Helio makes it two wins in two days for Penske

Helio makes it two wins in two days for Penske

1 June 2014 – Despite several late-race restarts, no one had any answer for Helio Castroneves whenever a green flag would end a caution. His impeccable timing allowed him to cruise to a 1.7s victory over Penske team-mate Will Power in the second race of the weekend at the Belle Isle circuit. The Brazilian now moves into a tie with Rick Mears for 11th on the all-time IndyCar wins list.

Castroneves was the pole-sitter for yesterday's first Dual at Detroit race, but he was unable to convert that into a victory. Instead he came from third on the grid today using an effective three-stop strategy (the same which worked for Power en route to his win yesterday) mostly on black tyres. It was Helio's third win at Belle Isle and a strong shot in the arm for his championship hopes after narrowly missing out on his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory a week ago.

His championship rivals saw mixed results in their weekends. For Power, a win and a second place gave him a strong haul of points despite a penalty in the second Dual race for causing a caution on the first lap with an ill-timed pass across the kerbs. His wide exit pushed Josef Newgarden into the wall and into Graham Rahal, also collecting Justin Wilson. Charlie Kimball almost added his name to the list, but he bailed out onto the escape road and drove a strong race to finish third.

For Ryan Hunter-Reay, his miserable weekend continued. He had troubles in nearly every session of the weekend, and while he hoped to bounce back in the second race, contact with the wall in qualifying meant he would again start at the back of the field. He tried to gain ground on the field by pitting on lap two under the first caution, but problems with the electronic control unit ended his race on Lap 61. He crashed out of yesterday's Dual unceremoniously in the waning laps, also netting him few points.

The race was false-started at the beginning when several cars got out of position in the final turn, and even when the actual green flag came out, three laps later the field was back under caution due to Power's incident. On the restart, pole-sitter Takuma Sato established himself early, growing a lead of a couple of seconds over Castroneves, who had jumped James Hinchcliffe at the start.

Scott Dixon was one of several drivers who pitted under that early caution, ditching his sticker red tyres for blacks, which he stayed on for the rest of the race. Pitting on-sequence with the rest of the eventual winners, Dixon's three-stop strategy kept him at the front with minimal battling despite starting dead last, and after a few straightforward overtakes, the Kiwi grabbed fourth when, on the final lap, a missed overtaking opportunity nearly sent P4 Hinchcliffe into the wall. He got out of the throttle, allowing Dixon to get past.

Also on the charge after the first round of pit stops was Englishman Mike Conway. One of the fastest cars on track throughout the first two thirds of the event, Conway's off-sequence strategy looked to be aiming for a two-stop as he carved through the field and into the lead. After a few laps of consistently flat-spotting his front tyres, though, Conway was forced to pit on lap 49 in the middle of his stint, ending his chances at victory. He would finish P11.

Sebastien Saavedra brought out the second caution of the race after hitting the wall and stopping on track, and in the aftermath, only Sato and Hinchcliffe pitted from the front of the field. This handed the lead to Hinchcliffe, especially after Sato took an unusually long time to refuel. As a result, Helio got by Sato in the order and never looked back.

All the while, Power continued to put in laps that were level with the leaders, working his way from last in the field after his penalty. Through pit-stop rotations, the Aussie was soon running in P2 behind Conway, who was nearly ten seconds ahead (but was yet to pit).

When Conway shot into the pit lane on lap 26, Power followed suit a lap later to try to match the leader's strategy. This gave the lead back to Castroneves, who would again regain the lead after he pitted later than the leaders on Lap 34. This shorter stint ended up coinciding with Power's last stop, with both drivers coming in on Lap 49.  Helio led coming out of the pits and would hold onto the lead until the end.

The next caution came out with just 13 laps to go after Sebastian Bourdais understeered into the tyre wall, bunching the field and eliminated Helio's 9.5s lead. A lengthy period behind the pace car meant that the field would go green with just seven to go, but a strong restart meant Castroneves would not be challenged.

However, a couple of laps later, Sato was hit from behind by Marco Andretti, sending the Japanese driver into the wall and the American driver into the pits for a drive-through penalty. Another full-course caution was deployed, again forcing Castroneves to defend another restart.

The race would go green with three to go, and again the Brazilian made it look easy. A thankfully calm last few laps allowed Castroneves to cross the line without incident, giving Chevrolet engines a podium sweep (and a fourth place from Scott Dixon). He and his crew would climb the fence on the frontstretch, 13 years after he created his signature style of celebration that earned him the nickname "The Spider-Man."

The Verizon IndyCar Series will return to action in one week at the 1.5mi Texas Motor Speedway for a 600km oval race in the Firestone 600.

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