Izod IndyCar Series: Road Runner Turbo Indy 300

Practice for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 gets underway Sunday, May 15, and up until this past weekend, the Izod IndyCar Series had yet to visit an oval track.  That changed when the open-wheel cars took to Kansas Speedway for the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 on Saturday.

After watching team Penske capture three of the first four victories, Target Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were desperate to show they belong among the favorites for next’s month race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and show they did.  Penske driver Ryan Briscoe won the pole, and led for the first 30 laps or so, but Dixon, who started second, worked Briscoe like a speedbag for several laps before going high-side, nearly touching tires with the Australian, weaving in between lapped cars and eventually overtaking Briscoe for the lead.

Outside of a brief lead by teammate Franchitti on Lap 49, it was the last time Dixon would find himself out of the top position.  There was a brief moment of excitement when the field was grouped together for a restart with 20 laps remaining, but an accident between Takuma Sato and Hideki Mutoh on the restart cost the field a dozen laps of green light racing, and gave Dixon enough cushion to cruise to his series record 22nd career victory.

Rounding out the Top 15:

#2. Dario Franchitti
#3. Tony Kanaan
#4. Helio Castroneves
#5. Ryan Hunter-Reay
#6. Ryan Briscoe
#7. Mario Moraes
#8. Alex Tagliani
#9. John Andretti
#10. Vitor Meira
#11. Danica Patrick
#12. Will Power
#13. Marco Andretti
#14. Mike Conway
#15. Dan Weldon

Notes from Kansas Speedway:

-Although it wasn’t a particularly exciting race — in fact it was downright boring at times watching Dixon so thoroughly dominate — seeing the cars hurtling around an oval at better than 200 miles an hour sure got my blood pressure soaring.  And it sure got me excited for the “Half Month of May.”  Just 12 more days…

-The way I see it, the only way to see it really, is that Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing enter the month as overwhelming favorites to take home the Borg Warner trophy.  Dixon, Franchitti, and Castroneves have combined to win the last three 500’s, and along with series points leader Will Power and veteran Ryan Briscoe, it’s easy to envision a complete Ganassi/Penske sweep of the month.  Hopefully Andretti Autosport can get their act together within the next two weeks and make it a three-team race.  My dark horse candidate for next month is the KV Racing Technology team of Mario Moraes, E.J. Viso, Takuma Sato, and Paul Tracy.  Tracy claims to still have “unfinished business at Indianapolis“…

-There were four drivers making their oval racing debut; Takuma Sato, Mario Romancini, Bertrand Baguette, and Simona De Silvestro.  Of those drivers — all who will be at Indy next month — Baguette finished 20th, with De Silvestro 21st, Romancini 22nd, and Sato 24th.  Although he only completed 186 of the 200 laps because of a late race crash with Hideki Mutoh, Sato was by far the most impressive newbie at the event.

A former Formula One driver, Sato charged through the field like a veteran of the ovals, at one-time being run into the grass by Milka Duno coming out of a pit stop only to work his way up to sixth place with under 15 laps remaining.  Driving for KV Racing in a green and yellow Lotus sponsored car, Sato was battling with Mutoh for fifth place when the duo came up quickly on De Silvestro’s lapped machine.  They tried to go high-side but Sato’s left front wheel clipped Mutoh’s right rear, sending both crashing into the wall.

If I had to make a comparison, I’d say Sato reminds me of a young Thomas Scheckter.  Extremely fast and daring, but perhaps a little too much of both to be a serious contender at this juncture in his career.  As we all know, one little mistake at Indy can ruin the whole month in a blink of an eye, and while Sato will no doubt make it exciting for fans, the wall seems to be calling his name.

-Tony Kanaan finished a season-best third, and probably could have caught Franchitti for second if there hadn’t been multiple lapped cars in the between them.  The Brazilian, a fan favorite in Indianapolis, has never won the 500, and his past two trips to the track have been an outright disaster, with Kanaan finishing 29th and 27th.  If his strong showing this weekend is any indication, he could be the best chance to break the Ganassi/Penske stranglehold that appears inevitable as May 15 rapidly approaches.

For those Indianapolis sports fans looking for more IndyCar Series news, including all the latest happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, continue to check back with funcityfinder.com throughout the month of May.