Franchitti Savors Sweet Second Indianapolis 500 Victory
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Fifty years ago, a wreath was placed around Jim Rathmann’s neck in Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to start another Indianapolis 500 tradition.
Dario Franchitti, a motorsports historian, savors the heritage of the Speedway and soaks up the ceremony of the 500 Mile Race, which celebrates its centennial in 2011.
So the Scot especially has enjoyed the customs during his two trips to Victory Circle. Though both wins have come under caution, the swig of milk (a tradition started in 1936) still tastes as sweet.
Franchitti handed Target Chip Ganassi its fourth Indy 500 victory in a dominating performance under a searing sun (90 degrees at the green flag) and worldwide spotlight – 45 years after his hero, Jim Clark, won at Indy.
“This tastes just as good the second time,” said Franchitti, who in 2007 won the race shortened 34 laps because of rain. “To come back from a year away and win the championship and then win the Indy 500 it just means so much.”
The No. 10 entry led 155 of the 200 laps, inheriting the point for the final time on Lap 192 when pole sitter Helio Castroneves ducked into the pits for a splash of 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol.
Dan Wheldon was reeling in the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion with three laps remaining, closing to 2.9 seconds when a half-lap behind the Nos. 37 and 24 cars of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway touched wheels, sending Conway’s car slamming into the catch fence between Turns 3 and 4. The yellow flag flew and Franchitti – with the Honda engine purring with only 1.6 gallons of fuel left – was able to basically coast to the twin checkered flags.
“Up until 10 laps to go, I was pretty relaxed,” said Franchitti, who made his final pit stop on Lap 163. “Then all hell broke loose with fuel savings and all. I just needed to know what the other guys were doing. If they were saving more than me, they were doing something special here.”
Conway was transported to Methodist Hospital for X-rays, while Hunter-Reay and Ana Beatriz (also incidentally involved) were checked and released from the infield care center. Hunter-Reay will, however, have surgery June 1 on his left thumb, which he injured in a pit lane incident.
“It became a fuel race toward the end and I had no idea how much I had left in the tank, and it came down into Turn 3 and it just died,” Hunter-Reay said. “The car died and that’s when Mike latched over me. That’s probably one of the toughest races I’ve ever had.”
Seven different IZOD IndyCar Series teams were represented in the top 10. There were 13 lead changes and nine caution periods.
Wheldon, driving the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car, was the runner-up for the second year in a row. Panther has finished second for three consecutive years (in 2008 with Vitor Meira). After video review of the final lap incident and when the caution lights were activated, Marco Andretti was confirmed the third-place finisher and Alex Lloyd advanced 22 positions to finish a career-high fourth.
Scott Dixon, the 2008 race winner, finished fifth and Danica Patrick, who provided Internet fodder a week earlier with comments relating to her qualifying result (she started 23rd) finished sixth in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport.
Each of the Ganassi winners – Emerson Fittipaldi in 1999 (158 laps led), Juan Pablo Montoya (167) and Scott Dixon (115) – have dominated in their respective years. All have been the beneficiary of no or miniscule mistakes.
“It was a great day,” Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said. “It's what race teams work to achieve, to win this race. This is the biggest race in the world. Today we had great race drivers and great race teams. I don't know what the head count is (at the Speedway), but I think they were treated to a great show.
“What we had to employ today was everything we do as a race team. We had to employ setup, speed, strategy, and understanding fuel after different times during the race. That's what we do well as a team. We just try to be consistent in being able to do that.”
If the final caution didn’t interrupt the flow, Wheldon said he figured to have an opportunity to overtake Franchitti because he was saving fuel early on in the final stint (also pitted on Lap 163). Franchitti’s team owner saw it another way.
“I don’t think he could have picked us off, but I think he could have passed us,” Chip Ganassi countered. “A lot of those guys are kicking themselves because they ended up with fuel left over at the end of the race. The worst thing you want to do is have some control over the fuel either with a switch or the 'push to pass' button.
“The worst thing you can do, and we've done it, is come up second in this race or third and have fuel in your tank that you didn't use, you could have used more of it. But that's this race. That's what it's like when you go into the last three laps or two laps and there's a yellow, white flag and then there's a yellow.”
Franchitti joins a list of two-time winners that includes Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk. Now he sets his sights on matching three-time winners Castroneves, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser.
“Those guys are legends,” he said. “I said the other night, ‘I'm just a driver, those guys are legends.’ I'm so lucky to be drive for Chip and Team Target, getting in good cars, especially having gone away after we won in '07. To be invited back was pretty cool. To have won a championship and an Indy 500, I didn't expect any of this. I said before, I expected to be retired by the time I was 35 (he turned 37 on May 19). This is all bonus and it's pretty cool.”
Castroneves, who last pitted on Lap 155, picked up the point when Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Justin Wilson came in for the final time on Lap 189. But his attempt to become the fourth four-time winner would have to wait until next year.
“Well, we always say the one that makes the fewest mistakes wins the race and I made one that put us too far back,” said Castroneves, who checked in ninth (one spot behind Team Penske teammate Will Power). “We were fighting understeer and oversteer all day but we were still there fighting at the end and we still managed a top-10 result. Congratulations to Dario. Those guys were on it today and they deserve to be Indy 500 champions.”
Alex Tagliani of first-year entrant FAZZT Race Team finished 10, and Tony Kanaan charged from the 33rd starting position to 11th in the Team 7-11 car. Graham Rahal, competing for Rahal Leterman Racing was 12th and Mario Romancini of Conquest Racing was the highest-placing rookie in 13th.
2011 Indianapolis 500 tickets: The 2011 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2011. Ticket information can be found at www.imstix.com.
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The grand prize Camaro SS Pace Car Replica of the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Sweepstakes is the personal ride of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Mari Hulman George this Ma
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