June 06, 2012On a day that came one degree short of being the hottest Indianapolis 500 ever, Scottish driver Dario Franchitti put his name into a prestigious list winning his third Indy 500 on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The day was an emotional one for Franchitti and other drivers, who paid tribute to last year's winner, Dan Wheldon, who was killed in the season finale at Las Vegas.
"I think D-dub (Wheldon) would be proud of that one," Franchitti said after his win.
"I think racing is emotion and life is, as well. Racing, I think, really exemplifies that. Vegas was the lowest of the lows. … I think the reason we all got back in the cars and the reason all the mechanics got back in pit lane and the fans continued to come to the races is days like today with the emotion of days like today. That's why I got back in the car."
The day wasn't an easy one for Franchitti, however, with the first big problem coming early in the race. On Lap 14, rookie Bryan Clauson spun in Turn 1, bringing out the first yellow of the day. As the field came into the pits for service, Franchitti was punted from behind by E.J. Viso, spinning the Scot driver 180 degrees in his pit stall. The incident put Franchitti at the back of the field for the re-start.
Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti gets kisses from all around, including Bullseye, the 50th anniversary Target dog.
"That was tough, but I had confidence because I knew how good the Target car was at that point," Franchitti, a member of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, said.
Marco Andretti led the majority of the next series of laps, at one point leading Scott Dixon by almost four seconds on Lap 51. The next caution came on Lap 80 and was the scariest incident of the day when Mike Conway spun in Turn 1, collecting Will Power in the accident. The crash was reminiscent of his 2010 Turn 3 crash, where his car became airborne and disintegrated in the catch fence. Conway became airborne again on his side but this time avoided the catch fence, landing back on his wheels but out of the race.
Two more cautions came on Lap 90 when Anna Beatriz spun in Turn 1 and again on Lap 146 for a tow-in for Sebastian Saaverdra. During this time, Franchitti continued to work his way toward the front and was in second place by Lap 95 behind Dixon.
"You've got to let the race come to you, and that's what I do, whether it's getting spun in the pits, and we didn't get back up," Franchitti said. "That's what it was going to give me today. A lot of it was the car, and I was able to time those passes. That was the key I think, timing my passes."
Takumo Sato took the lead on Lap 119 when Dixon dove to the pits for service. Sato built up a lead of almost five seconds ahead of Andretti before pitting on Lap 124. Sato, however, regained the lead on the next lap and held that position until he was passed by Dixon on Lap 153. The two Target cars swapped positions for the next several laps until a caution came out when Ed Carpenter spun in the short chute between turns 1 and 2.
"You get much better fuel mileage one spot back," Dixon said. "We were going back and forth to help each other out instead of having to drop back too far and mix it up. We definitely talked before the re-starts and wanted to try to see if we could do that."
The re-start brought a roar from the crowd as Tony Kanaan raced from fifth to first for his first lead of the day.
"I timed it quite right," Kanaan said. "I had been back there all day and I could see where they were going to time the re-starts. I just looked at him, and, by the time he accelerated, I was pulling through my gears. I was six cars behind and, with the draft on these cars, I timed it perfectly. From the start, I think I would gain four positions. He didn't let me lead that lap anyway. He passed me back."
Yellow came again on Lap 188 when Andretti found the Turn 1 wall setting up a final six-lap shoot-out. Kanaan erred on this re-start, and Dixon jumped out in front. Dixon led through Lap 196 then Franchitti passed Dixon in Turn 1 a lap later. Sato, however, was also coming on strong and moved into second ahead of Dixon and charged toward Franchitti as the white flag came out.
Sato dove under Franchitti as the pair entered Turn 1. Franchitti moved up, but Sato got on the white line and lost control, bumping Franchitti as he slid into the wall. Franchitti kept control as the yellow flag came out. Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan crossed the finish in that order for the top three spots, with Franchitti getting his third Indy win.
While some were calling Sato's move rash, foolish and irresponsible, Franchitti said he didn't see it that way.
"None of those," he said. "I felt it was a good move. He just got loose. He was relying on the balance of the car as he turns in the corner and the car was obviously too loose.
"It's the last lap of the Indianapolis 500, and I wouldn't expect him to lift at that point. He was sort of getting along side, his rear wheels were along side, so he put me in a position that I had to go wide. The only mistake was when the car got loose. Maybe that's experience or just that the car was bloody loose. That was it."
"The last lap of the race, it is what it is," said Kanaan, who watched Sato's move from behind. "He tried. It could have worked for him. It could have worked for Scott or for myself. It's easy to make a comment now. I would have done it differently. When I saw the move, I thought to myself, 'This doesn't look good,' and then I thought secondly, 'Maybe this is looking really good for me.' "
"It was brave and Dario gave him room, I think," Dixon said. "He was so close to pulling that off. I think if he didn't pinch it as much and maybe moved up on Dario a little bit more, it would have been OK, but Dario did a great job of saving it. I would have waited a little longer."
With all the tributes to Wheldon during the day, it seemed only fitting that Wheldon's three closest friends in racing took the first three positions, each of them hoping to get the faces on the Borg Warner trophy next to Wheldon's.
"What a great way to honor Dan," Kanaan said. "His three best friends in the top three. I don't think it could have been any better. Well, it could have been if I had won. It is what it is, so I'll keep trying."
"This is the marquee event, the big event, and you're going to do anything to get your face on the Borg Warner," Dixon said. "But I think for a lot of us that were close to Dan, you wanted that a little bit more, and I think in your mind you think he'd probably help you out . I think in that situation how it lined up with the top three, with three of Dan's friends, it's a tough one."
Wheldon's widow, Susie, rode with Franchitti and his wife, Ashley Judd, during the victory lap.
"She's a stronger person than I am to come here," Franchitti said. "She knows better than anybody how much Dan loved Indy and Indy loved Dan. But to be here and go through all those emotions, so me and Ashley were saying it would be cool for Susie to come."
"Last year my favorite memory was Dan was going out on his parade lap, and I had this crazy notion in my head I was going to car-jack him," he said. "I see him coming towards me, and I'm thinking this is going to be good. And I see his face, and he's just sobbing. It meant so much to him. Everything that had happened to him, his mother with Alzheimer's, and I couldn't do it. I just gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him. So, it meant a lot that Susie was able to come with us."