Franchitti fends off Power at Mid-Ohio By Dave Lewandowski

By Dave Lewandowski

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Dario Franchitti always is looking to the “next” in the IZOD IndyCar Series: Next race, next victory, next championship.

For the student of motorsports history, however, it’s important to put his victory in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance into perspective – with a little “next” worked in.

It was the 25th open-wheel racing victory for Franchitti, who moved into a tie with Gordon Johncock for 12th on the all-time list. Next up is Rodger Ward.

It was his first victory at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he holds the track record and won his first pole 12 years ago. Next up on the schedule is Infineon Raceway, where he won in 2009.

By fending off Will Power over the final 15 laps after a Lap 70 restart to win by 0.5234 (the third-closest road/street course finish in series history), Franchitti closed to 41 points of the overall championship leader. Next up, after the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, are four oval races to close the season.

Though it was too little, too late to wrest the Mario Andretti Road Championship Trophy from Power, the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver was satisfied with the outing on the physically demanding course.

“Quite a lot of things running through my head right now, getting to that quarter century, doing it here at Mid-Ohio, a place I found almost every way to lose a race,” said Franchitti, who started second and recorded his second victory of the season. “Twelve years ago it was my first pole here. It’s very satisfying.

“I think the key to the race, obviously, was the Target car was very fast. I drove every lap like it was a qualifying lap today, whether I was behind Will or ahead of Will. But the key was that first pit stop by the Target boys to get me out ahead, especially a 35-foot pit box. It’s the tightest we run. In practice, we couldn’t get the thing out of the box with Will parked in his or get it in properly. But when the race win was on the line, it didn’t seem quite as difficult and managed to pass him. I think that was the key today, because we were incredibly evenly matched on the track.”

That brief stop for tires and a 22-gallon load of ethanol – during the first full-course caution period of the race – came on Lap 25. Alex Tagliani, who pitted three laps earlier, assumed the point and led the next 30 laps. Franchitti and Power, running 1-2, both pitted on Lap 60 under green – with Franchitti again slipping out a tick of a second quicker.

“Dario, he just got out before us,” said Power, whose pit stall was the first at pit-out. “I mean, that was it. I couldn’t do anything about it. Obviously those guys did a really good stop. Initially, I thought they might have short-filled some.

“It was tight for everyone. Some people had some troubles in pit lane when we all pitted under yellow. I mean, it’s great for the series we’ve got so many cars. It’s a good problem to have when you can’t fit the cars into pit lane. It just shows that IndyCar is growing.”

Power remained on Franchitti’s rear wing for the closing laps, never more than 0.6157 of a second back.

“I was trying really hard at the end to make him make a mistake, letting him see me in his mirrors, letting him know if he made one little slip-up, I’m going to get him,” Power said. “That was the only way I was going to get by.”

Power’s Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, finished third and Tagliani finished a season-high fourth in the No. 77 FAZZT Race Team car. Scott Dixon was fifth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

“The cars and the teams are so competitive that you see on the lap times, on the qualifying, we’re talking about one second every 20 cars,” said Castroneves, who earned his first road/street podium finish this season. “It just shows there one second, it’s difficult already to overtake. When you have all the guys running on the same pace, it’s extremely hard. It’s the nature of the track.

“Will was trying to make Dario make a mistake. He’s probably the oldest one here. It’s difficult to teach, what is it, an old dog a new trick.”

Ryan Briscoe, the third Team Penske driver, finished sixth and Raphael Matos gained 12 positions to finish seventh in the No. 2 HP de Ferran Dragon Racing car. Simona de Silvestro posted a season-best eighth in the No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing car, and Marco Andretti was ninth. Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from front-wing damage sustained while leaving his pit stall on Lap 25 to finish 10th. He started fourth in the No. 37 IZOD car.

“The IZOD guys did an excellent job of fixing a bent suspension under yellow there and getting us back out there without losing a lap,” he said. “But we still had big suspension problems for the rest of the race. The car was pretty diabolical, but we were able to hang on for a top 10, which is a miracle, considering.”

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