Wilson celebrates the Texas way - courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series LAT USAEnlarge Photo
Rahal appeared to be on his way to victory but he brushed the fourth turn wall fighting understeer and Wilson blew past on the 226th of 288 laps in the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wilson, who started 17th on the 25-car grid won his first race at Watkins Glen in 2009--42 races ago--also with Coyne's team and with Bill Pappas as his engineer, then and now.
"It's just fantastic. I have to thank Bill and everyone who works at Dale Coyne Racing," he said. Dale has put so much into it; I just can't believe we managed to pull this off! The car was fantastic and on the long runs, it just got better and better.
"I saw people sliding around and knew I just had to hit my marks," Wilson continued. "I saw Graham sliding more and more every lap and I didn't think there was a chance, but when I saw him hit the wall I thought 'OK now it's time to go.' It was four-wheel drifting all the way into Turn 3 and all the way out of Turn 4; you were having to hang on out there."
That was the theme of this race, as the drivers got what they wanted--a car they had to drive and less pack racing. The aerodynamic package agreed upon for the Firestone 550K race worked exceptionally well, forcing drivers to work hard to move forward and there were a total of nine lead changes by seven drivers with the winner taking the helm for 11 tours of the 1.5-mile high banked oval.
After finishing second and leading 27 laps, Rahal admitted he "just made a mistake. I mean the car was pushing through the center of 3 and 4 pretty well the last stint and it would kind of grip up for me late in the corner. I kind of stayed with it because they told me Justin was coming." A day later, he decided to take out his misery of losing on a golf ball…
Ryan Briscoe finished third for Team Penske, the first Chevrolet driver to see the checkered flags. The Aussie called the race "tough. Certainly you needed to work on the setup all night; the balance changed a lot from the beginning of this stint to the end and you just had to hang on. It was hard work. The guys put me in position to win tonight--I had the lead but I just didn't have the car to bring it home and stay in front." He led five laps in the later stages of the contest.
Fourth went to James Hinchcliffe's Chevy-powered Andretti Autosport Indy car. "We obviously had a good car, we ran fast early and the guys were awesome in the pits," he said. JR Hildebrand started 23rd and finished fifth in the dusk to dark contest; he was "definitely happy to come home with a top five. This is a place that Panther Racing's always done well at so there's always a little bit of expectation for me coming here that we can work our way up to the front and that the boys will give us a good car."
Rookie Simon Pagenaud (Honda) had another good run to place sixth in only his second oval race while Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power were seventh and eighth. Polesitter Alex Tagliani took ninth place and James Jakes neatly bookended the top 10 for Dale Coyne Racing with his tenth-place (and best ever) result.
There were four cautions in this 228-lap contest: the first came for Charlie Kimball's half-spin and left-side contact with the Turn 4 SAFER barrier with his Ganassi Honda car, running from lap 31 to 39. The second came when Takuma Sato spun his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda car in the third turn (laps 65 to 70) while the third caution was for EJ Viso's stall int he first turn (laps . The final caution flew when Scott Dixon, who led the most laps (133) spun and made contact with Turn 4's SAFER barrier. "We just got loose," he said.
Neither Simona de Silvestro (Lotus) nor Rubens Barrichello (Chevy) started the race due to mechanical issues. Mike Conway (finished 16th), Sato, Josef Newgarden (finished 13th) and de Silvestro all had 10-grid-place engine-change penalties to deal with. There were 17 cars still running at the end with Marco Andretti the final driver still on the track but six laps down. Dario Franchitti was never competitive during the race and finished 14th, just behind Newgarden.
With this Texas race complete--and The Milwaukee Mile looming next Saturday--Power continues to lead the point standings with 256; Dixon lost a bit of ground but remains second with 222 points, while Hinchcliffe is third with 208, Castroneves is fourth (203) and Pagenaud is fifth with 199. Franchitti moved back to sixth place with his challenging result.
There's been talk that this could have been the Indy cars' final trip to Texas Motor Speedway but after this very entertaining contest the drivers all want to come back. "I have to say that's the best racing I've ever had on an oval," Power declared. Seems like nearly everyone else in the paddock might agree with him.