"It was wild, it was intense, it was hot and it was fun.’’
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – If Tony Stewart says it was the “best Indy 500” he has ever seen, it must have been. The 5-wide flying start was exciting. A record 34 lead changes among 10-drivers was obviously exciting. And some of the most exciting open wheel restarts were certainly exciting. But the most exciting was seeing Dario Franchitti claw his way up from last place following a broken nosewing, to winning his third Indy 500 championship while Takuma Sato put it in the wall on the last lap.
Dario, and teammate Scott Dixon started in 16th and 15th position. The Dallara chassis powered with newly developed 6-cylinder, single-turbo Honda engines were not expected to do well in the 500. Practice and qualifying was dominated by the Chevrolet powered cars of Team Penske and Andretti. In fact, Chevrolet held 8 of the top 9 starting positions. Honda worked very hard with the teams during the 30 days in May, and it showed. A last minute update for the 2.2 liter engines provided for a very competitive race. Dario quipped "It was wild, it was intense, it was hot and it was fun.’’
The mediocre starting position for the Scot-born driver was not the only difficulty facing Franchitti. On lap 14, he was hit from behind by E.J.Viso during a pit stop requiring a complete replacement of the cars nosewing placing him in 29th position – near the back of the pack. By lap 150, it was pretty evident that the Hondas of Franchitti and Dixon were formidable. The teammates were running in front leading 41 of the final 50 laps. “Credit to Dario," he said. "He had a bad start to the day and came through the field. It’s a 1-2 finish for Target on their 50th anniversary. You couldn’t have it a better way. I just wish the No. 9 was first. He drove a hell of a race and definitely deserved it. Real happy for Honda. What a way to win their first race of the year. They can forget about the other four. To come out and win Indy in their first attempt against Chevy is pretty cool.”
Another interesting story at the 500 was Ruben Barrichello’s first race on the oval at Indy. Rubens, a past winner at Indianapolis, though on the Formula One road course in 2002, drove a respectable race with an 11th place finish. He was the highest placed rookie. “It was a great achievement today," said the 19-year F1 veteran. "The first oval experience; it was very different than anything I've done. We carried too much downforce all the way. That kept me safe. It kept me racy. I mean, I could race sometimes, but it was very hard to follow people and to keep it running fast. You could see that people were in a much lower level of down force that were in front of us. I'm still very proud of what the team has achieved. It's a pity that we didn't finish top 10, just outside. But I can be proud of that for my first time out."
This was also the first Indy 500 race since the death of 2010-winner Dan Wheldon in a fiery crash at the Las Vegas race last year. In honor of Weldon, Bryan Herta drove a single parade lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the car Wheldon won with last year. The driver's widow, Susie Wheldon (pictured below) watched the race with Emma Dixon, Scott Dixon's wife. Also, laps 26 and 98, which marked the numbers of both cars that Wheldon drove to his pair of Indy 500 wins, were raced in his honor. "I just want to dedicate this to two of Indianapolis' finest, Dan Wheldon and Michael Wanser," said Franchitti, honoring the fallen 2011 Indy 500 winner and the son of his team manager, Barry Wanser. "Thanks to all of the Indianapolis fans for their tribute to Dan today. What a race. I think D-dub (Dan Wheldon) would be proud of that one."