“The fans deserve to see a standing start, so after consultation with the promoter, we have made the decision to implement a standing start for Sunday’s race,” said Barnhart, senior vice president of operations, IndyCar.
It was a highly entertaining and equally controversial race that included Franchitti starting on the pole and leading early.
Franchitti stayed in front until Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power dove underneath the three-time Indy 500 winner to take the lead and second position respectively in Turn 5. It was the second race this season the four-time Champ Car Series champion has led. He was in front for 13 laps at Sao Paulo in May.
After a series of pit stops, Power was in front before a yellow flag after Graham Rahal and Tristan Vautier crashed in turn four on lap 35.
Five laps later Power was the leader pursued by Bourdais, Dixon, Franchitti and Hunter-Reay. Dixon passed Bourdais for second one lap later and the battle became a three-car fight between Power, Dixon and Bourdais until the next round of pit stops.
Power pitted one lap before Dixon and while Power was in the pits Dixon tried to put increase his speed to the point where he could gain enough time that when he pitted he would get out of the pits ahead of Power on the track. Dixon was able to make the strategy work when he exited the pits on lap 63 just ahead of Power.
Two laps later the yellow flag flew when Ryan Briscoe crashed in turn five with Sebastian Saavedra, Charlie Kimball and Justin Wilson. Briscoe suffered a hand injury and was transported to St. Michaels Hospital for precautionary X-rays. He was diagnosed with a broken wrist and will miss Sunday’s second race.
The green flag flew on lap 69 and Bourdais got a tremendous run on Dixon to make the pass at the flag. Dixon was furious, believing Bourdais had jumped the restart. Race Control reviewed the restart and no action was taken, which Dixon questioned after the race.
After Simon Pagenaud and Alex Tagliani crashed on lap 82 exiting turn one, there was only time to do one green flag lap to restart the race. Dixon got a clean start ahead of Bourdais and Power drove aggressively to get by Franchitti. The move appeared to work until his car ended up in the tire barrier in Turn 3.
“Me and Dario just don’t like turn three,” Power said afterwards. “It was good hard racing. I don’t know if Dario gave me all the room that he could have but it was a move worth taking.”
Dixon would finish 1.700 seconds ahead of Bourdais and Franchitti was third across the line although Marco Andretti moved up to that position after the penalty.
And this is where the race took an even wackier turn.
Bourdais’ second-place trophy fell off its pedestal, bounced two times and then shattered on the ground. And while he was spraying champagne, Franchitti was informed he was penalized and dropped to 13th place.
“The big thing is this bullshit at the end, quite honestly,” Franchitti said. “Of all the stuff that went on all day, anybody I raced against would protect the inside, the person trying to pass would go to the outside. I made my intentions clear very early – I went to the inside. He (Power) wanted to go on the inside, so he was going to shoot his way in there. I brake late. My car is dancing around, bounced off the wall, bounced off of me, proceeded to keep the thing locked up and head into the tires.
“I don’t see how that has anything to do with me really. I was defending the inside; I gave him the outside, as is my right, and that was it.
If we can and if it’s allowed, we’re going to protest the call just to find out, at the very least, how this decision was made. It will be very interesting to know how they make decisions up there sometimes.
“I think it involves a dice and a blindfold.”
Apparently, IndyCar officials believed Franchitti had a valid argument after he was reinstated.
And now Dixon is in position for a doubleheader sweep because he was the fastest driver in Saturday’s qualifications for Race 2 and will start on the pole. If he wins Sunday’s race, he collects a $100,000 bonus as part of the SONAX Perfect Finish Award.
“It sounds simple, right?” Dixon asked. “But it’s not going to be. I know that strategy is going to be tough tomorrow. There will be people trying to mix it up. People that had a bad day today will be trying to make it up in race two.
“It’s mostly been about being clean, trying to maximize the points, if we get off strategy, trying to pass people cleanly. You’re just going to have to take it as it is. To go out and think you’re going to lead every lap, have no problems, is very optimistic and you can pretty much count that that’s not going to happen. We’ll go in thinking we’re going to have to work extremely hard for it, which we’ll have to. The competition has been tough this weekend. The grid is different than today. We’ll take it as it goes and see where we end up.”