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Justin Wilson Presses Castroneves for Win at Detroit Indy Grand Prix….
Blocking Controversy Impacts Castroneves
By Yolanda Rotor
It was 10:00 AM on a sunlit Sunday morning at the scenic Belle Isle road course lined with trees and surrounded by a glittering river where Indy driver Justin Wilson (Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing) began his race day by running practice laps.
However, after only two laps Wilson knew that this day may not go his way as the #02 McDonalds car suffered a steering problem that prevented him from finishing the warm-up laps. Despite the pre-race car issue, the 30 year old Indy series rookie was able to taste the thrill of victory by taking the checkered flag ahead of Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan to win his first race of the season on Sunday afternoon at the Detroit Indy Grand Prix.
Justin commented: "It was a long tough day, but we managed to stay clean, and we got great strategy and good pit stops. The McDonald's team was doing a fantastic job. I was so desperate to get a victory this year, my first one in IndyCar (Series) and my first one with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. This means a lot. It's the most important win of my career."
Wilson started the race in 4th position behind Scott Dixon the pole sitter, Helio Castroneves and Oriol Servia. After
Dixon(Target Chip Ganassi) #9 car entered the pits on lap 15 on early fuel strategy and Oriol Servia (KV Racing Technology) # 5 car went pitted on lap #30 Wilsonmoved up to 2nd behind the race leader Castroneves.
Castroneves took the race lead on lap #20 and must have and his sights on winning the race and cutting into Scott Dixon’s Indy car driver’s points lead. However after leading 33 laps controversy stuck as Castroneves was panelized by Indy car officials for blocking the 2nd place car of Justin Wilson.
On turn #12 Castroneves was panelized for cutting low then high crossing in front of the #02 car as Wilson attempted to pass Castroneves. Castroneves was ordered to go behind the #02 car giving-up the race lead on lap #73. Castroneves stalked Wilson without success for the next 14 laps as Wilson crossed the finish line to win the Detroit Indy Grand Prix.
An emotionally restrained Helio Castroneves comments after the race: "Consistency is the only thing I ask for. I've been in this series since 2002, and we never had a situation like this. We always have a warning, and then if you do it again, then you're going to be penalized. All of the sudden, I didn't get any warning. It was, 'Move over, or you're going to be black flagged.' It was uncalled for. I know that (Brian Barnhart) is trying to put pressure on and make everyone disciplined, but two races to go for the championship, I don't think it's the right thing to do."
During Wilson ’s press conference the lanky 6-foot-3 British driver commented on the blocking penalty: "Helio was racing hard. The first yellow, I was right behind him and that's how it goes. It was just hard racing. The second time I got a good run out of (Turn 12) and started to overlap, and I had the inside for the next corner. Before we got halfway down the straight, he started to come across and I had to lift or we both were going to crash. I was a little upset at the time, but I was relieved when the officials put it right."
Indy car President of Operations and Competition Brian Barnhart released a statement about the blocking incident: "We talk about blocking every week in the drivers' meeting and tell them what they can and can't do and what the code of conduct is on the racetrack. (Helio Castroneves) clearly moved his car to impede the progress of a following car (Justin Wilson) and moved his car in response to the actions and the line taken by a following car. I think Helio and everyone associated knows that it's not what's expected and not what's accepted of how we race out there. We want to race clean and fair and we need to call them like we see them. You can't officiate based on points or who's involved or what position they hold. You have to do it out of fairness and competition."
Other notable incidents during the race included a 1st lap contact between the #23 Car of Milka Duno (CITGO) and #18 car of Bruno Janqueira (Z-Line Design) causing a yellow flag. Janqueira was penalized by Indycar officials for “avoidable contact” and was sent to the back of the field. Duno commented: “The over aggressive Bruno moved to try and pass forcing me to hit the wall. As a result my rear wing was damaged and the suspension.”
In addition, a collision on lap #33 between #7 car of Danica Patrick (Andretti/Green Racing) and #4 car Vitor Meira (Panther Racing) occurred as wheels touched. Patrick car was restarted and Meira returned to the pits with fender damage. Patrick commented: “We had a great car this weekend and unfortunately we encountered a couple of incidents that put us a lap down. I was really hoping to finish strong on the final road course of the season”
With one race to go in the 2008 Indy Car Points Championship Scott Dixon leads Helio Castroneves by 30 points. The Peak Indy 300 race at the Chicagoland speedway on September 7th will determine the outcome of the driver’s points championship. Last year the point’s championship alluded
Dixon as it came down to the final race of the season at the Chicagoland Speedway. Scott Dixon lead Dario Franchitti on the final lap of the race and Dixon ran out of fuel. This year Dixon needs to finish in 8th place or better to guaranty the 2008 drivers points championship. Next year Dixon will not need to concern himself with Dario Franchitti who announced on Tuesday his return to Indy car series for the 2009 season. Dario will become Scott Dixon’s team mate joining Target Chip Ganassi and replacing Dan Wheldon in the #10 car.
Will Power finished eighth, his fourth top-10 finish of the season.
Neither Scott Dixon nor Helio Castroneves left Detroit happy. The two championship contenders both felt they could have fared better in the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park on Aug. 31.
Dixon, who maintains a 30-point lead in the championship, led the first 18 laps from the pole but shuffled back to 18th after his first pit stop. He never got higher than fifth after that.
"The car was clearly quicker than anybody's," said Dixon, who a has record-tying six victories this season. "We were saving a ton of fuel up front and sort of having a merry old day, and that changed pretty quickly. We left with a half tank after that caution. I think I was probably the only person or maybe a couple of others. It's just a hard situation when you're in that point when nobody else pits and you have a lot of slower guys that pitted early on and have a lot of fuel and you have to try to pass them. That was pretty much the race. Then from that point on, we were just trying to pull up there."
Castroneves led a race-high 53 laps but was forced to give away the top position on Lap 73 when race officials penalized him for blocking eventual race winner Justin Wilson.
"Since I've been here since 2002, I always did that, and you got a warning," Castroneves said. "If you do it again, now you're penalized. But it was all of a sudden. Now I've got to give the position to (Justin Wilson). I'm like, "Wait a minute." You could see the next lap I was already three cars away from him. So it's not something that we see many, many times. It was just an unusual call. And I really don't know why they did that. I'm very surprised."
The two will have to forget about Detroit and focus on preparing for the 1.5-mile oval at Chicagoland Speedway, where the final race in the 2008 championship will take place Sept. 7.
"I can't let this bother me for the next race, because we have to race next weekend," Castroneves said. "So what are we going to do? Definitely tomorrow we'll turn the page and work as hard as we can. Because the good news, we're still battling for the championship. We're going to have a lot of work again. We know what we need to do. We know we're going after a good team. But I trust my guys, I trust my team, and I know we can do it."
One of them will leave Chicagoland Speedway very happy.
Photo Gallery From 2008 Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Island August 31, 2008
Economic Casualty hits the Indy Racing League
Detroit continues to feel the economic crunch.
Terry Angstadt, president of the Indy Racing League's commercial division, said the sanctioning body will review venues to fill the void on the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule after officials for the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix announced that the event will not be held because of difficult economic conditions.
He's also hopeful that the event on Belle Isle will return in 2010.
"The economic environment that our region, state and country faces, both today and in 2009, is difficult," said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. "It is unfortunate that we must postpone the 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix as sponsorship opportunities and support has proven to be very challenging for the event in the near term."
The IndyCar Series has competed on the island circuit the past two years, with Tony Kanaan and Justin Wilson winning races in front of large and enthusiastic crowds.
"This is unfortunate news but something that Roger Penske and his group have kept us abreast of for some time," Angstadt said. "The people of Detroit welcomed the IndyCar Series with impressive crowds the past two years and we support the Detroit Grand Prix's efforts for a possible return in 2010.
"The current economic climate is a challenge for all of us but as we look ahead to 2009 and beyond we remain bullish on the opportunities ahead for the unified IndyCar Series. There is little doubt that the IndyCar Series offers considerable value opportunities for current and potential partners of the series and its teams and tracks.
"Any decision on what we might do with a valuable asset like a Labor Day race weekend either short or long-term will not be decided upon quickly."
The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is a 501(c)3, non-profit corporation and a subsidiary of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. All net proceeds raised by the event fund measures to preserve and improve Belle Isle.
More than $7 million in infrastructure improvements have been made to Belle Isle since the return of the Grand Prix, including the paving of roadways, repairing or replacing damaged lighting and drainage, landscaping, the renovation of the Belle Isle Casino and Scott Fountain and the installation of pedestrian bridges, children's playgrounds and irrigation systems on the island.
According to a joint study conducted this year by the event and the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Grand Prix generated more than $55.2 million in economic impact for metropolitan Detroit in 2008 and another $12.8 million in direct spending throughout Detroit and its surrounding tri-county area.
This year's study by the DMCVB also revealed the Grand Prix helped attract thousands of visitors to the area as 28 percent of event attendees came to Detroit from outside the tri-county region and 52 percent of those visitors came from outside of Michigan.
"I want to thank all of the fans that have supported the 2007 and 2008 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix events," said Bud Denker, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix event chairman. "Over 100,000 people attended each of the past two Grand Prix races and we are hopeful we can extend the excitement of world-class racing on Belle Isle in the future.
"We also want to thank the City of Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the City of Windsor for their partnerships. The Grand Prix would not have been possible without the support of more than 50 corporations including Bridgestone/Firestone, Bosch, Comerica Bank, General Motors, Meijer, Caesars Windsor, Charter One Bank, Pepsi, MGM Grand Detroit and many others. Finally, the over 1,000 Grand Prix volunteers were the best ambassadors of any race in North America and we say thanks to them.
"If the economic conditions improve, we hope to be able to bring the event back to Detroit in the summer of 2010."
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