MADISON, Ill. — Helio Castroneves did it the old-fashioned way Sunday: He drove without any cockpit electronics to win the Emerson Indy 250 and end his 20-race winless streak.
Castroneves, who came within a few feet of at least two other wins since taking the checkered flag at the 2002 Indianapolis 500, got a big break this time, when dominating Scott Dixon dropped out with a gearbox problem while leading with 43 of 200 laps remaining at Gateway International Raceway.
“Scott Dixon was very fast, but I cannot feel sorry for him, believe me,” a jubilant Castroneves said. “It’s happened to me many times.”
Castroneves ran the entire race with no readout on his steering wheel, meaning he had to make his own decisions when to shift and had only guesswork on fuel.
“It’s like flying in a plane without instruments,” said Castroneves, who finally got a chance to be Spiderman again, climbing the fence as the crowd cheered after the victory.
Penske Racing team president Tim Cindric, who oversees Castroneves’ pit during races, said, “You don’t know if you have enough fuel at the end. You just have to wait and see.”
Dixon, who came into the race leading the IndyCar Series standings by one point over Tony Kanaan, three over defending race winner Gil de Ferran and 23 over Castroneves, appeared to be cruising toward his fourth win of the season.
Dixon survived a hard bump from behind on pit lane early in the race. The New Zealander led 78 laps, was out front by as much as 9 seconds and was leading by nearly 6 seconds when he slowed suddenly on lap 158 and watched helplessly as the rest of the field sped past on the 1.25-mile oval.
Castroneves inherited the race lead and was less than a second in front of fellow Brazilian Kanaan, but Kanaan was never able to mount a challenge and Castroneves’ Penske Racing Dallara-Toyota crossed the finish line 0.847-seconds — about six car-lengths — in front. It was his fifth Indy Racing League victory, including the 2001 Indy 500, when he was still a regular in the rival CART Champ Car series.
Kanaan regained the series lead with 357 points, followed by de Ferran with 350 and Castroneves 347. Dixon fell all the way to fourth, 24 points behind the leader with five races remaining.
Tomas Scheckter finished fourth, followed by Dan Wheldon, two-time defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr., Tora Takagi and Greg Ray, the only competitors on the lead lap at the end.
There were no serious accidents on the track, but a crewman for Al Unser Jr. was seriously injured in a pit accident.
Anton Julian, Unser’s left rear tire changer, was transported by helicopter to St. Louis University Hospital in nearby St. Louis, Mo., in serious condition with unidentified injuries. Track officials said Julian was conscious.
Tracy, who had finished second four times in 10 previous appearances at Mid-Ohio, averaged 106.251 mph and won by 0.51 seconds over Player’s-Forsythe teammate Patrick Carpentier in the first one-two finish for the team. Carpentier won here last year and was third in 2001.
Rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started second, finished a career-best third.
Tracy pulled away from the field to take a big lead at the start and led 69 of the 92 laps, losing the lead only on pit stops for 13 laps to Adrian Fernandez and 10 laps to Tiago Monteiro, both of whom pitted out of sequence.
Monteiro later was given a stop-and-go penalty for blocking Mario Dominguez.
Tracy’s career-high sixth victory of the season gave him a 20-point lead in the driver standings over Bruno Junqueira. Tracy won the maximum 23 points for the race — 20 for winning, one for leading the most laps and two for being the top qualifier Friday and Saturday.
Junqueira failed to pick up any points. He finished 13th, losing two laps when Oriol Servia bumped him on the 13th lap, sending him off course.