Helio Castroneves, driving the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car, passed Marco Andretti's No. 25 RC Cola car for Andretti Autosport on Lap 97 and dominated the remaining 131 laps with a 4.6919-second victory over reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in the drama-filled prime time race on ABC.
When the sun went down, Helio went to work, leading 132 laps en route to winning the 2013 Firestone 550. By the end of the race only 5 cars were on the lead lap — Ryan Hunter-Reay in second, Tony Kanaan in third, Ed Carpenter in 4th, and Marco Andretti in 5th.
Early on it was Marco putting on the exhibition. During the early "daylight" laps Marco definitely had the car to beat. After a brief yellow for the grenaded (with flames!) engine in Pippa Mann's car the race settled down to a long, single-file run. Pippa finished a very disappointing 24th.
If IndyCar wanted to avoid the "pack racing" they certainly succeeded, and it is possible that they went a bit too far the other direction. "It was just a handful out there" commented Ryan Hunter-Reay. A clearly disappointed Ed Carpenter apologized to the fans for a contest that featured tire management. "We'll come back and try to make a better package for the fans next year" Tony Kanaan commented after the race.
|Castroneves #3 battles Tristan Vautier|
Only Oriol Servia — who struggled to keep his car on the track and off of the wall all night — pitted under the first caution, so around lap 40 the green flag stops started for those on the 5-stop strategy. Hunter-Reay was on that schedule, and Kanaan soon adopted it, and they finished 2-3 for the evening. The tires seemed to be good for 5 laps, then slow-but-stable for another 35 laps, with the bottom dropping out on lap 40. A car with new tires pushed 215, and with worn out tires they dipped to 190 at times. And as Kanaan pointed out, these cars are not made for 190 — the downforce, already at minimized, is almost gone, and gets highly predictable, especially in the bumps in the Texas corners.
On lap 51 Scott Dixon — who was driving a strong car, and dominated much of last year's race — was slow getting out of the pits. It was soon clear that he wouldn't make it back to pit road, and on lap 54 the caution flag flew. Dixon got back into the race on lap 67, some 15 laps down, but he soon returned to the pits on lap 76. What followed was very puzzling — the car was engulfed in what appeared to be fire extinguisher smoke as dark liquids — gear lube? — dropped on the ground. A flash fire soon followed, injuring 3 of Dixon's crew. The crew was treated and released from the infield care center. Dixon finished 23rd.
On lap 96 the sun was clearly gone, the air temp about 5 degrees cooler, and Helio Castroneves took over. Certainly Helio had found something by running a high line after dark. Four laps later Helio was 8/10 of a second ahead of second place Marco Andretti, putting on an exhibition on tire conservation and handling traffic. At times he was 5 mph faster than his peers on equal tires. Under pressure many of the competitors started to pit around lap 100, only to be caught on lap 113 when Oriol Servia spun in turn 2. Servia kept it off of the wall, but finished 19th.
At that point there seemed to be some confusion by Simona De Silvestro. Simona had earlier gone a lap down, then got it back only to be passed again by the leader. While getting past the leader she was clearly as fast as they were, and if she could've gotten unlapped she would've challenged for the win along with her team mate, Kanaan. Unfortunately, she was dinged by race control for a "blend line violation" after she apparently passed the pace car under caution. When the green flag flew she was given a 30-second penalty, putting her 3 laps down. She got one of those laps back and finished 15.
Helio took over when the green flag flew on lap 122. Green flag pit stops happened about 40-50 laps later, and by lap 177, only Helio, Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Joseph Newgarden, Ed Carpenter, James Jakes and Takuma Sato were on the lead lap. With 10 laps to go only Helio, Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti were on the lead lap. Kanaan got around Ed Carpenter for the podium finish, and Marco Andretti got around Dario for the 5th place finish at the end of the race.
"It's been great. I have to thank AAA, the boys did a hell of a job. (Engineer) Jonathan (Diuguid) did a hell of a job and Chevy did a great job because we were not only able to manage our tires and manage our fuel, but it was the setup. We did our homework and thank god it paid off. Texas is awesome. I love this place.
"I needed to be consistent throughout the run," Castroneves said about the Firestone Firehawks. "It was just the setup; we did a lot of homework. Awesome job everyone."
Helio is the seventh winner in eight races this season. Helio is a four-time winner of this race, breaking a tie he had with Sam Hornish prior to that.
The top five, and 8 of the top 10, were powered by Chevy engines. Four of the top 5 fastest laps were Chevy powered, with Scott Dixon having the 5th fastest before his car failed.
With the win, Helio Castroneves is the points leader, followed by Marco Andretti (-25) and Hunter-Reay (-27). However, both Hunter-Reay and Andretti are serious threats for next weekend's race at the historic Milwaukee Mile.
De Silvestro, driver of the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy car had a penalty ridden weekend. Although qualifying 12th, the Swiss driver started 22nd today due to a ten-spot penalty for an engine change after Detroit and received another penalty during the race that cost her what looked to be her best finish on an oval. De Silvestro was running 13th and was making a strong push forward when she received a 30-second stop and go penalty for passing the pace car which dropped her back to 22nd. She continued to push hard the rest of the race passing several cars on her way to a disappointing 16th place finish.
Next on the schedule is the Milwaukee IndyFest at the famed Milwaukee Mile on Saturday, June 15th. The 250-lap race will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network at 4:00 p.m. ET.
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think it was one of the main shafts from the gears that seemed to break coming out of the pits on that last stop for us. We found the problem and tried to fix it. The Target guys did a hell of a job on pit lane trying to figure it all out. The car was good though. We were maintaining good pace and I think by the time of the end of the race came along we would have been in a good position to contend."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Belkin Honda): “We just had way too much understeer in the Belkin car at the start of the race. It was probably the most I’ve ever had on an oval and that cost us some positions. As the run went on the car kind of came to us and each stop the guys made some great changes to the car. We got the car where it was good and, combined with the strategy, we got up to p6. The strategy was to run really long on the tires and at times it was pretty hard work. We just started too far off on the setup, but it was a lot better than last year’s car."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): “That No. 1 DHL Chevy was great. We made the most of it, and we kind of lost it a little bit there when that yellow when came out. Our strategy was such that we needed that yellow not come out. You know we had a good shot at winning it today though. That was just an interesting race. It was hard to even get by some of that traffic. I was searching everywhere for grip; I had so many catches out there that I thought were on the wall. It’s going to be tough to go to sleep tonight.
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo" KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet): “It was pretty good, but we obviously we went off strategy. I’m really happy. We did a great job as a team. It’s the first race with the Sunoco Turbo car, so I hope they’re happy because I promised them a good race. I think third place as far as the championship goes is pretty strong so we’ll take it.
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): “It’s a little disappointing for the No. 83 team tonight, because we had a great car and the crew did really great job in the pits. I have no complaints with where we are we just didn’t quite catch the yellows. We have had a lot of races where strategy and yellows have worked in our advantage, but tonight it just didn’t quite work out. We had a really good car, we just struggled a little bit with stuff out of our control. That’s fine. We’ll focus on the fact that we had a really good car. There was a stint we went past the car leading and drove away. I think it bodes well for the future, so I’m looking forward to going to Milwaukee next week since we had a really good test there and we’ll go racing."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): “We had a good result considering everything. I think we got hosed a little bit on some of the yellows and that pushed us back a bit. I think we had a top 5 car, I don't think we had the winning car, but we were pretty good in the mix and I think to secure decent results is satisfying. W definitely want more but I think we learned a lot tonight.
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 RC Cola Chevrolet): “It’s always easier to be the Monday morning quarterback. I think it worked out for Ryan (Hunter-Reay) – he had a vibration and came in early. He went out, running some quick laps and he didn’t catch a yellow. We tried to do the same thing, we caught the yellow and the RC Cola car ended up a lap down. So, it’s unfortunate and to top it all off the worst guy in the championship fight against me won, but congrats to him.
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): “It was an eventful race. It was difficult to master the cars around the track tonight because there was very little grip. I think it made for a very good race though. We had to change our engine before the race so we started in the very back of the field, but we came back and finished 13th. So honestly it was a good day points wise for us. I wish we could have done better, but overall I'll take it because it's a decent day for our championship."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “I thought we had a shot for a podium finish (3rd) but Tony (Kanaan) had a lot fresher tires (35 laps) at the end. We will take fourth tonight and we scored some points for the ECR/Fuzzy’s Vodka team. It was a great night for Chevrolet with a one through five on the scoreboard. We had a couple of miscues in the pits, one with some debris on the front of the car, and I didn’t hear the guys call me in for the stop. Overall, those didn’t hurt us. It was hard out there tonight. I was racing more car more than the other drivers at times. I hope the race was good for the national television audience tonight. This place is one of the toughest oval on the series now. The cars are a handful here. But we’ll take the fourth place and move on to Milwaukee next week."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 Team Venezuela PDVSA Citgo Chevrolet): “Tough race. I think I got an unfair penalty… we had everything to finish in the top three. I’m not very impressed in how this situation was handled, and I feel they penalize certain people for certain things and not others in certain situations. The penalty happened because I hit one of Ryan (Hunter Reay)’s tires during the pit stop, but I just touched it and he came back out in his original position. For me, they made the wrong call. Decisions can affect the sport as we just saw."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet): “At the end of the day, I’m pretty pleased with a top 10; it was a tough night. The whole setup with the new tire and downforce configuration made it tough to drive, the GoDaddy guys gave me a good car, but I think we were a little hampered by track position. Clean air was definitely king today, and starting back where we did, we had to fight in the thick of it a lot more. We ended up stopping it a bit early on the first two stops, and we got both those yellows – just really hurt us. We lost a lap and had to earn it back. If we had managed to have the yellows fall at a better time for us, I think maybe we would have been a bit higher. But it’s so close, it’s so tight, everybody was struggling… we’re just happy to bring it home in one piece."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Honda): “I never really had a grip on the car. I really, really struggled with the rear of the car on entries and exits and couldn’t get a handle on the understeer mid corner. I’m obviously baffled now with the performance. There are a lot of tracks we’ve gone to that I can compete at and right now I can’t which is frustrating. For the amount of effort that we are putting in, there is no reason this should be the case. We will regroup but the problem is the lack of time between races."
JAMES JAKES (No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda): “We had a great car, it’s been pretty good all weekend and we made some great changes. We were definitely one of the top five quickest cars so its just a shame we didn’t finish there. We’ll bounce back next week. You win and lose as a team and we’ll just make sure we put it right next weekend."
1. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
2. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
3. (13) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
4. (9) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
5. (2) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
6. (4) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
7. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
8. (7) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
9. (12) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
10. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
11. (21) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
12. (10) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
13. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
14. (18) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 226, Running
15. (20) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
16. (22) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 226, Running
17. (8) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
18. (24) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 225, Running
19. (16) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 225, Running
20. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 224, Running
21. (17) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 223, Running
22. (14) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 223, Running
23. (11) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 61, Mechanical
24. (19) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 2, Mechanical
Winners average speed: 177.257
Time of Race: 01:52:17.4594
Margin of victory: 4.6919
Cautions: 3 for 27
Lead changes: 4 among 5 drivers
Andretti 1 – 53
Power 54 – 57
Hunter-Reay 58 – 92
Andretti 93 – 96
Castroneves 97 – 228
Point Standings: Castroneves 259, Andretti 237, Hunter-Reay 232, Kanaan 195, Sato 194, Pagenaud 194, Dixon 193, Wilson 184, Hinchcliffe 176, Franchitti 168.