2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon gave Panther Racing its third straight runner-up finish in IndyCar's flagship race yesterday, making rapid progress through the field from 18th on the grid and almost pouncing on victor Dario Franchitti at the end.
Afterwards Wheldon talked AUTOSPORT through his race.
Dan Wheldon: We kept working on it, overtook cars here and there, and then the team did a phenomenal pitstop and called a good strategy. It seemed as we were getting closer to the front, the car was getting better and better too. On that last particular stint, it was one where everybody was going to start off pretty quick then get into their saving fuel mode. I was able to get a couple of passes done quickly, which really helped.
I saved fuel early on in the stint. I looked at the fuel number that I was getting and the amount I had in the tank, and I knew it didn't quite add up. So I took it upon myself to save very early on in the stint. It's too difficult when you get halfway through and then you're like 'oh s***, I have to save'. I saved a lot, and at the end everybody slowed down and I maintained a pretty good pace.
The last two or three laps I think the team really started to panic, especially when Tony [Kanaan] pulled into the pits and Marco [Andretti] started dropping back.
Q. But you sounded like you stayed calm on the radio...
DW: I was very confident in the amount of fuel I saved early on. I did six or seven laps behind Marco and I was lifting in all the corners and tailing off the throttle at the end of the straights. So I knew I was in a pretty good position relative to the competition.
Q. You seemed to be able to push harder than Dario Franchitti at the end. Could you have caught him without the yellow?
DW: I don't think I could've caught him, but as he had seen me coming, would he have been able to get on the gas? You just don't know. That's something that's very difficult to answer. I'd be interested to see how much fuel came out of each car after tech...
Nonetheless, it's a great team effort, and in particular when you have the National Guard on board on Memorial Day weekend, it's very special. It's pretty touching actually, representing thousands and thousands of troops.
Q. You've not had the strongest start to the season, is this result a platform you can step forward from?
DW: It's always very difficult. This race is one of those races where it's difficult to judge everybody's performance because so much can happen. I think we've been very competitive this year. It hasn't always gone our way. We didn't do as well as we would've liked at Kansas, for example. We were skating around at the top of the track and probably didn't run enough downforce. By the same token, we were quickest in practice. So it's just about putting it all together. I think the team's in a really good spot and we just keep getting better and better and better.
Q. Were you happy with the car all through the race today?
DW: Yeah. In 2008 I led early on and then the way the race fell and the way the changes that we made reacted meant we dropped back. But every stop that we did [today], the car just kept getting better and better.