Race: Castroneves dominates Detroit
Throughout most of the 2000 CART season, the Penske Racing entries were the cars to beat on road and street courses. The most famous team in American racing has clearly carried that form into 2001, as Helio Castroneves led every lap Sunday on the way to his second Detroit Grand Prix victory in succession
The result sheet says the enthusiastic Brazilian's Reynard-Honda topped Dario Franchitti's similar car by 0.702 second for the win, but the reality is that Castroneves was in control of the proceedings from the moment the green flag dropped. Franchitti drove an excellent race to earn his best result since Vancouver in September 2000, while Roberto Moreno was third and Michael Andretti fourth.
The 1-2-4 finish was a sweet vindication for Honda, which bitterly protested CART's decision to mandate a modified turbo boost pop-off valve that the engine manufacturer believes cost them up to 75 horsepower.
Castroneves scored his first Champ Car race win at Detroit in 2000, and his mastery of the 2.3-mile Belle Isle street circuit continued unabated. He fended off challenges from Bruno Junqueira, Patrick Carpentier, Paul Tracy and finally Franchitti before earning the right to climb the catch fence in celebration in his traditional style.
"What a day!" exclaimed the winner. "Detroit, what a place. I guess this is my town. I had so many good memories of my first win from last year, and ever since I won the pole yesterday I've been dreaming about doing what we did today.
"We knew we were coming to our territory - a street circuit - and we did our job."
Castroneves led from pole position, while fourth-starting Franchitti lost a position at the first turn to Carpentier.
"He went right around the outside of me," said the Scot. "I tip my hat to him - it was a great move."
Franchitti's troubles worsened when his Honda engine briefly cut out on Lap 10, costing him another position to Jimmy Vasser.
Meanwhile, front row starter Junqueira was putting the pressure on leader Castroneves.
"At the beginning, I was a little bit concerned about Junqueira," Castroneves admitted. "But all of a sudden he started falling back. That's when I made my break."
Junqueira later said that he began suffering gearbox problems around Lap 20. While the rest worked their way around the slowing Ganassi Lola, Castroneves extended his lead from less than a second to 7.8 seconds over his team mate Gil de Ferran by the time the first round of pit stops went down from Laps 27-32 under green flag conditions.
Tracy briefly ran second to Castroneves, but he pitted on lap 36, having stopped for a top-off during an earlier yellow when Alex Zanardi and Michel Jourdain tangled.
Castroneves now led Carpentier, de Ferran, Franchitti, Roberto Moreno, Vasser, a recovering Junqueira and Andretti. Helio and Patrick now broke away from the pack, building an 11-second lead over de Ferran by Lap 40, when the yellow came out for Alex Tagliani's crash.
Quick calculations were made, and everyone except Tracy duly made their final stop on Lap 41, with the order exactly the same going out as it had been coming in, except Tracy now ran sixth between Moreno and Vasser.
Junqueira retired from the race at this time with terminal gearbox problems. Out almost simultaneously was Vasser, who hit the wall while warming his tyres under yellow on Lap 44.
"I flat out blew it," Vasser said. "That's probably the biggest mistake I ever made."
After the restart, Carpentier kept the heat on Castroneves and occasionally feigned to pass. But Castroneves never had to resort to blocking tactics.
"I knew the places on the track where I had to be fast," he said. "I was slow in the Mickey Mouse part of the track, through Turns 3, 4 and 5. I learned last year that it's okay to be slow there, as long as you are fast on the start finish straight and the straight between Turns 2 and 3. I knew I just had to stay cool and get 1 and 2 right."
On Lap 56, de Ferran lost five positions when his Honda engine coughed like Franchitti's had earlier. One lap later, the race went yellow when Oriol Servia went into the tyres at Turn 12 as the surface of the temporary circuit began to break up.
On the Lap 61 restart, Franchitti had a big run at Carpentier for second place, but he had to fall back into line and was lucky not to lose a place to Moreno. Then Bryan Herta went off at the same place Servia had a few laps earlier.
On the ensuing Lap 67 restart, Franchitti tried his move again, barging inside Carpentier at Turn 3. There was no contact, but the French-Canadian was forced off line, and he clashed wheels with Moreno as he tried to recover. Carpentier dropped to seventh in the shuffle.
"I knew from the other restart that it was going to be hard for us," Carpentier said. "We seemed to be struggling to put the power down on the restarts and I knew all the guys were going to go full rich on their fuel. Dario passed me down the straightaway - I tried to hold him off under braking, but I could not. Then I went into the marbles, and Roberto was right there. I hit wheels with him and didn't want to let him by, but hey, at the speed I was going I was just struggling to keep the car on the racetrack and I got passed by quite a few cars."
Franchitti assessed the pass like this: "Everything was going according to plan until I tried to turn in. I was carrying a bit too much speed and I was on the marbles. I wasn't sure if I was going to make the corner, so I banged it into second gear, and then down another (gear) to make it around. I got a lot of wheelspin and it was kind of messy, but I got it done.
"After that I thought we had something for Helio, but it's all about track position," he added. "He and I were on the same pace, but he was like a watch all day - he made no mistakes."
Moreno finished third for his best 2001 result, followed by Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi, de Ferran, Cristiano da Matta, and Carpentier.
"My car was dynamite at the end of the race, but we were lucky we didn't have to make a third stop because the clutch was going away," said Andretti.
Finishing ninth was championship leader Brack, who had his least competitive outing of 2001.
"We have to look at our fuel mileage," Brack commented. "We had to pit five laps earlier than the leaders and we lost a bunch of track position in the middle of the race. But the car was good."
The hard luck award for the day went to Tracy, who overcame a 23rd place qualifying performance to run fifth, only to run out of fuel on the last lap.
Brack now has 74 points, with Castroneves on 69, having cut 18 points out of that margin at Detroit. Andretti is third with 48 points, followed by da Matta with 46 and de Ferran with 44.
The Champ Cars race again next weekend on the Portland road course.
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