Indianapolis 500 Notes

Speedway, IN – “Today’s effort shows that our team is still competitive with the best teams in IndyCar,” said Rahal Letterman Lanigan C.O.O. Scott Roembke.”To come here with two strong cars and have a chance to win at the end gives us great reason to be optimistic for the future. ”
And the team was in a good position as driver Bertrand Baguette lead the 500 with three laps to go. A late race stop for a splash of fuel forced the Frenchman to give up the lead position, but the team’s young driver still finished seventh.

“We tried. We failed. I would love to be back with this team. They did a fantastic job. They deserve to be full time in the championship,” argued Baguette.

And for one race the smaller, less-funded teams in IndyCar competition were, at least, the equals of the Penske/ Ganassi juggernaut that often dominates competition.

The little guys won the pole last week with Alex Tagliani and his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team, giving notice that things could be different this time around.

Team Penske is the most successful team in the history of the Indianapolis Speedway. They were looking for win number 16 today, but could only manage 14th with Will Power, 17th with three-time winner Helio Castroneves and 27th for Ryan Briscoe who was involved in an incident with Townsend Bell.

Winner Dan Wheldon had some thoughts on why things seem to be getting more equal.

“We might be considered a small team, but we’ve spent a lot of money on this race. Our sponsors have helped us out a lot, especially William Rast. One factor for our success is that we get more track time here at Indy and that helps us catch up (with the bigger teams) a little bit,” said the now two-time winner who was out of a job till he struck a deal with owner Bryan Herta. “The bigger teams have more resources that we don’t have that help them when testing is at a minimum. The simulation programs that the big teams work on, the fine tuning, the wind tunnel stuff, the shaker rigs, that’s all well and good.

“The people that form this team, the relationships that we’ve all kind of bonded very quickly, have been extremely good. With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske”s organization and Chip Ganassi. We’ve had a very, very quick car all month. I don’t think I saw a Penske car in front of me all race. So that’s a testament to the team.”

And Wheldon also noted their alliance with Schmidt. “Steve (Newey) was very astute to collaborate with Sam Schmidt and we can’t forget (their drivers) Alex, Townsend (Bell), all the engineering guys and mechanics did a fine job.”

So what is it that allowed the smaller teams to pull closer to the “Big guys”? Was it more track time? Better communications? Perhaps the use of the same chassis and engine for many years?

Earlier in May Roger Penske had this to say about his team: “Our teams have been working hard to prepare for the Indy 500 and we believe we have three cars and three drivers that are very capable of winning the race.”

But capable doesn’t always equate with able. And today Bryan Herta Autosport and Sam Schmidt Motorsports found something that brought them a win.

As Penske said after the race, ” It was a tough day. We’ve got to execute. This is a great place, but a tough place to win.”

And perhaps hard-luck “almost winner” J.R. Hildebrand said it best when asked about his Panther Racing team coming close to scoring an upset win before crashing on the last lap. “I could give you a fairly complicated answer to that in terms of what I would say. I think in the general sense, and this is just speculation on my part: It has nothing to do with nothing. “

And that’s as good a reason as any.

• Many wondered why the Penske cars of Ryan Briscoe and Will Power displayed Hendrick Motorsports decals here at Indianapolis. Some speculated that it has to do with Penske utilizing Chevrolet power at Indy in 2012 since Rick Hendrick’s team is Chevrolet’s standard- bearer in NASCAR.

• Reports had surfaced last week of the possibility of a future sale of the Indianapolis Speedway. Though nothing further has developed since then, talks with several employees of the facility revealed that they would not be surprised if something occurred before the 2012 race.

• Parnelli Jones, the 1963 race winner, gleamed as he got out of the 1911 race-winning Marmon Wasp after thrilling the crowd with a pre-race lap. He said that it wasn’t as good, however, as his race-winning “Calhoun” fielded by J.C. Agajanian. Drag racing champion Don “The Snake” Prudhomme inspected the Wasp after Jones brought it in and noted that he couldn’t imagine racing that car for over six hours in a race.

• While there were some empty seating areas in the turns, veteran observers felt that this was likely the largest fan turnout in many years.

• When defending 500 champion Dario Franchitti took the lead on lap 61, it marked the sixth 500 that he has led in eight starts. For Bertrand Baguette, his move to the front on lap 139 was his first time in the lead in two career starts here.

• The audible groans that echoed through the crowd told the story of the race as fan favorites Alex Tagliani, Simona De Silvestro, Danica Patrick and finally, J.R. Hildebrand fell out of the race or gave up the lead.

• Replays clearly showed that winner Dan Wheldon was well past Hildebrand before the yellow flag was displayed after Hildebrand’s crash. Some had questioned whether Wheldon was in the lead when the yellow flew.

• Graham Rahal joined his father, 1986 winner Bobby Rahal, as the sixth father-son combination to lead the 500. Cousins Marco and John Andretti finished 9th and 22nd respectively.

• The restart on lap 28 was the first double-wide attempt on an oval in series’ history. However it was a three-wide approach that included E.J. Viso and James Hinchcliffe that forced Viso into the turn 1 barrier after contact with Hinchcliffe. The next restart attempt on lap 33 went smoother with no contact. Viso’s incident ended his streak of completing 139 laps in each of his three 500 starts.

• In Victory Lane, an emotional Wheldon noted that his mother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer ‘s disease. “I want to say hi to my family back home, my mother. The Alzheimer’s Association (for) the chance to represent them. Hopefully this made them smile”

• Wheldon became the 18th driver to win the 500 at least twice. He led the race for one lap, passing Hildebrand less than a straightaway before the checkered flag.

• That’s the fewest laps ever led by a 500 winner. The previous record was two, sset by Joe Dawson in 1912.This is also the second time that a driver lost the lead on the last lap. The other was Marco Andretti in 2006. Ironically both were rookies when that occurred.

• Wheldon’s Indy experience is a one race contract with Bryan Herta Autosport that expires at midnight tonight. He deferred a question regarding the rest of the season to others. “That’s one for the owners.”

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