All through May Scott Dixon had looked the driver most likely to win the 192nd Indianapolis 500 – and in the end he out-lasted, out-lucked and just plain out-drove his rivals to victory.
The Target Chip Ganassi racer started on pole, led for 115 laps, and seized the lead for good after the final pit stops. Panther Racing’s Vitor Meira challenged hard at the end but could make no headway, and Marco Andretti made a late pass on Helio Castroneves to ensure third.
“The whole month has been good,” said Dixon. “A lot of people have worked hard on these cars to make them fast. It’s hard work and the team has been unstoppable because of it. There were so many yellows it was hard to get a rhythm. Toward the end I didn’t think anyone could pass me. The team did a fantastic job.”
It was a bitty race, full of cautions that disrupted the action. A full third, including all the leaders’ pitstops, was run under yellow flags and the final 25 laps represented the longest continuous run of proper green flag racing all day.
Among the casualties were Tony Kanaan, controversially forced out by team-mate Andretti, and Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who hit Danica Patrick in the pitlane and eliminated both cars.
Patrick had to be diverted by Indy Racing League head of security Charles Burns as she marched down the pitlane to confront Briscoe – and a similar peacekeeping action was probably needed when Kanaan finally caught up with Andretti, who had sent him out of control when trying to lunge past as they battled for the lead.
“It was a stupid move; I think team-mates shouldn’t do that to team-mates,” said Kanaan. “I’m sure he will have a good explanation for what he did. Halfway through the race with a bunch of traffic, why are you going to dive into me like that?”
Kanaan had taken the lead on lap 92 on a restart following a heavy crash by Jaime Camara. By this point Dixon’s team-mate Dan Wheldon, who had been swapping the lead with the New Zealander all race, had started to fade with handling problems.
After Kanaan’s exit, Dixon’s main challenge came from eternal bridesmaid Meira, who shot into the lead on the restart following a crash by young Brit Alex Lloyd. His hopes of a first IndyCar victory after a string of second places lasted only 12 laps, however – Buddy Lazier sent Milka Duno spinning, the field pitted under yellow flags, and Dixon emerged ahead.
The disrupted nature of the race particularly frustrated Foyt Enterprises driver Darren Manning, who ended up as the top-finishing Briton in ninth place.
He said: “My car was real good at the end of all the long green flag runs, but we never got any. They were just starting to come back to me, I was just cruising and picking them off, then the yellow would come out. I was really annoyed that so many yellow flags kept coming out.”
Manning’s previous best finish in the race was 20th but this year he made the most of a “real good” car and conditions he called “absolutely perfect” – despite the occasional problem.
He said: “You know, I made a mistake in the pit stop. I didn’t listen to Larry [Foyt]. He was saying, ‘Stop, stop, stop,’ and I was thinking ‘Go, go, go.’ I clipped my front wing on another car when he went into the pits, while we were running in sixth place.
“I was running comfortably with those guys in the front. I think I had the car firm. It was actually harder to pass the guys in the back of the pack than it was the guys in the front. We were running a very similar car to the guys in the front, but we had some problems. We dropped back to 24th and came all the way back to ninth.
“It’s a credit to the team. We worked hard all month and they did a good job, too, in the pits to replace the nose and some good stops. We just kept working hard, and when it was time to go at the end, I went.”
Among the drivers Manning left behind him was Wheldon, who was one of the pre-race favourites and ran strongly at the start, only to drop back to an eventual 12th place finish.
He said: “My issue all day was with the right rear steer in the car. It was OK in the first few stints, but it seemed to get worse and worse as the race went on. It was very difficult.
“I am really happy for him [Dixon]. He has been really quick in all of the races leading into this. He perhaps hasn’t won as many as he deserved up to now, but he’s on a roll right now, and it is great for him and the team that he did so well. The team worked so hard for both cars. Only one can win, and he was the deserving one.”
Wheldon led for 30 of the race’s 200 laps, which means he has now led more Indy500 laps than any other active driver – a record that is unlikely to be much consolation to him.
The third Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver in the field was Alex Lloyd, whose development programme with the team included a one-off partnership deal with Rahal Letterman to run him in the Indy500 under their colours.
The reigning Indy Lights champion started 19th and moved up three spots early on, before handling woes kicked in. A lengthy stop to check the car after a wall brush set the team back to 22nd and Lloyd eventually departed in a crash at turn four that sent his car spinning into the pitlane – fortunately, relatively empty at the time.
He said: “We were really struggling all day with the car, but that’s how it is in Indianapolis sometimes. It’s a shame because we’d had a good car for most of the month, but something just wasn’t right today.
“We whitewalled the car during our second stint, but it looked OK after we checked it out. But something must have been wrong because when I came out of Turn Four later in the race, the car just stopped turning and I went straight into the wall.”
Lloyd was also blamed by Graham Rahal for his early exit on lap 36, when the Newman / Haas / Lanigan driver ran wide and lost control on the upper section of the track.
He said: “Lloyd was really slow and I was trying to be patient there because Moraes kept coming down on me. So finally I got the opportunity to get by those few guys and I thought our car was pretty good.
“Lloyd, for some reason, wouldn’t stay right on the bottom and when he came up just a couple of feet, I reacted slightly and just got in the marbles.”
Rahal’s team-mate Justin Wilson lasted longer before suffering a similar fate, crashing out after completing 132 laps. He said: “It’s been a great experience; I’m just disappointed I didn’t make it to the end.”
Wilson, who has fond memories of the circuit from his 2003 visit as a Formula One driver, spent a dozen early laps in the top three after failing to hear a call from his team to pit, pushing him onto a different strategy from most of the rest of the field.
Aside from that, though, he spent most of the race at the back end of the top 20 until his accident – caused, he said, when he began to experiment with overtaking options in preparation for a late charge.
He said: “I thought I was well in my comfort zone and wasn’t pushing too hard. I was just running in the pack and just trying to experiment with a few different lines trying to get a run on people because you’d often come down in the corner and wash out on the exit and you’d have to lift off and you can’t pass anyone.
“The McDonald’s car felt good and I thought everything was fine but as you start to come out of the corner I felt the back light up so I was out of the throttle and it just slowly came around and next thing I know I’m going backwards. I tried to keep out of the wall, but just ran out of real estate.
“It’s disappointing because the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team has done such a great job; they have worked so hard. I was thinking that we could just hang on and move forward slowly but it didn’t end up that way.”
Where they finished
|1.||9||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||200||40.4719|
|2.||4||Vitor Meira||Panther Racing||200||1.7498||40.6078|
|3.||26||Marco Andretti||Andretti Green Racing||200||2.3127||40.1720|
|4.||3||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||200||6.2619||40.4444|
|5.||20||Ed Carpenter||Vision Racing||200||6.5505||40.4831|
|6.||17||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Rahal Letterman Racing||200||6.9894||40.4938|
|7.||27||Hideki Mutoh||Andretti Green Racing||200||7.8768||40.6257|
|8.||15||Buddy Rice||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||200||8.8798||40.6952|
|9.||14||Darren Manning||AJ Foyt Enterprises||200||9.2019||40.5026|
|10.||99||Townsend Bell||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||200||9.4567||40.6465|
|11.||5||Oriol Servia||KV Racing Technology||200||22.4966||40.6270|
|12.||10||Dan Wheldon||Chip Ganassi Racing||200||30.7090||40.4269|
|13.||8||Will Power||KV Racing Technology||200||31.6666||40.7637|
|14.||22||Davey Hamilton||Vision Racing||200||32.0084||40.7802|
|15.||36||Enrique Bernoldi||Conquest Racing||200||32.1075||41.0813|
|16.||24||John Andretti||Roth Racing||199||1 lap||40.7408|
|17.||91||Buddy Lazier||Hemelgarn Johnson||195||5 laps||41.7778|
|18.||19||Mario Moraes||Dale Coyne Racing||194||6 laps||41.3851|
|19.||23||Milka Duno||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||185||15 laps||41.3681|
|20.||18||Bruno Junqueira||Dale Coyne Racing||184||16 laps||40.8687|
|21.||2||A.J. Foyt IV||Vision Racing||180||20 laps||41.3309|
|22.||7||Danica Patrick||Andretti Green Racing||171||29 laps||40.7090|
|23.||6||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||171||0.2763||40.5709|
|24.||12||Tomas Scheckter||Luczo Dragon Racing||156||44 laps||40.3609|
|25.||16||Alex Lloyd||Rahal Letterman Racing||151||49 laps||41.1598|
|26.||33||EJ Viso||HVM Racing||139||61 laps||41.0238|
|27.||02||Justin Wilson||Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing||132||68 laps||40.6008|
|28.||41||Jeff Simmons||AJ Foyt Enterprises||112||88 laps||41.1953|
|29.||11||Tony Kanaan||Andretti Green Racing||105||95 laps||40.5574|
|30.||67||Sarah Fisher||Sarah Fisher Racing||103||97 laps||41.3039|
|31.||34||Jaime Camara||Conquest Racing||79||121 laps||41.6156|
|32.||25||Marty Roth||Roth Racing||59||141 laps||41.5969|
|33.||06||Graham Rahal||Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing||36||164 laps||40.8670|