FRANCHITTI: GREAT ENTHUSIASM AT NHMS
Dario Franchitti, Boston.com Special Contributor
Here’s an idea I’d like to try: Instead of reverting back to the order as it was at the end of the 215th lap Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, let’s revert back to the 118th lap, which just so happens to be the last lap I led.
Qualifying was great for us, and we started on the pole after two of the most intense laps I've ever done. At times we led by as much as 12 seconds, and by lap 65 we had put all but the top 12 cars a lap down. It's safe to say the Nikon car was hooked up, and the driver was feeling good about things!
If you were there or watched it on TV, you don’t need me to tell you about the craziness of the MoveThatBlock.com 225. It was filled with crashes – four involving eight cars, and that doesn’t count the final restart, which didn’t count. The controversial finish turned a botched restart in the rain into a final finishing order from the lap prior to the restart. That all led to a victory by Ryan Hunter-Reay and emotional responses from several drivers.
As for us, well, we had an incident with Takuma Sato on the 119th lap while leading on a restart. As we accelerated toward the start line, he was on the inside of me, his right front wheel was positioned next to my left rear, at that point he was in my blind spot. But he had a full view of exactly where my car was, and could react to any movement I made. I knew he was on the inside, but nothing more than that. Had I known he was so close, I would have turned to the right to get away from him!!
As it was, I did move down a couple of inches, not in any attempt to block or intimidate, but simply as result of the movement an Indycar makes in a straight line as result of stagger in the tires. Takuma was moving even closer at the same time, and with a full view of the situation, didn't react. This all happened in about a half-second!
He said something was in his eye and he couldn’t see briefly, so he didn't react, but we shouldn’t have been in that situation. It was totally unnecessary, especially when we had such a great car. But that's racing!!
It was the first time in more than two years that I’d had a DNF. I didn’t even know that until afterward, when I was told I’d gone 44 consecutive races – since Kansas Speedway in April 2009 – with a finish in each race. We’d completed every lap so far this season up to lap 118 of Sunday’s race, which says something about how strong the No. 10 Team Target car and crew have been all season – and for three seasons in a row, for that matter.
Not all was lost, of course. We’re still leading the IZOD IndyCar Series championship by 47 points with five races remaining in the 2011 season. We led 115 of the first 118 laps Sunday, and we’re still consistently fast and competitive. We’re still in good shape.
As confusing and confounding as the race was, and in spite of the two mistakes that were made by race control at the end, it was an entertaining show. Maybe not from my perspective, but certainly from a fans’s perspective. There were plenty of lead changes, lots of close passes, and all-in-all solid racing. It had controversy at the finish, and Will Power’s emotional reaction, which became the big story of the race.
All of us who race can understand Will’s frustration. They certainly never should have restarted the race while it was still raining, especially when the drivers themselves were telling race officials that the track was still wet and it was still raining. And none of us has ever seen an IndyCar race revert back to the order of a previous lap for the finishing order. It’s just unheard of.
But the best part of the weekend was the crowd that showed up at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the type of fans they were. I have been gearing toward this race all season with this blog, and we got a nice reaction from the fans who showed up at the track Sunday. The great thing about it was that there were were hard core race fans mixed in with casual and new fans, the result was a great atmosphere and enthusiasm.
We even had fans who came all the way from Scotland, which was a thrill for me. One of them was celebrating his 50th birthday, and a trip to the race was his birthday present. That’s what makes racing so special for those of us who participate in it. To see someone really enjoy it and really follow it is its own reward.
I experienced great enthusiasm the entire weekend, and now we’re off to resume the road-course portion of our schedule at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. I only hope we return to Loudon next year and put on just as good a show.
Or, at the very least, convince someone that the finishing order should revert to the last lap I was leading.