“Speedy” Dan Clarke is still waiting for his first Champ Car victory – but the Generac Grand Prix of Road America provided him with visible proof of progress and a great example to follow.
The young Minardi pilot’s impressive drive to a career-best second place did much to dispel memories of his error-strewn race in San Jose and to vindicate his team’s belief that a good result was only a matter of time.
And he will have noted how persistence finally paid off for race winner Sebastien Bourdais, who was at last able to translate pole position into victory at Elkhart Lake on the fourth attempt. Bourdais led 51 of 53 laps, set the fastest race lap and won by nearly ten seconds.
He was pressed at the start of the race by Clarke’s fellow Minardi driver Robert Doornbos, but the Dutchman lost ground running wide on lap 24. A lap later, while slowing, he was clipped by his team-mate and was forced into the pits with a damaged front wing.
Clarke’s start wasn’t particularly good, as he fell back to eleventh from his eighth place grid position. He pitted under the full-course yellow conditions on the second lap and came back out to take the green in twelfth.
He put on a fresh set of the black Bridgestone tyres, and made his way through the field. He was consistently the fastest car on the track, and worked his way up to the fourth position until his accidental contact with Doornbos gained him another place.
According to his team: “After assessing that his car wasn’t damaged, he settled in and drove an amazing race. The Number 4 Crew had remarkable pit stops and gained a position in the pits to come out ahead of Rahal to put Dan in second place. He then put his head down and drove a clean, steady race to bring home his best Champ Car finish to date.”
Clarke said: “I’m really happy with second place today, and at such a great circuit. We really needed this result after all the bad luck we have had so far this year, just threatening to have a podium finish, and it’s been a long time coming, but now our luck seems to have changed.
“I have to thank all of my crew for sticking with me and persevering even when things weren’t great, and I’m looking forward to going home to England for a bit and then racing in Europe. I guess the black sheep sometimes comes through at the end.”
Further down the field Justin Wilson had a frustrating day, initially stuck between 10th and 12th place and then suffering mechanical problems. He eventually finished eighth and remains fourth overall in the championship.
“I really would have liked to have done better for CDW and all our partners,” he said. “We had a piece of body work come loose in the race, which did not help us at all. The #9 CDW crew pushed through it and we were able to continue on. My crew gave me some good stops and we had a reasonable race strategy, but that was not enough to have a better result this afternoon. We will take what points we were able to collect and go on to Europe.”
Team co-owner Dan Pettit added: “It was a rough weekend for the #9 CDW team. We did everything we could to move Justin up, but we just didn’t get the yellows that we would have needed. However, I think that we got the most out of the #9 CDW car that we could today and we were able to move up a few positions this afternoon.
“A few of the guys ahead of us in the championship standings lost some points to us, so that is pretty good because we were able to close the gap a little more. So I do not think that we are in bad shape as we prepare for the remainder of the season.”
Dale Coyne Racing’s Katherine Legge might be forgiven for wondering whether Road America is a jinxed circuit for her or a blessed one, as for the second year running she escaped unharmed from a potentially fatal incident.
Last year a rear wing failure sent her into a terrifying high-speed crash. This year her car – again sporting a pink livery in support of breast cancer research – was engulfed in flames during refuelling.
She said: “When we came in for our last stop the fuel cell in the car split and that is what caused the fire in the engine. All I heard was ‘get out of the car’ and I unbuckled and got the heck out. When I got out to a safe area that is when the fire really intensified.
“I’m OK and I’m so glad that everyone on my crew was alright too. This is the second time I’ve been really lucky here at Road America. It must be the pink car. Maybe I will have to bring another colour car here next year.”
Even without the fire she had struggled to be competitive: “We spent most of the race trying to eliminate issues that were giving us problems on the car so that we can be ready for Europe in two weeks. I can’t wait to go to Belgium and Holland for our next two races.”
Ryan Dalziel returned from a one-race absence caused by a broken collarbone, but played little part in the day’s events, retiring after just a handful of laps with mechanical problems.
He said: “I am obviously disappointed but at the same time I am just happy to be here. I felt great in the car and I think we had a solid finish ahead of us.
“Unfortunately we had a failure with the fuel pump during our first stop which was a shame. As soon as I hit the pitlane speed limiter, the car just died and despite the great efforts of my team we were not able to get it going again.”