Scott Dixon took his third IndyCar championship after a furiously competitive, crash-filled 500-mile race on the high-banked California Speedway oval last Saturday night. The race was won by Will Power with Dixon finishing fifth directly ahead of championship rival Hélio Castroneves as only nine of the 25 starters made it to the chequered flag. Justin Wilson suffered pelvis injuries and a small pulmonary contusion after hitting the wall and then being T-boned by Tristan Vautier amid a mid-race, multi-car accident.
Dixon went into IndyCar’s season finale with a 25 point lead over Castroneves which meant the New Zealander could wrap-up the championship with a fifth place finish. For Castroneves it was a simple matter of having to win the race if he were to take the first championship of his long career.
In fact, Castroneves drove one of his best races of the year, battling with the frontrunners most of the way and leading more than 20 laps in the middle of the 500 miles. But late in the race the Brazilian damaged a front wing in a brush with Charlie Kimball and was forced to pit for a new nose, losing a lap as a result.
“We fought hard and really pushed as hard as we could,” Castroneves said. “I had tons of fun out there and I want to thank everybody from the guy who cleans the floor in the shop to Roger and all the partners. Congratulations to Ganassi and Scott. They fought hard and did a good job. Unfortunately, one weekend (Houston) went bad for us and that cost us the championship.
“Wow!” he added. “What a race! Normally a 500-mile race is a little calm at the end but there was nothing calm about that one. It was a shame we had contact with Kimball. I knew he wouldn’t give an inch. It was hard-fought but I knew coming into this weekend that’s the way it was going to be. I had a great time and hopefully next year we’ll make it happen.”
Eleven cars were eliminated in accidents and five more suffered engine failures as a result of the constant high-speed running as well as the dust and debris that littered the big speedway. Many drivers, Dixon included, had to make additional stops under the yellow to remove the rubber and debris that accumulated in their radiator openings.
“That was a crazy day,” Dixon said. “We started back in the field and we had to work on the car through the race. We had to work on the strategy, we had to work on the car a lot and we had some issues with some overheating problems at the end. I still can’t believe that we’ve actually won the championship. It’s fantastic.
“It just means so much because this series is so competitive and the trials and tribulations we had to fight through this year. When Hélio was leading and we were mid-pack we were not so much worried as waiting for the race to play out. We knew we could get there and as the race unfolded things got a little better for us. I didn’t know that Hélio had pitted and gone a lap down but once the team told me that it gave us a bit of a window to deal with our overheating issues.”
Dixon paid tribute to his injured team-mate Dario Franchitti. “We owe a lot of this to Dario,” he remarked. “I hope he gets well and can get back in the car soon and come back out here next year and have another crack at it. Thanks to Dario for all the help you’ve given us this year.”
Power crashed out of the last race in each of the past three years and was delighted not only to bring it home but to win the race. “That’s the most satisfying win of my life,” he grinned. “That is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to do it so badly all year and in the early oval races I just wanted to be conservative and finish every lap and this time I was going for it.”
At one point Power had to stop to change his visor because he couldn’t remove his tear-offs. “I knew we had a very quick car and I knew we could win it,” he added. “I’m so stoked. It’s a great way to end the season.”
In the middle of the race Wilson lost control on one of the seams in the track’s pavement and spun, clouting the wall. Four more cars were involved as a result of the tyre smoke and confusion with Tristan Vautier ploughing heavily into the side of Wilson’s car.
Justin took off his helmet as IndyCar’s safety team worked to remove him from the car and he was transported to a local hospital where he was kept overnight for observation. His pelvis injuries were deemed minor and non-operational. Two years ago Justin broke a vertebra in an accident at Mid-Ohio but bounced back to win the Daytona 24 Hours five months later.
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