and caught me by surprise (Briscoe was involved in a single-car incident in Turn 2 on lap 27). It's obviously very disappointing and hopefully we can start catching back up next week in Watkins Glen. I feel bad for the Team Penske guys, they worked hard all weekend and it's a shame we ended the race they way we did."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 24 Charter/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing): "Basically Ed (Carpenter) came out of the pits and I went to the outside of him and caught the marbles. That was it."
Winner's average speed: 124.952 mph
Time of race: 1:48:02.4703
Margin of victory: 0.3109 of a second
Cautions: 4 caution flags for 46 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 3 drivers
Lap leaders: Franchitti 1-30, Mutoh 31-104, Franchitti 105-139, Dixon 140-300.
Point standings: Franchitti 279, Dixon 278, Briscoe 253, Castroneves 225, Patrick 219, Wheldon 204, Kanaan 190, Andretti 185, Rahal 180, Mutoh 174.
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