Wheldon takes dramatic Indy win
|Sunday, May 29th 2011, 19:20 GMT|
Dan Wheldon took an incredible second Indianapolis 500 victory in Bryan Herta Autosport's second ever IndyCar race as JR Hildebrand crashed at the final corner while on course for a shock rookie win.
Panther Racing driver Hildebrand had looked set to pull off a breathtaking win after making his last tank of fuel last a surprising 36 laps, which allowed him to sweep to the front as others pitted.
But with the win in sight, Hildebrand unbelievably drifted wide at the final corner of the race while lapping Charlie Kimball and slammed into the wall, crossing the line second in his wrecked car as Wheldon swept past to take the win.
Graham Rahal took third for Ganassi ahead of KV's Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia (Newman/Haas).
On pure pace, the Ganassi cars of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti had the edge all day, but both fell down the order at the end and they finished only sixth and 12th.
Dixon exchanged the lead several times with polesitter Alex Tagliani (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) in the opening stints, while Franchitti worked his way forward from ninth on the grid.
Franchitti hit the front for the first time in the second stops, and though Dixon repassed him at the next restart, a slow third stop for the New Zealander left Franchitti firmly in control of the next stint - leading by as much as 8s at one stage.
As the final stops neared, Ganassi opted to take Franchitti out of the lead for a final pit visit under yellow with 36 laps to go, a strategy Panther also employed for Hildebrand, who had run in the lower half of the top 10 for most of the race.
The pair edged towards the front as others pitted, but while Franchitti had to admit defeat and pit with one lap to go, Hildebrand looked like he had made the strategy work until his final corner error.
Wheldon had been a top five factor all day in what he had expected to be his sole IndyCar start of 2011, and as the Ganassi cars faded, he moved into position to benefit from the last lap drama.
Rahal became ever more competitive in the second half of the race to come through for third, leading for a while before the last stops. Kanaan had to charge through the field twice, reaching the top six from his 23rd place start before losing 20 places again when he overshot his pit while dodging around Pippa Mann. He still fought back to fourth ahead of race-long lead factor Servia.
Dixon faded to sixth in the closing laps, followed by Bertrand Baguette - who led several laps for Rahal Letterman Lanigan as he tried to pull off a fuel mileage miracle in the last stint before finally pitting on lap 197 of 200.
Tomas Scheckter took eighth for KV/SH after a quietly competitive afternoon, ahead of Andretti Autosport's top runners Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick, Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher Racing) and late-stopper Franchitti. Patrick led for a while as she too tried an alternative fuel strategy in the late laps, while Andretti managed to get as high as third despite his team's struggles in qualifying.
After his brilliant pole and strong challenge for the lead in the early laps, Tagliani faded as the race progressed. His car fell completely off the pace after the third stops and he tumbled as low as 19th before brushing the wall and breaking his suspension.
The sister Sam Schmidt car of Townsend Bell was a top six contender for much of the race before a late collision with Penske's Ryan Briscoe. The Australian had been Penske's strongest runner on a very tough day for the multiple Indy winning team. Will Power lost a wheel at his first pitstop and could only recover to 14th, while three-time winner Helio Castroneves was never on the lead pace and finished 17th.
Other drivers to hit trouble included KV's Takuma Sato and EJ Viso, who both crashed - the former solo and the latter in a restart tangle with James Hinchcliffe. The Newman/Haas driver escaped that incident unscathed but crashed on his own later.
Simona de Silvestro (HVM) and Paul Tracy (Dreyer & Reinbold) both damaged their cars in brushes with the wall, though the later rejoined to finish 25th after lengthy repairs. Jay Howard also crashed when his Rahal/Schmidt car shed a wheel as he rejoined after a pitstop.
Results - 200 laps: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Dan Wheldon Herta 2h56m11.7267s 2. JR Hildebrand Panther + 2.1086s 3. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 5.5949s 4. Tony Kanaan KV + 7.4870s 5. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 8.8757s 6. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 9.5434s 7. Bertrand Baguette Rahal Letterman Lanigan + 23.9631s 8. Tomas Scheckter KV/SH + 24.3299s 9. Marco Andretti Andretti + 25.4711s 10. Danica Patrick Andretti + 26.4483s 11. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher + 27.0375s 12. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 56.4167s 13. Charlie Kimball Ganassi + 1 lap 14. Will Power Penske + 1 lap 15. Vitor Meira Foyt + 1 lap 16. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap 17. Helio Castroneves Penske + 1 lap 18. Buddy Rice Panther + 2 laps 19. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne + 2 laps 20. Pippa Mann Conquest + 2 laps 21. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 3 laps 22. John Andretti Petty/Andretti + 3 laps 23. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt + 3 laps 24. Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold + 7 laps 25. Paul Tracy Dreyer & Reinbold + 25 laps Retirements: Townsend Bell Sam Schmidt 157 laps Ryan Briscoe Penske 157 laps Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 147 laps James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 99 laps Jay Howard Rahal/Schmidt 60 laps Simona de Silvestro HVM 44 laps EJ Viso KV 27 laps Takuma Sato KV 20 laps