Scott Dixon spearheaded Chip Ganassi Racing’s first 1-2-3 finish in an eventful Pocono IndyCar 400 presented by Sunoco.
Dixon crossed the line ahead of Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti to secure the win on an afternoon where pre-race favorite Andretti Autosport crumbled as Honda’s superior fuel mileage trumped the higher power of the Chevrolet-powered cars.
All three Ganassi cars had started at the rear of the pack, but the trio picked their way through the field and capitalized on their ability to extend a tank of fuel further than their Chevrolet-powered counterparts to take control of the race during the final stint.
“Going into this morning, I was not thinking we could win,” admitted Dixon, one of six drivers who incurred a 10-grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change, and who started 17th in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. “The team definitely hasn’t given up, and you’ve got to hand it to Honda as well. I think fuel mileage was the key today. And we still had speed up front without having to save [fuel] all the time.
“I love this place. Pocono, the fans, just everyone has been fantastic. It’s great to be back. It’s been a long drought, almost a year, so it’s fantastic to be back in winner’s circle.”
The victory was Honda’s 200th in Indy car racing dating back to 1995, and the 100th in all forms of racing for Ganassi’s team.
“I actually forgot that the next win would have been our 100th — it’s been so long since we’ve had a win,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “It’s a really great place to do it, in Pennsylvania, in my home state. It’s great for the series to have a 1-2-3 (finish). Honda needed a boost, and they stepped up and did a great job.”
It could have been a 1-2-3-4 finish for Honda, but Chevy-powered Penske man Will Power passed Simon Pagenaud late in the race to secure fourth, when the Frenchman was balked by lapped traffic. Pagenaud lost an additional position to Josef Newgarden just before the end.
The weekend had been dominated by Michael Andretti’s team, but all four cars encountered problems. Polesitter Marco Andretti led the most laps — 88 of the 160 — but began to struggle with fuel mileage over his final stint and drifted back to 10th at the flag.
“I knew early (about the fuel mileage issues), but not early enough,” said Andretti, who had dominated this weekend’s speeds from the start of practice. “I think we should have responded quicker, but it’s so hard to be reserved right now. I’m so frustrated for RC Cola and everybody; we were just so dominant and I’m just absolutely gutted.”
Andretti was the only one of the team’s cars still running on the lead lap at the end: James Hinchcliffe’s race ended at the first corner when he looped up into the wall, while EJ Viso struggled at the back before retiring with a mechanical hiccup.
The most bizarre problem was reserved for reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had just entered the pitlane when Takuma Sato, who was running among the leaders, badly misjudged his own entry to the pits, came in way too fast, and punted Hunter-Reay into the wall.
Sato, who later took responsibility for the accident, retired on the spot, while Andretti managed to get Hunter-Reay back out to salvage a few extra points, albeit 20 laps down.
“We were just coming in to pitlane, minding our own business, and we get creamed from behind. It’s unfortunate but we’ve come from further back to win the championship and we’re determined to do it again,” declared Hunter-Reay, who aggravated a previous thumb injury in the incident. “The DHL Chevy boys got me back out on the track; we tried to salvage some points, and I think we got one position. It’s so frustrating when you’re running top three, top two, really happy with your car and then somebody comes from out of nowhere to take you out.”
Along with Andretti, though, the most frustrated driver at day’s end had to be KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan. The Indy 500 winner had looked a good bet to get two-thirds of the way to claiming the $1 million Fuzzy’s Triple Crown bonus at midrace, but his hopes ended on lap 107 when he clipped Dixon’s car while making a pass for the lead. The right-front wing sustained damage, forcing Kanaan to pit out of sequence to replace it.
“I apologized to the crew several times,” said Kanaan, driving the No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” car for KV Racing Technology-SH Racing. “I made a mistake and it cost us big. I had a run on Dixon, but didn’t really think that I was closing that fast on him.
“We had a car that was capable of winning this race and putting us in a position to contend for the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown and the $1 million prize,” lamented the Brazilian. “We still have a chance to win in Fontana and collect $250,000, but I just feel bad for the crew because they worked so hard to give me a very competitive car.”
Results - 160 laps:Pos Driver Team/Engine Time/Gap 1. Scott Dixon Ganassi/Honda 2h04m26.4178s 2. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Honda +0.4572s 3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi/Honda +1.1989s 4. Will Power Penske/Chevy +5.6320s 5. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda +7.1949s 6. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda +9.4074s 7. Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda +13.3012s 8. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy +13.9376s 9. Ed Carpenter Carpenter/Chevy +15.5500s10. Marco Andretti Andretti/Chevy +18.4584s11. Simona de Silvestro KV/Chevy +32.0478s12. James Jakes Rahal/Honda +36.2536s13. Tony Kanaan KV/Chevy +41.5507s14. Ryan Briscoe Panther/Chevy +1 lap15. Pippa Mann Coyne/Honda +1 lap16. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon/Chevy +1 lap17. Alex Tagliani Herta/Honda +2 laps18. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda +2 laps19. Tristan Vautier Schmidt/Honda +2 lapsRetirements: Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Chevy 121 laps EJ Viso Andretti/Chevy 104 laps Takuma Sato Foyt/Honda 61 laps Sebastian Saavedra Dragon/Chevy 2 laps James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Chevy 0 laps