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Fuel Mileage Hands Franchitti Indycar Title

3 Mins read

It took the final ten laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway to decide the Indycar champion as the season finale hinged on a fuel mileage gamble.

The title decider, which had been moved from the oval at Chicagoland for this year also became the first race in the 14 years of the Indy Racing League to run entirely without a yellow flag period, the eventual average speed 201.420mph as the 300 mile race was completed within an hour and a half.

Leading from his pole position it was Dario Franchitti who led the opening 5 laps, as he along with fellow title contenders Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe started to stake their claim for the potentially crucial two bonus points for leading the most laps.

The Scots lead, however, didn't last long as on lap six his Target Chip Ganassi teammate and reigning series champion Scott Dixon drifted by into the lead.

It was a lead he was not to give up easily, only sacrificing it when he had to pit on lap 47.

There a hint of what was to come appeared.

As the Kiwi pulled in Franchitti retook the lead, seemingly able to run longer than his rivals, perhaps by sacrificing raw pace.

The race took a different turn after the first round of pitstops as Penske's Ryan Briscoe, who had not been a factor in the opening stint, began to challenge Dixon for the lead, before taking it and, like Dixon had done before him, maintaining it until his second stop on lap 95 of the 200 lap race.

Again, Franchitti's red No.10 machine was there to take the lead as the pit cycle continued, able to lead for four laps until the half way point.

As he peeled off to come down the pitlane it was once more Dixon and Briscoe who found themselves battling for the lead, first the Australian, then the Kiwi taking their turn at leading, cutting swathes through the rest of the field (by this stage the three title chasers had lapped the entire field) which seemed to be running a different race entirely.

They cut inside and out of their “competitors”, Briscoe nearly scrapping the wall on more than one occasion as he fled the clutches of Dixon, having to dodge round drivers fighting their own battles.

This, as the rhythm of the race dictated, was stopped by another round of pitstops for fresh tyres and fuel. Dixon again pitted behind Briscoe and left in the same order, though once more Franchitti was able to run five more laps than the leading pair.

Briscoe assumed the lead, which he would hold until lap 194, earning him two bonus points closer to the title. With the three title contenders alone on the lead lap it was now decided.

Whoever won the race would win the title. There was only the small matter of deciding who that would be.

It was now that Franchitti's fuel mileage ploy would come into its own. By gambling on there not being a single caution and eeking out their time between stops he was now looking at a chance to in the title.

First Dixon pulled in for a splash of fuel. Only seconds stationary, but the time spent at the pitlane speed limit, and the speed scrubbed off by having to run on the flat access road for the pits saw him fall behind Franchitti.

Then Briscoe. The Penske team leaping over the wall, connecting the fuel hose to the car, pumping the car's ethanol fuel in before being pulled out after a tap on the back signalled enough had gone in.

Franchitti now found himself in the lead, still having to conserve fuel, but having to run a pace to keep the newly tired chasing pair at bay. His team called out the ever decreasing time difference to the closing Briscoe before ordering him to go “full bore”.

The hard work was done. All Dario needed to do was finish, each corner passed with worry etched on the face of his team, and his wife Ashley Judd, but that turned to pure elation as he crossed the line.

Dario was 2009 Indycar champion. His margin of error so narrow that his engine panted its last fuel starved breath during the celebratory donuts meaning the championship winning car was pushed into victory lane on trolleys.

“He really wanted this,” exclaimed an elated Judd.

Franchitti beat Briscoe by 4.7seconds, with Dixon in third and Tony Kanaan one lap down ahead of Helio Castroneves. Hideki Mutoh, Mario Moraes, Alex Lloyd, Tomas Scheckter and Justin Wilson completed the top ten, Lloyd in only his third full Indycar start, and Wilson three laps down due to the astonishing pace of the race.

There were, of course, no accidents on track to interrupt the green flag running. But it is perhaps fitting that the only contact in a race, and ultimately series, decided by pit strategy that the only contact came in the pits, when Dan Wheldon pulled his Panther car out into the side of Danica Patrick as she pulled in. Wheldon retired on the spot, Patrick continued the race, but was classified as the final finisher, 15 laps down.

Franchitti, who won the Indycar car title in 2007 for Andretti Green before moving to NASCAR last year, dedicated his win to Greg Moore, the young Canadian driver who was killed in an accident at the Champ Car finale in California a decade ago. It was Moore, a close friend of Franchitti while they both drove in Champ Car, who introduced Franchitti and Judd.

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About author
James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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