Rockingham 500: Dream win for Dario

Britain's Dario Franchitti won his first ever Champ Car race on an oval at his home event at Rockingham today (Saturday). The Scot, who battled back from stalling in the pits early on, took the lead when longtime leader Kenny Brack dropped out of contention due to a late pit bungle

Rockingham 500: Dream win for Dario

The Scot used a canny pit strategy devised by his team manager Kyle Moyer, took advantage of a couple of timely yellows and drove flat-out all day to record his first oval victory. On British soil with about 20 family members and several dozen more friends looking on, it couldn't have happened under better circumstances.

"It was an interesting day, shall we say," he began. "Kyle came up with a strategy that put me in clean air. Then it came down to the last pit stop."

The field pitted under yellow on Lap 172 of 211, with pole man Kenny Brack leading da Matta and Franchitti. Team Green's stop was a cracker, taking just 8.5 seconds. But Brack had a disastrous stop when crew member Rick Duman dropped the nut as he prepared to change the left-rear wheel. That dropped him to ninth.

"I've been giving my guys a hard time about the pits stops this year, calling them geriatrics and stuff," Franchitti said. "But if there was one time for a peach of a stop, that was it and they came through."

Brack was diplomatic after leading 134 of the first 172 laps.

"I can't complain because the crew has been great all year long," said the Swede. "If you have any kind of a problem in a pit stop these days, that's it. Everything has to be perfect."

It was an amazing race for Franchitti, who qualified his Team Green Lola-Honda fifth and ran in that position throughout the first stint. The Scot then stalled the engine during his first pit stop, dropping him to 15th place. But the team used strategy to their advantage, pitting on Lap 66 under yellow while the rest of the field stayed out.

When the leaders were all forced to make a mandatory pit stop on Lap 94 (the maximum number of laps between stops was set at 47), Franchitti went into the lead. However, he was on schedule to have to make one more stop than the leaders - pole man Kenny Brack, Tora Takagi, and da Matta.

Dario stayed on the lead lap when he pitted under green on Lap 110, dropping to fifth place. At the same time, Brack caught the back of the pack and spent a number of laps held up behind Tony Kanaan and Michel Jourdain Jr, allowing Franchitti to close an 18-second deficit.

From there, he ran with the leaders until the fateful last stop, when his crew delivered the win.

"It's just terrific to win my first race here at home," he said. "It's difficult to say if it's the best win of my career. Right now it feels good, but tomorrow my mind will be back on the next race at Miami."

Da Matta extended his championship lead to 58 points over Bruno Junqueira, who finished fifth at Rockingham. Franchitti moved up to third in the title chase, 65 points adrift.

"I was worried about the points coming here," da Matta admitted. "I felt like I had the car to win the race, but it's very difficult to overtake here because of the fast corners and short straights. I have a pretty good advantage, but I can't relax until it's mathematically out of the question."

Carpentier remains fourth in the standings after finishing third, while Oriol Servia posted his best result since joining Patrick Racing by taking fourth. Takagi was a disappointed sixth after his strongest Champ car race to date. The Japanese ran second but the decision to bring him in three laps early for his final pit stop probably cost him a podium finish.

On his CART debut, Englishman Darren Manning impressed on his run to ninth place in his RML-run Team St George entry, and even led the race a couple of times during the pit stop sequence.

Manning said: "Wow, a top 10 finish, leading for some laps, I just have to say a big thank you to Dale Coyne, Ray Mallock and the RAC. I just wonder what we could have done given more time. We've improved all weekend. We showed we can run with the best, it was fantastic. They didn't tell me I was leading, and they didn't tell me me wing end plate had fallen off until the yellow came out! I hope this has opened some eyes in this pit lane to give some British talent a run."

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