Franchitti celebrates his third Indy 500 win - Photo courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series/LAT USAEnlarge Photo
The 96th Indianapolis 500 turned out - as many expected - to be one of the most competitive races ever staged on the 2.5-mlle historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
With 34 lead changes among 10 drivers it looked like anyone's race, but as everyone who's ever raced at Indianapolis knows, this race has its own heartbeat, its own way of rewarding and punishing teams, drivers and prognosticators alike.
It was supposed to be a Chevrolet party, wasn't it?
After all, Chevy won the first four events with Team Penske, who have 15 Indy 500 victories at the Brickyard. Chevy won the first five pole positions and gave Team Penske its 17th pole among 11 drivers at Indy. Chevrolet had eight of the top nine spots on the grid. It was looking like the department of redundancy was about to take over.
But Honda said they'd made gains with their second iteration of the new 2.2-liter V-6 turbocharged formula. Did they make up the power deficit or the economy deficit that seemed almost insurmountable a fortnight ago?
There were questions as to whether the cars and engines could make it through this 200-lap trial, with the second hottest day in the 96-year history of the race, where temps hit 91 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Never mind would they be fast - would they survive?
As is customary, the race hit its stride with 25 laps to go. While Chevrolet drivers Marco Andretti (the lap leader with 59 in the books), James Hinchcliffe, pole sitter Ryan Briscoe led many of the early laps, toward the end of the contest it was Honda drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato whose numbers were scored atop the Speedway's pylon.
The finish of the 96th Indy 500 - Photo courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series/LAT USAEnlarge Photo
And it was Franchitti, who fought with teammate Dixon over those final laps, finding himself in the right place at the right time - seemingly a master of circumstances - earning his third Indy 500 victory under caution, after Sato tried an opportunistic final-lap lunge on the bottom of the track in the first turn that surely didn't pay off.
"I moved over; I knew he was coming," Franchitti said. "I came back over and I moved up the track. He got loose underneath me. Kind of reminds me of Emerson and Little Al at the end there.
"It was a crazy race before that, getting spun in the first pit stop, having to fight our way from the back to the front. That was tough, but it also gave me a lot of confidence because I knew how good the car was at that point."
After his final fill-up, with 35 to go the team asked Franchitti to save fuel. "I came on the radio and said, 'been here before.' Off we went. Scott and I were fighting back and forwards, Takuma was in there, Tony came in and got in the lead.
"It was kind of like old times, the three of us back and forwards. I thought, 'Dan is laughing at us right now going at it," he remarked with a smile. But then Sato came in and Franchitti moved back up the track to give him more room.
"He lost the rear," he explained. "Turn one was the trickiest corner; if you went in with a tight line, it tended to get a bit loose. He lost the rear, came around and hit us. I managed to catch it. That was it."
Dixon finished second after leading 53 laps, 0.0295 seconds behind his Team Target teammate. "With 34 or so to go, nobody really wanted to lead because it was right on the margin there for fuel mileage.