Helio Castroneves took the checkers in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, for his first IZOD IndyCar Series win in 14 starts. It was Castroneves' 15th career IZOD IndyCar Series victory and 21st overall in American open-wheel racing. It was also the third consecutive win for Team Penske, which scored the other two with teammate Will Power.
Helio's first win of the year was never a certainty, however, as he did not hold the lead until late in the race. In fact, Marco Andretti held the point for the majority of the event, and Power, strong as his car was, led in the early stages.
Power and Mike Conway started on the front row. The start was clean, save for Scott Dixon's early jump, as was much of the race. Drivers found the new racetrack to have very few passing zones, and only the most daring were able to perform solid overtakes.
As such, many felt that an alternate pit strategy could help facilitate a solid run. Many drivers were banking on a race with a lot of long green flag runs, setting up whoever had enough fuel to go to the end to take victory. Drivers who decided to pit early included Alex Tagliani and Dan Wheldon.
In another stroke of bad luck for Takuma Sato, his car lost power early in the race. The KV Racing Technology crew managed to get him going again, however, and returned him to the race 21 laps down. Sato lost another lap before the finish, but at least salvaged a race with the car completely intact.
Sato was the only driver to finish more than four laps down, however. In fact, nobody crashed out of the event, though Milka Duno and Hideki Mutoh found themselves involved in off-track excursions, and Simona de Silvestro was turned around late in the race.
Under the Sato caution, Power, Conway, and many of the other leaders pit, facilitating a changing of the guard at the front of the field. The two pit again on lap 42, with Conway taking on the red alternate tires and beating Power out of the pits. Their pit strategy, however, got them caught behind a lot of cars for much of the race, and neither were really factors in the finish.
Marco Andretti took the lead after a daring move on Helio Castroneves and held on for an extended period of time. The triumvirate of Andretti, Castroneves, and Scott Dixon maintained their positions for a while, turning the race into a Formula 1-esque parade. Dario Franchitti settled in fourth, while Power pushed his way up to fifth. It appeared that Andretti could win his first race since 2006, as he was in the lead for a race-high 58 out of 90 laps.
But Andretti had to pit with eight laps to go, falling to fifth and handing the lead to Helio as Dixon attempted to cut the interval. But the lapped car of Rafa Matos appeared to impede Dixon's progress, until de Silvestro's spin and subsequent full-course caution with five laps to go bunched the field again.
Castroneves and Dixon broke away from the pack on the restart, but the Iceman was unable to catch the Spiderman.
Penske and Ganassi domination, while uncertain early on, ended up ruling the day, as Andretti was the only driver outside the top six not to drive for the series' top two teams. Andretti Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing each had two cars in the top 10, while the 10th and final spot was filled by Tagliani and the young but formidable FAZZT Race Team.
Power maintains his points lead, with 136 points, and a 32 marker advantage over teammate Castroneves. Franchitti is third with 94, Justin Wilson holds fourth with 85, and Dixon is fifth with 80.
Next weekend, the series heads to southern California for the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Power won the event in 2008, the final time it was held under Champ Car regulations. Last year, he finished second to Franchitti.