After seven races of watching everyone other than Team Penske win, Helio Castroneves dominated at Texas, scoring his first win of 2013 and his fourth at the 1.5-mile oval.
The three-time Indy 500 winner lapped all the way up to Dario Franchitti in sixth place as he led more than half the race, making the rest of the field look rather pedestrian on Saturday night.
“My engineer did a hell of a job and put in everything I was looking for,” said Castroneves. “We didn’t even do a change on the first pit stop. Mostly, it was a job of managing the Firestone tires. The tires were great. We were running like a Swiss watch. It was smooth.”
The Andretti Autosport team was strong though the first 100 laps, but Castroneves worked methodically to improve from his sixth-place starting position.
Once the sun began to dip below the horizon, Castroneves’ car came alive and as soon as he demoted Marco Andretti to second, the 38-year-old never looked back.
He’d stretch his lead to almost a half-lap at times as the 228-lap event drew to a close, looking like the lone Indy car on track during an Indy Lights race, and cooled his pace at the end to claim a 4.69-second victory.
“In the end we had a huge lead. I was like, OK, I’m just going to manage the tires now,” HCN said with a sheepish grin.
Behind the Brazilian, Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay placed second, KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan finished third, Ed Carpenter took fourth, and Marco Andretti claimed fifth, giving Chevy a 1-2-3-4-5 and their first win at the track since 2005.
Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi entry was the first Honda-powered car home.
“That No. 1 DHL Chevy was great,” said RHR. “We made the most of it, and we kind of lost it a little bit there when that yellow when came out. Our strategy was such that we needed that yellow not come out. You know we had a good shot at winning it today though. That was just an interesting race. It was hard to even get by some of that traffic. I was searching everywhere for grip; I had so many catches out there that I thought were on the wall. It’s going to be tough to go to sleep tonight.”
Kanaan made a late-race stop–after Castroneves and RHR had made their final visit to the pits–but used his fresh tires to recover to third.
“It was pretty good, but we obviously we went off strategy,” said the Indy 500 winner. “I’m really happy. We did a great job as a team. It’s the first race with the Sunoco Turbo car, so I hope they’re happy because I promised them a good race. I think third place as far as the championship goes is pretty strong so we’ll take it.”
Outside the top 5, Franchitti dealt with severe understeer for a good portion of the race which made it impossible to mount a comeback as his team found the setup window later in the race.
Polesitter Will Power never seemed to get the handle on his car to run up front yet held on to take seventh, Josef Newgarden recorded his fourth top 10 result this year on his way to eighth, 2012 Texas winner Justin Wilson was a top 5 contender until being left out too long on worn tires which cost him two laps when he had to pit off sequence, leaving him in 15th.
And Oriol Servia, on his debut for Panther Racing, spun his way out of eighth, settling for 19th, three laps down at the finish.
The race was free of crashes, but mechanical problems took Ganassi’s Scott Dixon out of contention early when something snapped in his driveline while exiting the pits. The Kiwi was expected to factor in the final results, but only lasted through Lap 61.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Pippa Mann was dealt the cruelest blow of the evening when her Honda engine let go in spectacular fashion after just two laps of competition.
IndyCar’s season of unpredictability continued at Texas–the race was expected to be filled with cars rising and falling as teams struggled to stay on top of tire wear and changing ambient conditions–but Castroneves and the Penske team defied the odds and put on the most dominant display of the season.
The series reconvenes in seven days on the short oval at Milwaukee.
Results Saturday of the Firestone 550 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.455-mile Texas Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
2. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
3. (13) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
4. (9) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
5. (2) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 228, Running
6. (4) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
7. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
8. (7) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
9. (12) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
10. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 227, Running
11. (21) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
12. (10) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running
13. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
14. (18) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 226, Running
15. (20) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
16. (22) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 226, Running
17. (8) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running
18. (24) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 225, Running
19. (16) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 225, Running
20. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 224, Running
21. (17) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 223, Running
22. (14) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 223, Running
23. (11) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 61, Mechanical
24. (19) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 2, Mechanical
Winners average speed: 177.257
Time of Race: 01:52:17.4594
Margin of victory: 4.6919
Cautions: 3 for 27
Lead changes: 4 among 5 drivers
Andretti 1 – 53
Power 54 – 57
Hunter-Reay 58 – 92
Andretti 93 – 96
Castroneves 97 – 228
Point Standings: Castroneves 259, Andretti 237, Hunter-Reay 232, Kanaan 195, Sato 194, Pagenaud 194, Dixon 193, Wilson 184, Hinchcliffe 176, Franchitti 168.IndyCar