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.
By the last 40 laps, there were still a legitimate eight or 10 cars in contention for the win, including a couple that had come from nowhere. Drivers like Ryan Briscoe, who'd fallen into the midfield after starting from pole, or fellow Chevrolet runners Oriol Servia and Ed Carpenter from 27th and 28th on the grid, were suddenly in the mix. Kanaan, too, had his strategy planned out for a stunner to possibly steal his elusive first Indianapolis 500 win.
After only four cautions in the first 151 laps, there were four in the final 49. Josef Newgarden, whose promising first month of May in the series, fought an ill-handling car all day and stopped past Turn 2 when his car shut off unexpectedly. There were niggling gearing issues and a bad rear balance, and his first pit stop dropped him from a top-10 position into the 20s, where he struggled to break out of the rest of the day.
Carpenter, who'd crept into the picture, had crept up to third but lost control out of Turn 1, and while spinning he managed to avoid hitting anything or being hit by anyone. That ended his chances after a great drive, largely unnoticed up to that point.
Andretti fell out on lap 188 when he lost control at Turn 1, and this came after Kanaan had restarted fifth and shot to first by Turn 1. Though Andretti initially blamed Servia for coming down on him, he apologized via Twitter late Sunday.
That set the stage for the final restart, where Kanaan led but unable to withstand the charge from the Ganassi teammates. Dixon and Franchitti swapped the lead several times before Franchitti made it past on the penultimate lap.
There will be more written, analyzed, and interpreted about Sato's passing attempt and how Franchitti defended his position, but the bottom line was this – it was the last lap of the 500, and Sato was always going to make an attempt. It was just a matter of where and when. When Sato's car washed up, he was in the wall, and Franchitti had his third 500 victory – all of which have come under caution.
The series shifts to Detroit next week, as Indianapolis was the first of a five-race stretch of races in as many weekends.
Results - 200 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Gap
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi DW12-Honda
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda + 0.0295s
3. Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevy + 0.0677s
4. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR DW12-Chevy + 2.9166s
5. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevy + 3.6721s
6. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevy + 4.0962s
7. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne DW12-Honda + 4.2430s
8. Charlie Kimball Ganassi DW12-Honda + 4.6056s
9. Townsend Bell Schmidt DW12-Honda + 5.6168s
10. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevy + 7.6352s
11. Rubens Barrichello KV DW12-Chevy + 7.9240s
12. Alex Tagliani Herta DW12-Honda + 8.2543s
13. Graham Rahal Ganassi DW12-Honda + 8.7539s
14. JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevy + 11.3423s
15. James Jakes Dale Coyne DW12-Honda + 13.4494s
16. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt DW12-Honda + 14.1382s
17. Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda + 1 lap
18. EJ Viso KV DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
19. Michel Jourdain Jr Rahal DW12-Honda + 1 lap
20. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
21. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
22. Katherine Legge Dragon DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
23. Ana Beatriz Andretti/Conquest DW12-Chevy + 10 laps
Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevy 187 laps
Josef Newgarden Fisher DW12-Honda 161 laps
Sebastian Saavedra AFS/Andretti DW12-Chevy 143 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevy 123 laps
Will Power Penske DW12-Chevy 79 laps
Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda 78 laps
Bryan Clauson Fisher DW12-Chevy 46 laps
Wade Cunningham Foyt DW12-Honda 42 laps
Jean Alesi Fan Force DW12-Lotus 10 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus 9 laps