In a Nutshell: With new cars, new engines and no clear favorite emerging, the hype going in promised an up-for-grabs, wide-open contest where anything might happen. So often, things don’t live up to the hype, but not this time. The 2012 Indy 500 featured a record 35 lead changes among 10 drivers, 16 cars finished on the lead lap and the event was unpredictable right up until the final moments.
Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti hadn’t run particularly well in the first four races of the season, qualified way back in 16th and was barely mentioned before the race, but at the end of the day he was drinking the milk in victory lane for the third time despite a pit-road incident that nearly destroyed his day.
Mission accomplished, IndyCar.
Key Moment: When the competition is as tight as it was at Indianapolis, the lead is not always the best place to be in the closing laps. NASCAR fans have seen the slingshot countless times at Daytona and Talladega. Franchitti used the same move to get by teammate Scott Dixon with two laps remaining and opened the door for third-place runner Takuma Sato to get around Dixon as well.
Sato tried to make a move on Franchitti entering turn 1 on the final lap, but couldn’t close the deal and spun, bringing out the caution and guaranteeing Franchitti the victory.
- Seeing Dan Wheldon’s winning car make a lap during “Taps” and “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” brought a tear to the eye. We still miss you, Dan.
- Three of Wheldon’s closest friends in IndyCar were Franchitti, Dixon and Tony Kanaan, the top-three finishers. You can’t help but think Dan was present in Indianapolis today. Wheldon didn’t get a chance to defend his Indy win, so Franchitti dedicated his victory to his friend and essentially defended it for him.
- All three of Franchitti’s Indy 500 victories have come under caution.
- Memorex isn’t as good as live but it’s better than nothing. Indianapolis Motor Speedway found a way to continue a long-standing tradition of Jim Nabors singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana by playing a video recording of Nabors singing the song. That song and Mari Hulman George giving the command to start engines have been a part of the race for as long as many of us can remember.
- In the latest twist in the sad saga of Lotus, the engine builder had only two cars in the Indy 500 and they were both woefully off the pace. Simona de Silvestro was 10 mph off the speed of the polesitter while Jean Alesi was 15 mph slower in qualifying. On top of that, Alesi had never run an oval race in his life, setting up a potentially dangerous situation. Race control removed both cars from the race by lap 10 because neither car could make the minimum speed requirement. IndyCar officials knew Lotus was about eight weeks behind schedule entering the season and they seem to continue to fall further behind.
- If you’re going to have problems at Indy, it’s best to have them early so you have time to fight your way back. Franchitti got spun in the pits 14 laps in and had to have a nose piece changed out. He restarted 29th and pedaled it hard on the next run, but he got where he was trying to go by the end of the day.
- How hot was it? Marco Andretti reported that his boot was melting to his throttle pedal during an Indianapolis scorcher, with temperatures reaching the mid-90s.
- Championship points leader Will Power was knocked out of the race after contact with Mike Conway on lap 80. Conway slid into a crew member on a pit stop, who fell onto the front wing and broke it. Conway went back out on track before the team discovered the problem and spun before he could make it back around to the pits. Power couldn’t avoid the spinning car. It was nearly a two-fer for Roger Penske as a stray tire from one of the cars bounced down the race track and struck a glancing blow to the right-front tire of Helio Castroneves as he drove through the incident. Despite a 28th-place finish, Power retains the points lead by 36 over Castroneves.
- The Andretti curse continues. Andretti set the fastest lap of the race on lap 59 and led 59 laps in the early going before the car started fading near the end. His day wound up disastrous after an accident on lap 187 of 200, and by then he was simply hoping for a top-10 finish.
- Did anyone else find it supremely difficult to read the numbers on the rear wings of the cars? It made it especially tough to tell Dixon and Franchitti apart. Your only hope is to know which one has the “white” red Target car and which one has the “red” red Target car. Really.
Notable Driver: OK, so it didn’t end so well and he nearly found the wall on lap 71, but Sato ran a stellar race, leading three times for 31 laps. Sato never found much success in Formula 1 and wadded up a lot of cars in his first two years in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but sometimes something just seems to click and it has for Sato this year.
He scored his first podium finish in Sao Paolo and proved it was no fluke by contending for the win at Indy. The question is, was Sato impatient, trying to force the pass too soon, or should Franchitti have given more room once Sato got his nose in there?
Quotes and Tweets
“I’m disappointed, but we didn’t have speed from the beginning. I understand the call. We have to have more horsepower to be competitive. The guys really worked hard. We’ll see what happens next year. I’m pretty disappointed to get black-flagged after only a few laps. We were trying to keep up pace, but unfortunately right now we don’t have the pace, so now we have to work hard to get to the pace that we need to.” – Simona de Silvestro
“My mistake coming into the pits. Came in a bit too hard and collected some of my guys, and that screwed up the front wing and we didn’t realize it till I got out. Through turns 3 and 4, it felt a little wiggly and I thought it was just tire temperatures. But down the front straight when I went down into turn 1, I could see one of the endplates sticking up in the air.
“I knew it wouldn’t be right turning in, so I tried to back out just going in. But I knew Will was close behind me so I didn’t want to back out too much, and the car got very loose, which I was able to correct it once. But it broke loose again, and I couldn’t catch it the second time and then I was just a passenger on board.” – Mike Conway
“It was pretty close and [Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato] got a run on me into [turn] 1 there. Sato was definitely a guy throwing it in there all day, and he tried to do the same thing to Dario. I thought we were going to get really lucky because they touched, and I thought they were both going to end up in the fence. Credit to Dario. He had a bad start to the day and came through the field.” – Scott Dixon
“It’s pretty crazy how it all lines up. Dan still owes me one, I think. Dario did a fantastic job. All of us wish Dan was still here racing with us. He’s a hell of a guy and left a big void and hole in all of our lives. I hope we put on a good race for the fans, and I’m sure he’s smiling down on us.” – Scott Dixon about the podium being made up of Dan Wheldon’s closest friends
“I was going for the win. On the last restart, we jumped from seventh to fifth, then taking fourth, third, second. I kept pushing and overtaking. On the very last lap, I had a good tow from Dario. I thought I had the job done. But he kept pushing and didn’t give me enough room, so that I was well below the white line. But an outstanding job by the team. It was a very exciting race.” – Takuma Sato
“On the last lap, I was trying to set up Scott. I knew I was a sitting duck on that restart and then I see Taku going on the inside of Dario, and I know Dario. I said, ‘Either they’re both going to crash and I’m going to have to pass Dixon for the win, or Dario’s going to win.’ And Dario won.” – Tony Kanaan
“Tony came and got in the lead. I’m like, Damn, where did you come from? Kind of like old times, the three of us back and forwards. I thought, Dan is laughing at us right now going at it. But then coming down to after that last restart, swapping back and forwards. Takuma came into the last lap, got a good run on the inside.
“I moved over a bit, I saw him coming. I said, ‘No, I’m too late. This is well before the corner.’ I moved back up. We turned into the corner, I gave him a load of room, with the tight line, he lost the rear. Turn 1 was the trickiest corner. If you went in with a tight line, it tended to get a bit loose. He lost the rear, came around and hit us. I managed to catch it.” – Dario Franchitti
What’s Next: After a busy month of May, there’s no rest for the IndyCar drivers. It’s off to Detroit and the 14-turn, 2.1-mile road course on Belle Isle, a 987-acre island on the Detroit River, for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on Sunday, June 3 at 3:30 p.m. The IZOD IndyCar Series has made two previous visits to Belle Isle in 2007 and 2008.
Kanaan won the 2007 event and Justin Wilson took the win in 2008. Television coverage will be on ABC while radio coverage can be heard on your local IMS Radio affiliate or on Sirius/XM Channel 94.
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