IRL Iowa: Franchitti triumps through chaos

Sam Hornish, Danica Patrick, Scott Sharp, IRL Iowa, 2007Indy Car’s first race at Iowa was a spectacular with most of the leading drivers eliminated in big crashes.

Dan Wheldon, Sam Hornish, Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan were among those whose races were ruined or ended.

It left Dario Franchitti to take his second win of the year – and a 51 point lead in the title race.

The race was barely a few seconds old when Wheldon’s car snapped away from him and he ploughed into the wall, taking Tomas Scheckter with him. It set the tone for a race that would be frequently interrupted by the safety car.

Wheldon’s team mate Dixon had taken the lead but as the race resumed on lap 13 he coasted into the pits with handling problems. Wisely, the team effected some repairs and sent him back out again. Even more impressively, they managed to do the same with Wheldon’s battered wreck.

Now Helio Castroneves led from Franchitti and Scott Sharp. Tony Kanaan was fourth ahead of Sam Hornish, who had passed Ed Carpenter on lap five. The new oval was not proving as hard to overtake on as had been feared.

The pit stops began on lap 68 when leader Castroneves pitted. His stop went smoothly until he came to rejoin the track. He spun and brought out the safety car again, falling five laps behind.

On 84 the race resumed and the cars ran three and four wide into the first corner. Something had to give and, sure enough, Kanaan lost his car in exactly the same place as Wheldon, and he also took an innocent party into the wall with him – Jeff Simmons.

Lap 98 brought the next restart and an even bigger crash. Danica Patrick found herself squeezed between Carpenter and AJ Foyt IV, triggering a crash that eliminated her and Foyt plus Sam Hornish and Kosuke Matsuura.

It took 23 laps to get the track cleaned up thanks in part to a large fluid spill. This time the race got underway without problems but debris from Wheldon’s slightly second hand car forced another interruption on lap 144.

This brought another round of pit stops following which Buddy Rice led Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Sharp, Vitor Meira, Darren Manning, Carpenter and Sarah Fisher.

Rice lead was short lived once the race resumed on lap 150. Franchitti breezed past him, followed by Andretti and Meira. Those three formed a very tight battle for the lead for several laps, before Meira dropped back leaving the Andretti-Green boys to duel for the lead.

Franchitti pitted for the final time on lap 214 and asked his crew to leave the same set of tyres on. It gave him a slight advantage over his team mate who stopped on the next lap but that was eradicated during another safety car period on lap 226. This was to recover more debris.

With 19 laps to go the race resumed for the final time. Andretti may have had the advantage of fresher tyres but he was unable to prise Franchitti away from the lower racing line. Meira, meanwhile, had dropped out of the race with suspension failure on lap 216.

Franchitti kept his cool and seized his second win of the year, while Andretti scored his best result of 2007. Behind him Sharp, Rice and Manning also claimed their best finishes of the season by keeping out of trouble.

Carpenter and Fisher were three laps adrift, Castroneves in eighth was four laps down. Meira was ninth despite retiring and both Ganassi cars, amazingly, were still circulating at the end, although Dixon and Wheldon were 77 and 105 laps down respectively.

The team that dominated the early races must bounce back next week at the similar Richmond oval – Franchitti now has a 50 point lead – equal to one victory – in the championship.

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