Despite the raggedy start and the first lap first turn melee involving seven to ten cars, Pole sitter DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing led flag to flag and won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. He was the fifth different Indy Racing League Indy Car winner at Infineon in the five year history of the race in the wine country.

This was the first time since 2003 that an Indy Car driver led the race flag to flag. The last time was SCOTT DIXON/Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who led the entire Richmond race in June 2003. Franchitti’s victory moved him up to second in the points behind new points leader and race runner-up, RYAN BRISCOE/Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who finished 0.2488 seconds behind the Scottish driver.

Briscoe said he gave it his all, but just could not catch up despite using the Power to Pass boost assist at the end. He now leads the standings with 497 points – the fourth time he’s led the points this season. Franchitti has 493 points, and Franchitti’s teammate, SCOTT DIXON, went from first to third in the standings with 477 points.

Fourth in the standings is HELIO CASTRONEVES/Team Penske with 371 points. He finished eighteenth after suffering a broken suspension, possibly caused during a contact with TONY KANAAN/Andretti Green Racing. These top four drivers are the only ones still mathematically eligible for the 2009 Drivers Championship. DANICA PATRICK/Andretti Green Racing remains fifth in the standings, but is no longer a contender. She was one of those caught out in the first lap traffic jam and finished sixteenth.

Finishing third, his career-best finish, was Rookie MIKE CONWAY/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Fourth finisher was MARIO MORAES/KV Racing Technology, also his best. HIDEKI MUTOH/Andretti Green Racing finished fifth, second race in a row.

MARCO ANDRETTI/Andretti Green Racing took the checkered flag in eleventh place, but was put back to fourteenth by the IRL Stewards after the race for ‘avoidable contact’ with Dixon on the last turn on the last lap, spinning out Dixon. The position change moved Dixon up one place and one additional point, which will be crucial in the last three races.

This is the first time in IRL history there have been so many championship lead changes in one season – thirteen times in fourteen races. Three races remain.

Sunday was Franchitti’s first win at Infineon, fourth of the 2009 season, twelfth of IRL career, and 22nd of his open wheel career.

JUSTIN WILSON/Dale Coyne Racing qualified nineteenth, but started at the back due to a tire change. He got up to seventh before a late-race spin in Turn Eleven knocked him back a slot; but he quickly recovered and still finished seventh. He is eleventh in the points.

There were two cautions for seven laps: the first three laps for the multiple melee in Turn Two; and for four laps near the end of the race for Castroneves in Turn One and RYAN HUNTER-REAY in Turn Six. Both drivers DNF. Before the halfway mark, Castroneves was on a mission and turned the fastest race time on Lap 35 of 1:18.8427/105.156 mph.

Seventeen of the 22 starters finished the race, with all but two on the lead lap. The retirements were due to contact, mechanical problems or handling.

FRANCK MONTAGNY/Andretti Green Racing retired with handling problems. He was in a fifth AGR car, for this race only. He did a good job for AGR in American Le Mans Series last year. AGR co-owner, KIM GREEN, said “It would be great to add him to the series, if we could put together a program. His name would be logically on the list. The team presently plans to retain its four drivers.” Unlike NASCAR, IRL has no team limit on the number of cars it can run.

While the track policy is not to release attendance figures, many felt it was a great crowd. Franchitti commented on how full were the grand stands and hillsides.

Franchitti likes racing on road courses. “I think the more road and street courses the Indy Car Series has as well, we build that race fitness. Next year we’re going to do even more road and street courses. That’s cool.” Next year’s schedule calls for four road courses, five street races and seven oval races.

IRL races in six days for a night race at Chicagoland, a first for IRL at that track.