Dario Franchitti played the fuel strategy perfectly and benefited from a caution-free race Saturday to claim the IndyCar Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Franchitti ran behind the two other contenders, Ryan Briscoe and teammate Scott Dixon, for most of the race, but paced himself to make the 200-lap race in just three stops while Briscoe and Dixon each had to make a fourth stop late in the race. When Briscoe pitted with five laps remaining, Franchitti took the lead and held it to the finish.
“I just had to try to save some fuel and stay on strategy,” Franchitti said. “It just worked out.”
While Franchitti was being patient, Briscoe and Dixon were exchanging the lead. Dixon passed Briscoe on the 110th lap, but Briscoe regained the lead on the 124th lap. With 55 laps remaining, both Briscoe and Dixon pitted, but Franchitti made it another five laps before he had to pit.
“We just ran the wrong strategy,” Dixon said. “I've got to give them credit. They put it out there and it worked for them. It sucks to finish second in the championship, but that's the way it goes.”
Briscoe finished second in the race, with Dixon third. Franchitti finished with 616 points, with Dixon second at 605 and Briscoe third at 604. It was Franchitti's second IndyCar championship in two years; he won the title in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing, ran for Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team in 2008, then returned to IndyCars with Ganassi's team this season.
“There are a lot of guys who win races, but not many who win championships,” Ganassi said. “Dario is the type who wins championships. It takes quite a driver to maintain his composure during a race like this and let things play out. That takes a level of maturity that most drivers don't have.”
It was the first time in the series' 14-year history that a race has gone without a caution. It also was the seventh championship in open-wheel racing for Ganassi, who has won three in the IndyCar Series, including two with Dixon. This was Ganassi's best season to date, with Dixon and Franchitti combining for 10 wins in 17 races.
“Our team was challenged to come through with fewer tools than we've had in previous years,” Ganassi said. “They responded.”
Because of the lack of caution periods, the race's average speed of 201.420 mph was the second-fastest in series history. Dixon said Franchitti's decision to save fuel wasn't made until after he fell off the pace.
“It was very strange,” Dixon said. “Every 10 laps, you'd start thinking, ‘I can't understand why there hasn't been a yellow. Even our cars were very tough to drive. I had a ton of moments, and some of the other cars out there were worse than us. I don't think it was a risk for Dario. They knew quite early that they didn't have the speed.”
Franchitti's strategy also caught Briscoe and Team Penske off guard. Briscoe led 103 of the 200 laps in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara-Honda, but finished second in the race and third in the championship when Franchitti's fuel held up to the finish.
“It's pretty frustrating because it was one of the best races I've ever run,” Briscoe said. “I just hate it that it came down to fuel strategy. It's a whole championship. Dario has been great all year long, so congrats to him, but this hurts.”
Following Franchitti, Briscoe and Dixon the the line were Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Hideki Mutoh, Mario Moraes and Alex Lloyd.
Raphael Matos won the IndyCar rookie of the year award.
The IndyCar Series will hold its awards banquet Sunday night in Miami Beach.
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 200 laps
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 4.7888s
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 6.0206s
4. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 1 lap
5. Helio Castroneves Penske + 1 lap
6. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 2 laps
7. Mario Moraes KV + 2 laps
8. Alex Lloyd Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 2 laps
9. Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold + 3 laps
10. Justin Wilson Coyne + 3 laps
11. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 3 laps
12. Ed Carpenter Vision + 3 laps
13. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt + 4 laps
14. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon + 4 laps
15. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold + 5 laps
16. EJ Viso HVM + 6 laps
17. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold + 6 laps
18. Sarah Fisher Fisher + 13 laps
19. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 15 laps
Robert Doornbos HVM 166 laps
Dan Wheldon Panther 150 laps
Marco Andretti Andretti Green 58 laps
Jaques Lazier 3G 23 laps