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Franchitti gets his first taste of Sonoma victory
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Scotsman Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Ganassi Racing) used his starting position on the pole to maximum advantage by leading wire-to-wire for the victory in Sunday’s IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Sonoma on the tough 12-turn, 2.303-mile road course at Infineon Raceway.
Although he had come close before, it was Franchitti’s first win in the wine country, his fourth of the 2009 season, his 12th in the IndyCar Series and 22nd overall in open wheel which includes 10 victories in the old Champ Car World Series that merged into the Indy series last year.
“It was great to finally get one here at Sonoma,” said Franchitti as he sipped the traditional glass of red wine during his victory celebration in the winner’s circle. “I just tried to be perfect, not make any mistakes and keep everyone in my mirrors.”
Ryan Briscoe (#6 Team Penske) challenged Franchitti for the lead throughout much of the 75-lap race, but the Australian was never able to close in enough on the leader to make a serious pass attempt and ultimately settled for a hard fought second place finish just .2488 seconds behind the winner.
“I couldn’t do anything behind Dario. It was really difficult,” Briscoe said. “I tried to follow him and pressure him where I could, but he never made a mistake.”
Rookie Mike Conway (#23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) chalked up his best race of the season with a third place finish. Conway passed Hideki Mutoh with just three laps remaining to earn his first career trip to the podium.
“I think I should have had a result like this before, but a few mistakes and some bad luck kept me from it so it feels really great to finally get a good result,” said Conway.
Although Briscoe did not get the win, his runner up effort was good enough to take over the series points lead with just three races to go on the 2009 schedule. Briscoe, with 497 points, now holds a slim four point advantage over Franchitti while New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, the leader going into the weekend, slipped to third 20 points behind Briscoe after a disappointing 13th place finish on Sunday.
Dixon, Franchitti’s teammate, started the race in 10th only to get caught up in a seven-car accident heading into Turn 2 of the opening lap that also included fan favorite Danica Patrick, who continued on to a 16th place finish one lap down to the leaders.
“I am happy just to get out of here,” said Dixon, who pitted on lap three for a new nosecone. “We need to be consistent in the last three races and hope the others falter.”
Incredibly, it was the 13th time in 14 races that the points leader has changed this season.
“I have never seen anything like this before. Hopefully I can change that trend now,” laughed Briscoe.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske) saw his chances for the 2009 championship come to an end after running a strong third through much of the race. Following his final pit stop Castroneves was tagged by fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan exiting the chicane on the back portion of the course and sustained rear suspension damage which ultimately put him out of the race several laps later in 18th place.
“It’s so difficult with the competition level here,” said Franchitti of the championship battle. “It’s so competitive you can’t afford mistakes and we’ve all made them this year.”
Sunday’s starting field was reduced from 24 to 22 cars after Australian Will Power, Team Penske’s third driver, collided with Frenchman Nelson Philippe of Conquest Racing during practice Saturday. Power T-boned into Philippe coming out of a blind corner, breaking two vertebrae in his lower back and sustaining a concussion while Philippe also sustained a concussion along with an open fracture to his left foot that required surgery. Both remained in the hospital on Monday.
The next race in the IndyCar Series will take place at Chicagoland Speedway in Illinois on Saturday.