Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti completely controlled Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, leading from start to finish over the rolling hills of Infineon Raceway en route to his fourth IndyCar Series victory of 2009.
It was only the second time in IndyCar Series history that a race has been led throughout by a single driver. Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, is the only other IndyCar driver to accomplish this feat, at Richmond International Raceway in 2003.
But Franchitti had a shadow in the form of Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who matched his every move throughout the 75-lap contest to finish second, just 0.24 seconds behind the winner, and reclaiming the drivers’ championship points lead with three races remaining.
Starting on the the front row, Franchitti and Briscoe were ahead of a multi-car bumping and barging incident on the opening lap, which affected or delayed at least nine cars including Dixon, who came into Infineon with a three-point lead in the championship. But the first-lap incident, and contact with Marco Andretti on the final lap, dropped Dixon to 13th at the checkers and third in the championship standings, 20 points behind new leader Briscoe. With his fourth win of the year and bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps; Franchitti moves up to second, just four points out of the lead.
Behind the leaders -- who included Helio Castroneves until a suspension failure and the resulting late-race spin ended his day -- battles raged throughout the field.
Hideki Mutoh ran fourth for much of the race, until a late-race passing attempt on Briscoe for second went awry and Mutoh was in turn passed by Mike Conway and Mario Moraes, both of whom had their best finishes of 2009. Conway’s third-place result was his first IndyCar podium finish, while today’s race for Moraes was the first for the KV Racing driver since the death of his father just over two weeks ago.
Oriol Servia finished sixth in his second race for Newman Haas Lanigan Racing, but only after holding off a determined Justin Wilson for the final 20 laps. Wilson, winner at the Watkins Glen road course in July, started at the back of the field as part of a calculated race strategy that allowed him to use an extra set of softer Firestone “Red” alternate tires. Starting 22nd, Wilson made spectacular progress through the field during the first 50 laps, coming up just short of a top-six result.
Today’s race concludes the road-racing portion of the 2009 IndyCar schedule. Next week, the series returns to the ovals for the final three races of the season, starting August 29 with the Peak Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
IndyCar Series Standings (after 14 of 17 races):
- Ryan Briscoe 497 points (2 wins)
- Dario Franchitti 493 (4 wins)
- Scott Dixon 477 (4 wins)
- Helio Castroneves 371 (2 wins)
- Danica Patrick 335
- Marco Andretti 323
- Tony Kanaan 318
- Dan Wheldon 306
- Graham Rahal 301
- Hideki Mutoh 297
- Justin Wilson 196 (1 win)
- Ed Carpenter 58
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, fourth win of 2009 and 22nd career major open-wheel racing victory (all with Honda power): “It was a great day for us. Track position was so important, and qualifying on the pole was critical as well. There were a couple of ‘interesting’ moments, mainly with some of the lapped traffic, but I did what I had to do, and my boys did a great job in the pits, as always. I’m feeling pretty good about our [championship] chances. We’ll finish the title chase on three ovals and both Target cars are in the running. It’s not going to be easy, but I like our chances.”
Ryan Briscoe (#6 Team Penske Honda) Started 2nd, finished 2nd, re-claims IndyCar Series drivers’ championship lead: “The championship is coming down to these last few races. If we’re going to win it, we’re going to have to do well in the upcoming [final three] ovals. If we keep our heads down and continue to run strongly, the wins will come for us.”
Jack Spurney (General Manager, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “I thought we had a fabulous race today at a fabulous circuit. Lots of close racing and great battles, not only at the front, but throughout the field. Congratulations to Dario Franchitti for his 22nd Honda-powered win, and fourth of the season, and to Target Chip Ganassi Racing for their 8th win this year. And ‘well done’ to Mike Conway, Mario Morase and Hideki Mutoh for their excellent runs, as well as to Justin Wilson, who passed more cars today than anyone else on the track.”