Tim Doyle, in the FoytWines.com #11 won an eventful opening race to the 2012 Afterburn IndyCar Series presented by Glacier TV, holding-off a challenge from Yang Ou on a last lap restart to take the twin checkers.
26 drivers took the green flag, with Doyle and Ou both forced to start from pit lane after an admin glitch led to the race session starting too early. With the duo originally set to line-up on the front row, pole position was handed over to Swiss sim racer Yves Wanner in the #88, who stormed to an early advantage. A 13 car breakaway ensued for the first long green flag run, which involved green flag pit stops, as Jonathon Goke in the #08 Purple Fury/Aero-X machine managed to take the lead at the start of Lap 14, and held off the retaliation effort by Wanner. Further back, a number of new drivers to the series were mixing it up with series veterans, with drivers all driving right on the ragged edge.
The first caution of the day came on Lap 59, when Ryan Norton, attempting to recover from a slide, was run over by John Ahles trying to avoid them. Although neither sustained major damage, the incident hurt both drivers chances as the race continued to evolve. The caution saw a couple of drivers pulling down into Pit Lane to top-off on fuel in an attempt to play a longer-term strategy option. The caution was a relief for a few drivers, who had been forced to take speeding penalties on the first round of pit stops, and were able to get the wave around to regain the lead lap.
The second caution of the day came out on Lap 84 , when Robert Carlsson lost the rear end of the car coming into Turn 1. The famous motto “Cautions Breed Cautions” then decided to ring true within the speedway walls, as Goke brushed up the race track into Marc Fangmann within two laps of the green flag flying, whilst battling for fourth position. Mark Warmington and Julien Pham were also involved as they tried to avoid the mess ahead of them. This caution allowed most drivers to dive down pit lane again, in the knowledge that they would only need to fill-up to the brim one more time should the race be run to completion under the green flag.
After the chaos, a little bit of calm returned as the field enjoyed a lengthy caution free run that ended with until a two car incident involving Jussi Nieminen and Robert Carlsson, triggering the day’s fourth caution. Attempting to enter pit lane on the slow, flat apron, Nieminen just went a little bit too fast on entry, caught the grass and lost steering, leaving Carlson in the #98 nowhere to go.
The timing of the caution made for some very interesting strategy options as all the drivers came down pit road, and a number returned a couple of laps later to top-off. The fuel window being around 55 laps meant the drivers who topped-off would need to save just one lap of fuel in the final stint should it remain green, whereas the drivers who didn’t would have certainly be forced to make one final pitstop.
That became a moot point when caution #5 flew on Lap 168, after Goke slammed into the wall coming out of Turn 4. As his car drifted down the racetrack, Shane Dougherty was left with nowhere to go, ploughing into the rear of the #08 Dallara and ending both drivers’ races. Race control decided to review the action after the race, issuing Goke with a warning for not ensuring he left the path clear for other drivers, with a suspended 10 place grid penalty should a similar incident happen in the next five oval races. Under the caution, Doyle, fighting for the lead at the time, dove down into pit lane along with Ou, Wanner and Norton for fresh tyres, in the hope that they could claw their way back through the field. The decision by Doyle was very similar to that of his last Afterburn IndyCar Series outing at Richmond in 2011, where he tried to use fresh rubber to his advantage at the end of the race, though that time, he was unsuccessful, albeit barely.
After a solid race in his first outing in the series, Steve Claeys brought-out the sixth caution of the day, adding tension as drivers entered the last quarter of the race. Lambertson led the charge as the green flag dropped with 21 laps to go, but Doyle and Ou led a storming charge to take the top two positions almost immediately after the restart. The battle behind them intensified with the top eight drivers all squabbling for the same piece of racetrack, with Ponti, running ninth leading the rookie charge.
The final caution of the day came with just six laps to go, setting the field up for a one lap shootout. For the second time in a row, Claeys was involved in the caution, as Julien Pham just clipped the apron in Turn 3 and brushed up into his #13 car. As the field paced round behind the pace car, drivers became aware of the fact that there would be a one lap dash to the flag. On the restart Doyle floored it immediately in a successful bid to put as much gap between himself and Ou, who had been fighting for the lead for a good 15 laps. Behind, Andrew Aitken took advantage of the slow starting #26 of Norton to take third coming into Turn 1. Half a lap later, Wanner, looking to salvage a podium position to kick off his championship defence, was forced down onto the Turn 3 apron, as the gaps around him closed, but managed to take home fifth behind Norton.
12 drivers finished on the lead lap at the end of the race, with a further two drivers a lap down. Giorgio Ponti secured the highest finish of a rookie into the series in eighth, just behind Jason Hyatt. This coming Sunday, the first road race of the season takes place at Daytona International Speedway (Road), where Nico Brandt in particular will looks to have a strong finish, as he defends his Road Series Crown.
For more information about the series, visit: http://www.team-afterburn.com/indyseason.php
Results Sheet: http://www.team-afterburn.com/race04032012.php