Castroneves bites into Dixon’s lead Tempers flare in tight Firestone Indy Lights championship Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race Drivers reap post-race awards
1. Castroneves bites into Dixon’s lead: The checkered flag had barely fallen on Helio Castroneves Aug. 24 at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County and rival team owner Chip Ganassi was already doing the math.
“I think if Helio wins the next two we just have to place fourth, so we should be able to do that,” said Ganassi, owner for Scott Dixon, who retains a 43-point lead in the IndyCar Series championship with two races remaining.
Ganassi was correct. If Castroneves can dominate Aug. 31 at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park and Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway like he did at Infineon Raceway, he could win a maximum of 106 points, increasing his season total to 639. With Dixon sitting on 576 points, the six-time winner would need 63 points in the final two races, an average of 31.5 points per race, which is just under the 32 points awarded for a fourth-place finish, to claim his second series championship.
Dixon’s 43-point advantage is slightly above the average margin with two races to go. From 2001-2007, the points leader averaged a 35.1-point advantage on the nearest competitor. Four times the leader with two to go went on to the title, while three times he was passed.
Scenarios for Scott Dixon to clinch the 2008 championship at Belle Isle
If Dixon wins the race, Castroneves is eliminated.
If Dixon finishes 11th or worse, Castroneves remains in contention.
If Dixon finishes second through 10th, there are numerous scenarios that could eliminate Castroneves.
2. Tempers flare in tight Firestone Indy Lights championship: Raphael Matos didn't come away with a race win from what he called the most important weekend of the season, but he has what he covets the most – the championship points lead.
The AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing driver outpaced his title rival Richard Antinucci in both ends of the doubleheader weekend at Infineon Raceway and leads Antinucci in the two-man race for the Firestone Firehawk Cup by three points heading into the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 7.
The weekend was not without controversy between the title protagonists. Antinucci, who entered the weekend with a four-point advantage, beat Matos into the first turn in the Aug. 23 Carneros 100, but had to give the position back to his rival as it was deemed he jumped the start of the race. The rivals ran nose to tail for the remainder of the race and rounded out the podium behind winner Franck Perera.
"It was a pretty straightforward race in the sense that this is the order that we had in qualifying, and it seems to reflect the performances in the race," said Antinucci, who finished third in the first race. "I had a great start, I just think I kept my position and followed my line, but unfortunately I was radioed immediately halfway through the first lap to relinquish that position and give it back to Matos, so I went wide in the last corner. The rest was pretty good, at the end the pace was good, I also managed to post my fastest lap with three to go."
The result was a one-point lead for Matos heading into the Aug. 24 Valley of the Moon 100. Matos started seventh and was running sixth when the front wing of his No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc. car bumped the rear of Antinucci's No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in Turn 11 of Lap 27. Jockeying for position began earlier on the lap when Matos moved to the outside of Antinucci, who held his line and forced Matos' car into the dirt toward the end of the Esses.
"It was so far the toughest race of the championship," said Matos, who recorded finishes of second and sixth in the two races. "I had a clearly quicker car than Richard, but he never gave me any space I needed to make a pass," Matos said. "You’re not allowed to block, and he blocked me four or five times. He just didn’t give me enough room. He completely brake-checked me going into Turn 11 and I had nowhere to go.
“Unfortunately, we hit each other. I am 100 percent sure that it wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry that I hit him, but you’re not allowed to block.”
Of course, Antinucci had a different view of the pass and outcome. While they were running fifth and sixth, the cars were never separated by more than seven-tenths of a second at the timing line.
"In the backstraight, Matos went to the outside and cut the track so he came out right behind by cutting the track," Antinucci said. "That's how he gained the advantage. I chose the inside from the beginning, knowing that he was right on my tail and I would get passed. I can't bank on having the race review that later on, so I defended my position from the inside and he choose the outside and then back inside and just lifted me in the air and pushed me off. I lost two places. I'm OK, a little bruised but I'm OK."
The result of the weekend: A winner-take-all race between rivals on Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Ill.
"I think this whole AFS/Andretti Green team deserved to leave here with the points lead and that is where we’re at heading to Chicago," Matos said.
3. Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race: Fans will have the ultimate say in who receives a $10,000 race bonus from Firestone. After each IndyCar Series race, Firestone executives pick three “Tire”-rific Moves of the Race, on-track moves where the drivers had to rely on their Firestone Firehawk tires. Fans can vote for the winner at indycar.com.
Vitor Meira won the fans’ vote from the race at Kentucky and was awarded $10,000.
From the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County, fans can choose from:
Helio Castroneves for a flawless race in his backup car for a much-needed victory. Dan Wheldon for advancing 14 positions to finish fourth. E.J. Viso for a fast race that netted him a sixth-place finish, moving up eight spots.
In past seasons, Firestone has awarded the bonus to the driver who led the lap that corresponded to the total number of races in IndyCar Series history.
4. Drivers reap post-race awards: Helio Castroneves reaped the benefits from winning the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County. Castroneves was presented an IndyCar Series timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the IndyCar Series. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event in 2008. Castroneves also collected the $10,000 PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award presented by Pep Boys and $1,000 from Bosch.
Dan Wheldon won the $5,000 DirecTV Crystal Clear Moment of the Race and E.J. Viso won the $2,000 Lincoln Welders Hard Charger Award for being the race leader who started furthest back. Viso also collected the $2,000 XTrac Award.
The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone Aug. 31 at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season concludes Sept. 7 with the SunRichGourmet.com 100 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will air live at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 7 on ESPN2. The Carneros 100 and Valley of the Moon 100 at 5 p.m. Aug. 28 on ESPN2.