Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves were back in Long Beach for the first time since 2002 and 2001, respectively, in 2009. Both were overjoyed with the reasons for their returns.
After a lackluster St. Petersburg to start his season, Franchitti took the win in Long Beach to prove to himself, team owner Chip Ganassi and the IndyCar community that he still “had it” after a one-year sojourn to NASCAR. The win kick started his championship season, the first of three in a row from 2009 through 2011 after he won the 2007 series crown.
Castroneves, meanwhile, was back for different reasons. The Brazilian was exonerated on charges of tax evasion, as the legal issues had surrounded the Indianapolis 500 and “Dancing with the Stars” champion throughout the offseason.
Castroneves’ team owner Roger Penske had a contingency plan in place for Long Beach in case Castroneves would be available to race. The team prepared a third car, run by crew that had serviced its sports car programs in either the American Le Mans Series or the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, to ensure Castroneves and his temporary substitute Will Power would both have rides.
Power – who filled in for Castroneves in the traditional No. 3 in St. Pete – shook down the No. 3 in Friday practice as Castroneves returned to Long Beach. Then he switched to the No. 12 Verizon entry for the first time on Saturday, promptly stuck the car on the pole, and finished an impressive second behind Franchitti.
Power hadn’t done enough yet to ensure his full-time status with Penske Racing, but that was about as good of a start as could be delivered. Four years later, Power and Castroneves are still teammates with Penske Racing once again prepping a third car for a potential future full-season driver, AJ Allmendinger.
This Long Beach race also marked the first under INDYCAR sanction, after the final Champ Car edition in 2008.
Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth
Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.
He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.
Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.
However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.
“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”
The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.
However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.
“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.
“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”
The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.
AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.
Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.
Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.
“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.
“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”