Dario Franchitti captured his third Indianapolis 500 victory in a finish nearly as dramatic as last year's, and a race which altogether was one of the most exciting 500s in recent memory. A last-lap charge from Takuma Sato, who was in a good position given the tow, went for a pass into Turn 1 on the final lap. Franchitti left the door slightly ajar, but Sato lost control and spun into the Turn 1 wall.
Franchitti dedicated to the win to Dan Wheldon and Michael Wanser – the young son of Target Chip Ganassi Racing team member Barry Wanser, who passed shortly after Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas last October. He had actually been spun in the pit lane in the first pit sequence, and recovered from dropping to near last to stay in contention.
“What a race – I think Dan would be proud of it,” Franchitti said. “I went down to give him the room, but I managed to keep it out of trouble.
“I went and moved over, I saw he was coming, I was coming over as he moved, and he got loose underneath me,” he explained of the contact with Sato. “It kind of reminds me of Emerson (Fittipaldi) and Little Al (Unser Jr.) there (in 1989). My spotter was saying, ‘Keep going, keep going.' This means a lot, this is Indianapolis, this is now three times. To be on either side of Dan is the most important.”
From Sato's perspective: “Well, I wanted to win. I had a great restart to jump from seventh to fifth. I had a good tow from Dario. It looks like he didn't give me enough room, I was forced below the white line. Kept on pushing, I had nowhere to go. Very disappointed.”
Scott Dixon, Franchitti's TCGR teammate, finished second ahead of Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe. Kanaan's second-to-last restart was typical TK but amazing by normal standards, a fifth to first inhaling of the four cars in front of him. Unfortunately, as he was leading on the last restart, he was essentially a sitting duck for drivers behind him. Kanaan was gracious if disappointed thereafter.
“It felt good, because it's three great friends fighting for the win,” he said. “I tried everything I could to do it. To lose this one like this is an honor. I think Dan is extremely happy, his three best friends in the top three.”
Sato's crash dropped him to 17th, and once again it was a case of “so close, so yet far away” after another excellent race from a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver at Indianapolis.
The race featured a record 35 lead changes among 10 drivers, with an official high of 91 degrees, one degree shy of the all-time record.
The finish capped off a day where it seemed the lead was far from safe – no one single stretch in the lead was greater than 24 laps – and eventual winner Franchitti methodically rose back through the field after he was contacted in the pits.
The race got its bearings in the first 75 or so laps, with the only caution a spin by Bryan Clauson that produced some minor damage but nothing more. Things got really interesting for the first time following a major shunt between Mike Conway and Will Power on lap 80. Conway spun in Turn 1 on his own and Power, with no place to go, was forced to collect him and the corresponding contact launched Conway's car airborne into the catch fencing. Conway, who for whatever reason can't seem to catch a break at this track, was catapulted with the car again twisting on its side but landing right side up on its undertray.
While neither was injured from the first two car oval accident of the DW12, their days were done. Power's Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who was rarely a factor, was lucky to avoid hitting a loose tire bouncing toward him lost from the contact.
Marco Andretti led most of the early stages – four times for a race-high 59 laps in the first 91 laps – but his day went south with niggling tire issues, a vibration, and the same problem that seemed to be affecting most of the Chevrolet runners, a several-lap deficit on fuel mileage.
Past halfway and with the fuel mileage advantage in the bank, many of the Honda runners – Dixon, Franchitti, Sato, Charlie Kimball and Justin Wilson among them – took turns threatening the lead and swapping positions within the top five.