By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Marco Andretti never doubted team, himself
2. Inside the numbers – Iowa
3. Ratings increase for Iowa event 4
4. Iowa results boost confidence of TMR teammates
1. Marco Andretti never doubted team, himself: Andretti Autosport entered the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season with three entrant championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and 36 wins since 2003.
The knock, however, has been what had the four-car team led by Michael Andretti done lately.
Earning the series championship and winning the Indy 500 in ’07 with Dario Franchitti, the team collected four victories and 57 top-five finishes (of 58 collective races among seven drivers) the succeeding three seasons. In the first half of this season, Andretti Autosport already has equaled its Victory Circle appearances of 2010 and ’08.
Marco Andretti’s exciting duel with former teammate Tony Kanaan to the checkered flag in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer under the lights June 25 at Iowa Speedway, in which he prevailed by 0.7932 of a second, followed up Mike Conway’s win in mid-April on the streets of Long Beach.
“It was a big win for us for sure,” said team owner Michael Andretti, who has 42 Indy car victories on his ledger. “I think a lot of people were really pounding on us and thought we were down and out, but I can tell you this team has got tons of fight in it and we are never out.”
On the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval, Andretti started 17th and weaved through traffic to move into second behind Franchitti with a Lap 152 pass of Takuma Sato. He overtook Franchitti two laps later. A determining factor to remaining up front, and setting up the race to the finish with Kanaan, was a Lap 184 pit stop when Andretti’s No. 26 Team Venom Energy car charged out ahead of Franchitti’s car. Andertti and Kanaan exchange the lead in the final 47 laps, with Andretti grabbing the point for good on Lap 232.
“I’m happy for all the Venom guys; they did a great job,” Michael Andretti said. “The last pit stop they brought him out P1. They did it when we needed it. It was just really truly a team effort, and Marco drove a hell of a race there in the end. He was beating the best. He had Tony out there, he had Dario, (Scott) Dixon and he drove very well there in the end.
“I’m just so happy and relieved for (Marco). There’s been a huge monkey on his back, and it was on mine, as well. There was just a lot of pressure on us, him as a driver, me as an owner, because of some of the past things that happened at Indy and stuff. So to come back and win like this, it was just a great, great day.”
In the nine races, its lineup of Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Conway and Andretti have amassed four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. Patrick posted her third consecutive top 10 in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car after starting on the front row, and Hunter-Reay started and finished eighth in the No. 28 Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop Citrus Soda entry.
Andretti gained four positions in the standings to eighth with the win.
For the third-generation Indy car driver, the 78-race gap between victories (Aug. 27, 2006 at Infineon Raceway as a 19-year-old rookie) was a rocky road of racing experiences and maturation.
“We’ve been in a position to win a lot of races and we’ve come up short,” said Andretti, who had three runner-up finishes between wins. “I never doubted the team, never doubted myself. I always said as soon as the stars were aligned and a little bit of luck goes my way that we’d be sitting here.
“I think it’s just the drought, so to speak, just made me appreciate what we have here in IndyCar racing. From the drivers to the teams, it just makes us appreciate being here that much more because we know we beat those guys. The competition is unbelievable.”
2. Inside the numbers – Iowa: Some numbers to note from the fifth Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer at the Iowa Speedway:
2: Top-five finishes needed by Tony Kanaan, the runner-up at Iowa, to reach 100 in his Indy car career.
3: Consecutive top-10 finishes for Danica Patrick in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport. It was her fourth consecutive top 10 at Iowa Speedway.
4: Best start of the season for rookie JR Hildebrand, who posted his second top-five finish with a fourth place in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car.
5: Different winners this season (Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Mike Conway, Dan Wheldon, Marco Andretti).
9: Lead changes among five drivers.
16: Fewest cars running at the finish this season.
20: Positions gained by Scott Dixon, the most in the 25-car field. He finished third in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
38: Victories for Andretti Autosport in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
60: Percent of the time the driver is turning on a lap at the .875-mile Iowa Speedway.
72: Most cautions laps this season.
78: Starts between Marco Andretti’s first and second wins in Indy car.
172: Laps led by Franchitti, who increased his series-leading total to 588. Power (225) is next.
177.853: Fastest lap (136) in mph by Alex Tagliani, who finished 16th in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (18.0958 seconds).
1,233: Laps completed by Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, of 1,233.
4,213: Career laps led by Helio Castroneves, which is 24 shy of Paul Tracy’s all-time record.
3. Ratings increase for Iowa event: VERSUS’ coverage of the Iowa Corn Indy 250 from Iowa Speedway had a 35 percent increase in overnight ratings from a year ago.
According to data from Neilsen Media Research, the prime-time telecast on June 10 had a national overnight rating 0.35 for the race won by Marco Andretti.
4. Iowa results boost confidence of TMR teammates: Gustavo Yacaman and Victor Garcia didn’t win the Sukup 100 at Iowa Speedway, but the Team Moore Racing teammates left Iowa Speedway feeling like they had.
Yacaman finished a career-best second after notching his first front-row start in Firestone Indy Lights, while Garcia moved back into third place in the championship after finishing fourth despite starting from the back in the 115-lap race.
“This was the hardest frigging race I’ve ever driven, so close on so many occasions,” said Yacaman, who last finished on the podium at Toronto in 2010. “Between Bryan (Clauson) and I, a fly couldn’t be able to be there. We were running so close.”
Yacaman also had to survive an early race incident with pole-winner Esteban Guerrieri ,which nearly sent both cars into the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. Both cars were able to continue, though Guerrieri was forced to retire with damage several laps later.
“I was either going to go for the lead or go for the wall,” Yacaman said. “I told everyone on the team I wasn’t going to lift. You know, I didn’t lift. That’s what happened. I’m sure next time he’ll give me a little bit more space, maybe a foot or two instead of just chopping me right off. He knows I’m not afraid of taking both of us out. It’s how it works. You know, you’ve got to earn your respect. That’s what I did.
“Yeah, it was a lot of risk, but hey, it paid off. I’m pretty sure not even just on ovals but also on road courses he’s going to know I’m there and I’m not going to lift, and we’re not here to make friends, we’re not here to be careful. This is racing, and like they say, rubbing is racing, right?”
Garcia, meanwhile, steadily worked his way to the front after a fuel pump issue forced the No. 22 Xtreme Coil Drilling car to start 12th.
“We knew we had a car capable of being at the top but (in qualifying) we had a fuel pump problem,” Garcia said. “My team was telling me to relax and go faster and faster each lap. At the end I was catching people and overtaking.”
Garcia, who scored his first win at Barber, was happy to reward his team with another strong result, one that helped bring his team back into title contention.
“I’m really happy for the team after they worked so late (June 24),” he said. “I have to thank everyone for all the hard work they did. I’m really happy because we are third in the championship now.”
Yacaman also credited his crew, working under team owner Mark Moore as the team’s engineer/strategist for strong races at Iowa and Milwaukee, where he finished fifth.
“It was a pretty tight finish, and I really want to thank Mark (Moore),” Yacaman said. “We worked so hard. We’ve had a strong car so many times, but it’s really good to capitalize on that equipment he’s given me. We’ve just had so much bad luck at Indy, Barber. Long Beach was all right, but we want more, we want podiums, we want race wins. I’m working really hard with the team, and here we are, first podium, and I’m going to keep working just as hard to keep them coming.”
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Indy Toronto on July 10 at Streets of Toronto. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM channel 94 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Toronto 100 at Streets of Toronto on July 10. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at Noon. (ET) by VERSUS.