Monday, May 30, 2011

A wounded car is fair game?



Wheldon Wins In Crazy Finish To The Indy 500

(by Marshall Pruett speed.com 5-29-11)

Rookie JR Hildebrand had the world in his hands. With the lead of the Indy 500 and a win in his grasp, a costly mistake--understeering in the marbles on the outside of Turn 4 as he approached the checkered flag--handed the win to 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

Running on fumes and with Wheldon charging hard on the Lap 199, Hildebrand had a choice: He could slow down behind the car of Charlie Kimball in Turn 4 and hope to make it to the finish ahead of Wheldon, or he could try to pass Kimball on the outside of Turn 4. It was a tough decision for the rookie, who went to the outside and crashed hard but kept his foot in the throttle and powered across the start/finish line with the right side of his car smashed to bits.

In hindsight The beneficiary of Hildebrand's crash was the man who finished second at Indy last year in Hildebrand's ride.

Wheldon did the impossible by taking Bryan Herta Autosport--in only its second race--into the history books as the winner of the Indy Centennial event.

In a year filled with unexpected winners driving for small teams--Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers at the Daytona 500 and the ORECA Peugeot outfit at the 12 Hours of Sebring--the 2011 Indy 500 followed the theme with Bryan Herta's bands of underdogs.

"Dan Wheldon is probably the best Indy 500 driver ever," said Herta. "We actually won!"

"I was driving as hard as I could," said Wheldon as he fought back tears in Victory Lane. "I just kept pushing. It's a fantastic achievement. It's an incredible feeling. I never gave up. It's unfortunate for JR, but it's fortunate for me. I drove it like I stole it."

The result by the small BHA team also represents the first Indy 500 win by an Indy-only entrant in recent history.

Panther Racing team owner John Barnes was conciliatory after watching another chance at victory disappear in cruel fashion.

"To come here with a rookie at his first Indy 500. [Hildebrand] drove the hell out of the thing all day. It's just one of those things. We have to hold our heads up high. He put us in a position to win. I couldn't be prouder of him right now."

Speculation surrounded the finish as the final lap was officially run under a yellow flag. The rules dictate that the finish would normally revert back to the running order on the previous lap--Lap 199, which Hildebrand led--but because Hildebrand caused the yellow, the results will stand.

"[IndyCar Race Director] Brian Barnhart explained to us that because JR was a wounded car on the last lap, he was fair game," said Barnes. "I'm fine with that. It's a classy decision and we're not going to protest."

After he'd had a few moments to gather his thoughts, Hildebrand was left to ponder what could have been.

"My disappointment is for the team and the National Guard. We knew that we had a fast car and that if the race came to us we'd be top 3 or top 5. As a driver, as a rookie, I'm smart enough not to expect to win the Indy 500 in my first year. But we were in that position, and we should have won the Indy 500. I'm not pissed that my face won't be on the Borg Warner trophy. There were some choice words going through my head, and then they were still going through my head when I hit the wall. It's a helpless feeling. It can happen at road courses and other places, but it's most extreme here. It was certainly my mistake."

Graham Rahal, who finished third 25 years after his father won the race, was happy to turn in his best result of the season with his new Ganassi Racing entry.

"It felt great. All my Service Central guys did a great job. We passed a ton of cars. It feels great to be in this position."

Rahal's ascension from 29th to third represented the biggest improvement of any driver in the race.

Tony Kanaan, who started 22nd and passed cars relentlessly all day, finished fourth. While Rahal is believed to have completed more passes, Kanaan's efforts were still remarkable.

Starting 22nd, TK passed his way to fourth, fell back to 24th when his pit stall was blocked during a caution flag, then fought all the way back to second, before settling for fourth.

“We had a problem on a pit stop because of somebody else," said the Brazilian. "We had a good car. We drove hard all day. It was a lot of fun. I am surely happy for Dan [Wheldon]. He’s been through a lot. He got thrown out the window. A lot of people said that he wasn’t good enough. I’ve been through that at the end of last year. I didn’t have the car to win. It was a good race for us. I’m happy for the KV guys.”

The jaw-dropping finish had the massive crowd--estimated as the best turnout since 1995, according to SPEED's Robin Miller--on their feet as they watched the final lap in disbelief.

The possibility of a rookie winning on the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 was just seconds away from becoming a reality, but things hit a fever pitch as Hildebrand's dreams slammed into the SAFER barrier.

More dreams were dashed as Danica Patrick came within 11 laps of scoring her first Indy 500 win on a day that many speculate could be her last at the Speedway...at least in an Indy car.

"It's the Indy 500; you have to take a chance to win," said Patrick. "I would much rather leave here finishing a little bit further down by taking a chance and having the option to win than coming away with a lower position and not having that chance. Overall it was a great day for the whole GoDaddy.com team. We have kept our heads up all month and came out ahead at the end. We will use this as positive momentum going into Texas."

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Bertrand Baguette--the least known driver in the field--also had victory in sight with four laps left to run, but like Patrick, had to pit for fuel. He would lead 11 laps on his way to a finish of seventh.

“We had a great strategy and we really had a quick car today,” Baguette said. “It was crazy, to be leading the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, it was unbelievable! We knew that we couldn’t save enough fuel to get to the end, so I just had to go for it and hope for a yellow, but it didn’t come. It was a great day for us.”

200 laps earlier, the insane finish that capped the 2011 edition of the Indy 500 looked highly improbable.

The race started with what can only be described as a complete mess. Detailed plans and revisions to the starting procedure fell apart immediately as the first few rows appeared to thumb their collective noses at the start/restart policies enacted by the IndyCar Series.

With Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon pulling clear of the field, the 2008 Indy 500 winner led until pole winner Alex Tagliani took the point on Lap 7. With Dixon or Tagliani leading the most of the first half of the race, the Ganassi duo of Dixon and Franchitti took control of the race as the French-Canadian began to fade.

The defending champions saw what looked like an easy run to another 500 win evaporate along with the final few drops of fuel in Scott Dixon's fuel tank.

For reasons unknown, Dixon's crew car did not receive a full load of fuel on the Kiwi's final stop, according to his crew chief, which caused the No. 9 car to sputter on the final laps. Dixon was catching Wheldon and Hildebrand handily when fuel issues intervened. Dixon was also run out of fuel in qualifying--along with Franchitti--on Pole Day.

Dixon would place sixth, leaving the pits in an unpleasant mood, while Franchitti, who pitted on Lap 164 and should have had enough fuel to make it to the finish, had to pit for a splash and go, falling to 12th at the finish.

“Between Dario Franchitti and myself, we had this one pretty well covered. This is one of those places where it’s tough to win. We went on a bit of a run fuel-wise late in the race, and that’s what paid off for us last year. The yellow came a lot later. We short-fueled, and why we short-fueled, I don’t know. We stopped 10 laps later than anybody else on any strategy, there’s no way we should run out of fuel. My car was pretty quick. When we were up front, we were burning the left front tire off early in the race. We finally made a few changes near the end, and the car was pretty good. It just didn’t go our way. I definitely leave here thinking that I should have won my second ‘500.’”

If Dixon's comments skewed toward being slightly positive, Franchitti struggled to find much to celebrate within the Ganassi team.

"I thought our Target car was as good as anything out there today," said Franchitti. "The engineers made good calls fixing the balance of the car. The mechanics, the pit stops were fantastic. And we're leading the race, and we came in to do that stop. But I don't know. I don't understand right now. They're going to have to explain that one to me. I'm proud of the Target team for the job they did today. And as sad and disgusted as I feel right now, I have to say congratulations to my old teammates, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta. That's pretty cool. As sad as I feel right now, there's still a little smile in there for those boys. And I will say, it's going to be one hell of a party tonight. But I feel really bad for my team. I feel bad for myself right now, and I feel bad for Scott. It's a good race, sad end."

Mike Hull, managing director for the Ganassi entries, offered the following explanation of the fuel issues encountered by the Target cars:

“First, Congratulations to Dan Wheldon and Brian Herta. Good things happened today to good people. They were strong in qualifying, and through the entire race which is how you win the Indy 500. As far as the Target car for Scott Dixon – we simply had a fuel error as we missed by one gallon. It wasn’t a matter of gambling or being cute as we pitted with twenty laps to go and thought that there was enough fuel for a shoot-out at the end . We’re not sure exactly what happened in the fueling process, but we already started looking into it. Scott had a great race car, and he was doing his job to the best of his ability. Personally, I am very disappointed that we didn’t take advantage of how hard Scott worked to be at the front at the end. On the 10 car side with Dario Franchitti , the team pitted on the same lap as last year when they won the race. Dario’s group employed a proven strategy on the 10 car that gave them the best chance to win. Winning at Indy means everything to our Target group, and anything short of that is tough to accept.”

Behind Dixon, Oriol Servia placed sixth for Newman/Haas Racing after leading 18 laps in the latter stages of the race. The Catalonian never appeared to have the full measure of Dixon or Franchitti, but the open-wheel veteran drove a spotless race to deliver NHR's best day at Indy since Bruno Junqueira finished fifth in 2004.

“Fifth is the lowest we were on the scoreboard the whole race but it was a great effort," he said. "We were up there; we showed we may have something for these guys. This is the Indy 500, it’s the Centennial and when you smell victory you really, really want it and nothing else satisfies you. We showed the CDW Telemundo car had the speed. I thought there was going to be a last restart and with the downforce we had, I knew we would have something for those guys and we did. We’ll go for the win in Milwaukee now. It felt awesome when I took the lead but it felt incredibly amazing when I pulled away and I was there 20 laps. It showed me that we had what it took. It’s great to lead, but at the end if you think you don’t have a shot but it just feels good to tell your grandson one day that you lead the 500, fine. But what really feels good is when you say ‘Wait a second, we really do have a real shot at winning this depending on how this thing goes.’ I felt at one point we were stronger than the other cars because we had more downforce and everybody else was sliding and we were not. So I thought ‘Wait a second, we could still win this.’ I can only imagine what it is to lead the last lap.”

Servia leaves Indy third in the championship standings. His young teammate, Canadian rookie James Hinchcliffe, ran in the top 15 until crashing on his own on Lap 101.

“It was a disappointing day," said the Toronto native. "A disappointing end for the Sprott car because we rebounded pretty well. At that point we were driving on borrowed time after what happened with Viso and I forget who else it was on that restart. He got into us, we got hit and had to come in and save the car from going into the wall on that one. I'm not quite sure how we managed that so we were sort of driving on borrowed time. We were just trying to be a bit conservative. We got lucky on a yellow and got in around the top 10. We were just about to pit; the tires were just starting to go off. Bertrand got a good run on me and I was really just trying to let him go. I backed off early and was giving him the corner but unfortunately got a little bit in the grey. With how worn the tires were, at that stage of the stint I was just a passenger.”

Behind Servia and Baguette, Tomas Scheckter--by far the bravest driver in the state of Indiana on Sunday--made mind-bending passes in the marbles to claim eighth for his KV/SH Racing team. The fearless--and often shirtless--South African delivered another stellar performance at the Indy 500.

“I had to work hard for what I had today," he said. "I pushed hard on the restarts, and that’s how I gained positions. A big thanks to REDLINE and all the people who put their effort in this, Circle K. We struggled a bit on straight-line speed, but we made up for it in other places. We made up for it with a consistent car.”

The top Andretti Autosport car belonged to Marco Andretti who briefly ran third with just over 10 laps to go, but a stop for fuel dropped him back like so many others as the race reached the final 25 miles.

“We made a call to lose track position, and we were trim. So we were trimmed in the back. So the car was good until we trimmed. We were sitting pretty with some track position, and then we gave it away. It’s a team effort. They were all running out of fuel at the end. If there is wasn’t one more yellow, maybe we’re coming full tilt and they’re all slowing up. We went for it as a team.”

The double-file restarts provided a new element of excitement during the race, and despite its appeal for the fans, Andretti made it clear he'd like to see them go away on his next trip to Indy.

“I’m going to be very frank about that and say they’re trying to kill somebody. I’m glad it’s great for the fans, but the risk where we’re at is just ridiculous. It’s a lottery."

Ed Carpenter recorded the best finish at the Indy 500 for Sarah Fisher Racing, placing 11th. The frustrated Hoosier wasn't a threat to the top cars, but made the most of the situation for his team and sponsors.

"It was a weird day today," he said. "We were running pretty good early on and had good track position. Things were going well, but halfway through we just lost a handle on the car. We were trying different changes on stops and we finally figured it out, but it was probably one stop too late. We lost a lot of track position and struggled to get back in the mix. It's a disappointing finish to the month for the Dollar General guys. We deserve better than 11th for how we ran this month, but that's the way it goes sometimes at Indy; it breaks your heart."

Charlie Kimball was the second-best rookie in the field, placing 13th for Ganassi Racing.

"It was a very successful effort at my first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Top 15 is what we were shooting for. That last stint, we went on an alternate fuel strategy, trying to make a gain. I went a lap down there at the end. The No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen car was amazing. I feel like I let it down. All day, we didn't miss a beat in the pits. The whole NovoNordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team. When I was wrong on the marks, they'd get it right. When I was short, they'd get it right. They covered a lot for me. I have to appreciate them for that. It was a big effort all day. We brought home a 13th."

One team that managed to completely miss the mark at Indy on Sunday was Team Penske. The Capitan's three-car team has now gone two straight years at Indy without leading a lap, and came home with a best finish of 14th for Will Power. Power's day got off to a rough start when his team failed to secure his left rear wheel during a Lap 23 pit stop. The Aussie returned slowly to the pits to get a fresh tire, but mechanical damage was done to the brakes in the incident.

"At the first pit stop, the wheel came loose and knocked the bleed screw off, so I had no brakes," he said. "So we did a stint like that, came in, and had to fix that, got a lap down, and that was it for the day. We just had to try and fight our way back."

Helio Castroneves suffered a number of problems and miscues, and even when things were going well, his car wasn't particularly fast.

“The turbulence of this season has continued," he said. "We had a very big vibration at the beginning, and we had to do an unscheduled pit stop. And then we had a flat tire. We were able to try to get back on the lead [lap], and then we had that flat tire. So it was one of those things. In the end, we were just trying to do something crazy, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it. We’ll go for the next one. Certainly, we learned a lot. This was the first oval [of the season]. I do believe we learned a lot because this car wasn’t a strong one. We’ve got to keep fighting because one day we’re going to get it.”

Ryan Briscoe was an innocent victim in a crash that was induced by Townsend Bell on Lap 157, ending his day on the spot.

"I saw Townsend brush the wall in Turn 4," he said. "Everyone was going down the inside. I was just following through on the inside into Turn 1. I just think he didn't know I was there, and he just came down and pinched me. As soon as we made contact, the wheels interlocked. And that was it."

Bell disagreed with how the accident manifested between he and the Team Penske driver.

"It's a shame. The Herbalife 24 car was competitive here, running up front. I've got to see the replay, but it seems like somebody hit me in my left rear, I think it was Ryan. I saved it in Turn 1 and whammo, it got me again and pinned me in the wall."

A.J. Foyt Racing had a relatively quiet day, with Vitor Meira placing 14th, and guest driver Ryan Hunter-Reay placing 23rd after brushing the wall.

"We dealt with a lot of issues today, but everybody dealt with tricky conditions today, which made for a loose race car," said Hunter-Reay. "But we really struggled more than others. It was a monumental task to prepare a car in 30 laps of warm-up for the longest race of the year and most important race of the year. The ABC Supply and DHL/Sun Drop guys did a great job preparing the car; we just missed the balance. For me, all day, it was an exercise of just keeping the car out of the wall. I almost lost it at least 12 times."

Justin Wilson was the first car home for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The team is normally towards the sharp end of the second-tier teams at Indy, but with Wilson in 15th, Ana Beatriz in 21st, Davey Hamilton in 24th and Paul Tracy, who had a myriad of problems--including a bit of contact with the wall--in 25th, it was a rather forgettable day for the four-car team.

Buddy Rice, JR Hildebrand's teammate, finished 18th and had a tough day with the timing of cautions.

"The race was long," he said. "I got hung out by two yellows. It went green when we were half a lap down, so that wasn't real exciting to do on top of that. It wasn't another second-place finish, so in that aspect it was disappointing. [The team] had one car up top, so that was the most important."

Alex Lloyd, who finished fourth in 2010, settled for 19th this year in the Boy Scouts of America car.

"It was a difficult race," said the Englishman. "We didn't quite have the car we needed. We tried our best; we had a shot at the top 15 near the end and tried to turn it into a top 10. We took a gamble on fuel and it didn't work, so we landed outside the top 15. We didn't have the speed; we haven't had it all month. It was a difficult day, but the big thing was getting this car in the show. We almost missed it. The crew got us in the show. We ran a clean race, and we did the best we could with what we had."

Pippa Mann started 31st and finished 20th in her first Indy 500, and says getting to the end was a challenge from the outset.

“I think I realized when my water bottle wasn’t working on lap one that it was going to be a fairly long race,” Mann said. “But, I’m not sure I realized exactly how long! Before the halfway point at around lap 80, I was starting to go into cramp down my right-hand side from dehydration. The last half of the race was extremely tough."

Alex Tagliani added to the misery encountered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports when he bent his right front suspension against the wall. Tags led 20 laps on SSM's 10th anniversary as an entrant at Indy, finishing 28th, but walked away with his pole as the high memory of the event.

"The Bowers & Wilkins 77 car was fairly competitive early in the race," he said. "I can't thank enough my team. They did a fantastic job all month long. We had a really good, balanced car early on. It was nice to drive it. Then all of the sudden, it became very loose. I couldn't really get it back on track, you know, with all the tools I had in the car. So we were struggling with a very nervous car. In one of our pit stops, we thought we fixed it, but we didn't. It's a shame, because early on the car was so good I thought we had a shot at it all race long. But we kind of lost the car at some point; very curious. When the car became loose, I don't think we were going to become a threat for Dario and [Dixon]. It was a shame, because early on I think we had something for them. It's something we're going to have to look at. I don't know why exactly the car became loose."

Jay Howard's first Indy 500 lasted only 60 laps when a rear tire came loose after a pit stop. He would crash his car after the wheel departed his car, spinning the Briton into the wall.

"I was having a great race," he said. "I've got to thank my Service Central guys, Sam Schmidt and Rahal Letterman Lanigan for giving me an opportunity here. Everyone worked really hard. I had a great car. I was loving every minute of it. We were making our way through the field. I think I got as high as 12th or 13th. The car felt really good. I'm not sure exactly what was wrong, but I lost the right rear wheel. I don't know if it was an issue with the nut gun. I'm not sure what happened."

Howard would be credited with 30th, while Simona De Silvestro, who touched the wall on the first lap, finished 31st.

"I made contact with the wall in Turn 1, and it bent the upright and the rear suspension," she said. "It didn't feel real good, and we realized that the upright was bent. A big thanks to HVM Racing for all they have done for me this week and to Nuclear Clean Energy. The car felt really good until I made that little mistake in Turn 1."

E.J. Viso was sent into the wall on Lap 27 as he ran three-wide into Turn 1.

"I was running with Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe, and I believe that James Hinchcliffe missed a gear and he lost his momentum out of Turn 4," he said. "Graham Rahal went on the inside, and I went on the outside. Then when we were approaching Turn 1, I got hit on my rear left tire and it spun me."

Viso's KV Racing-Lotus teammate Takuma Sato was the first car out of the Indy Centennial after sliding into the wall after getting into the marbles.

"I couldn't see that the car was inside of me, and by the time I got into Turn 1, it was full speed and the car was there and I had to lift," he said. "I am very disappointed, and it is quite unfortunate that I am not a part of the race. I wasn't supposed to be hanging on that way, and it is very disappointing. I really wanted to finish the race."

INDIANAPOLIS - Results Sunday of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (6) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
2. (12) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
3. (29) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
4. (22) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
5. (2) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
6. (3) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
7. (14) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
10. (25) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
11. (8) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
12. (9) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
13. (28) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
14. (5) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
15. (11) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
16. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
17. (16) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
18. (7) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
19. (30) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
20. (31) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
21. (32) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
22. (17) John Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
23. (33) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
24. (15) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 193, Running
25. (24) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 175, Running
26. (4) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
27. (26) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
28. (1) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 147, Contact
29. (13) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 99, Contact
30. (20) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 60, Contact
31. (23) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 44, Handling
32. (18) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
33. (10) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 20, Contact

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