Franchitti Captures Emotional Victory

Speedway, IN – I apologize to Takuma Sato. Having taken the white flag going into the final lap of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, in a battle for the win with two-time race champion Dario Franchitti, I thought to myself, “Dario, you’d better watch out, Sato is the bravest guy out there.”

Perhaps that jinxed him, because it was the brave former Formula One driver from Japan who dove low and paid for it when the two Dallaras apparently touched. Sato spun and hit the barrier hard while Franchitti went on to his third Borg Warner trophy and an emotional victory podium with wife Ashley, owner Chip and best friend Dan Wheldon’s wife Susie.

But was it another three-time winner who gave the Scotsman some motivation? Or was it Wheldon?

“The last week I’ve been studying my buddy JR’s book,” said Dario, who appreciates the history of our sport more than most drivers. “Johnny Rutherford gave me his book with a wonderful inscription, and he said he hoped to welcome me to the three-time club. To be in the company of guys like that means so much.”

“Thanks, also, to all the fans for their salute to Dan today.” (The speedway handed-out DW-style sunglasses that were worn by the crowd as a salute to the fallen 2011 500 winner).” I think D-dub (Wheldon) would be proud of this one.

“This means the world. This is Indianapolis. To be on this trophy, on either side of Dan, that means more than anything.”

• Then there is the so-called ‘Andretti 500 jinx’ here at the corner of 16th and Georgetown.

Grandpa Mario won here once, only to receive a winner’s kiss from car-owner Andy Granatelli. Some reward! More often than not, Mario dropped out with the strongest car under him. He won elsewhere in many forms of racing. F1 world champion, Daytona 500 winner, LeMans, etc.,etc. But he leads the family Indy 500 wins with one.

And father Michael, Marco’s car owner and a beneficiary of the family bad luck was inducted into the Indianapolis Racing Hall of Fame this week with nary a 500 win, though he also has many away from here as a driver and owner.

Marco may have inherited the genes today after dropping out with 13 laps remaining. He led the most laps in the race with 59, but finished 24th after starting 4th. Oh, and do you remember when he got upside-down on the backstretch?

There should be many more chances for him to beat the jinx, but not today.

• Three former Formula One pilots participated today with very mixed results.

Takuma Sato led 31 laps and was in a position to win; only to crash on the last lap while battling for the lead. His best F1 finish was in 2004 right here at the United States Grand Prix, finishing third on the Speedway road course. “I was going for the win. On the last restart we jumped from seventh to fifth, then fourth, third, second. On the very last lap I had a tow from Dario and thought I had the job done. But he kept pushing and didn’t give me enough room, so I was well below the line. (At this point we need to point out that Dario disagrees with Takuma’s view of the attempted pass).

Rubens Barrichello was out of an F1 job until Brazilian countryman Tony Kanaan got the KV Racing team to offer Rubens a seat as his Indy Car teammate. Road course results have been mixed after four events, but never having competed on an oval wasn’t a bother today. Who knew? “It was a great achievement today. The first oval experience; it was very different than anything I’ve done. I had a wonderful afternoon. You learn who races a little bit hard and who races a bit more friendly,” said the leader of two mid-race laps. ” But the last 20 laps, I tell you, they are completely different from the whole other 180. People are really, really going for it, as I did. But like I said, I was flat out all the way through, but I had too much push. It’s madness out there sometimes.” He finished 11th, but stayed out of trouble and seemed to enjoy his time here. It’s a pity we didn’t finish in the top-10; just outside. But I can be proud of that for my first time out.” Maybe that means he’ll be back.

Frenchman Jean Alesi also liked his first try at the 500, albeit in the underpowered Lotus, it was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Alesi tried to remain positive throughout, though he was black-flagged after only nine laps for running too slow vs. the leaders. “Frustration is part of my job. We worked hard and it’s a shame we can’t be out there. This regulation is fair,” noted the former Ferrari driver. “From the first day I understood that we had to work hard, and we did. We tried many things to avoid a lack of performance. I’ve learned a lot about this new racing discipline. I leave with a lot of respect for the Indy 500, an event I’ve followed from afar for many years. I hope to return next year. I will start to prepare now.” Au revoir.

Jim Clark and Graham Hill may have won here in their time , but no one earned more respect than Alesi. Bon jour.

• Winning car owner Chip Ganassi may have summed-up this year’s exciting 500 best when he said: ” We’ve gone through new cars and new engines. There were a lot of unknowns going into today’s race. There was a lot of passing going on. At the end there wasn’t anybody saving fuel there. At the end it was as fast as anybody could go, I assure you. What we saw here today was a motor race-not an economy run.”

• It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed as much joy and emotion from an Indy 500 crowd as I saw and heard today. People were genuinely excited about the race and the action it provided. The new DW12 cars honored Dan Wheldon’s development work as they raced well and are safe. Passing for the lead set a race record and glorious weather added to the fan’s enjoyment.
There were empty seats as has become common in this economy. The crowd seemed a bit smaller than last year’s Centennial Celebration of the first race, and that was a bit disappointing. That should not happen again. The Super Bowl of American open-wheel racing earned an overflow crowd next year after what they saw today. Dario, Marco, Takuma and Helio deserve it.

Indy 500 Notes:
• Jean Alesi became the third driver to start and finish the race in 33rd and last spot.

• A new record was set when, at lap 180 the 31st lead change took place. The race ended with the mark at 34.

• Formula One veteran Rubens Barrichello, running in his first oval race, led laps 125-126 during an exchange of pit stops by the leaders. He became the 58 th driver to lead in his first Indy start.

• As expected, the Lotus cars of Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi were black-flagged after 10 laps for not keeping their speed within 105% of the leader.

• To honor the 50th anniversary of team-sponsor Target, Dario Franchitti’s mount used #50 for this race only instead of its usual #10. He also had the Target dog with him at the winner’s press conference.

• The air temperature at race time was 91 degrees, but missed a race heat record (92) because the record is measured at the airport where it also got to 91. The record, set in 1937 was 92 degrees. The track temperature was 121 at the green flag and rose to 130 by lap 120. A welcome cloud cover moved in during the last half of the race to give some relief.

• IndyCar announced this weekend that the aerodynamic kit regulations for 2013-14 were sent to prospective suppliers earlier in May. Approved suppliers are to be announced in June. They will design and develop the aero kits, and may charge teams $75,000 per complete package. No team may run more than three approved kits within the two- year period, and one of the three must be the kit supplied by DW12 chassis supplier Dallara. Street/road course/short oval kits will allow development on side pods, front and rear wing end plates, flaps and the engine cover. Speedway kits may develop the same areas, but eliminate work on the flaps.

• In a display that perhaps may never be repeated, twelve former Indy 500 winners were driven around the track prior to the race, to roars of applause by the fans. The group included: Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Arie Luyendyk, Bobby Unser, Parnelli Jones, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Kenny Brack, Buddy Lazier and Gil de Ferran.

• In their never-ending battle for team honors in IndyCar, Target Chip Ganassi came out on top today with Dario and Dixon finishing first and second. Team Penske had Briscoe fifth, Helio tenth and Will Power 28th. Andretti Autosport placed Hinchcliffe sixth, Ana Beatriz 23rd, Marco 24th, Saavedra 26th and Hunter-Reay 27th.

There may be a sale at Target stores next week.

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