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Wheldon Has An Understanding With Indianapolis

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2010

Dan Wheldon just seems to be in harmony with the Indy 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – A little success for Dan Wheldon always seems to surprise people these days.

The elfin Englishman was always among the favorites when he won the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the series title while driving for Andretti Green Racing when it was a powerhouse team.

Since then, Wheldon has jumped to Target Chip Ganassi and now Panther Racing, where his results have not been as positive.

Still, Wheldon has talent and the drive to excel – particularly at Indy, where he and the track seem to have some kind of understanding.

On Sunday, Wheldon ran quietly among the top 10 most of the race and, when everyone was scrambling to make their fuel last, he took advantage of his experience and finished second for the second straight year.

“I’ve driven here for some great organizations,’’ he explained. “Although they’re different, they all bring great race cars to Indianapolis. … Qualifying didn’t go to plan but, every practice day and after qualifying, when we were on track, we were very competitive.’’

Wheldon said he likes to believe he has a good feel for his race cars.

“I’m sure the engineering staff would say I’m incredibly demanding,’’ he noted. “It’s on races

Dan Wheldon finished second in the Big One.

like this where if you’re detailed oriented, methodical, you can prepare what is a very good race car. It doesn’t matter where you start, you can get to the front.’’

Wheldon started 10th on Sunday and just hung tough throughout the race.

“The team did phenomenal pit stops,’’ he said. “They had a great strategy. I believe myself and my engineer work well to the point of being able to get good race cars. It certainly pays off, especially at a track like this.’’

Over the years, Wheldon has had a real affinity for Indy, a place he dreamed of racing – and of winning at – when he was growing up in England.

In eight starts on the 2,5-mile Brickyard oval, Wheldon now has five finishes in the top four.

For  a while later in Sunday’s race, it looked like Wheldon might overtake leader Dario Franchitti, despite the fact that the Scot had the dominant car all day.

Franchitti was desperately saving fuel, slowing on each lap in an effort to make sure he had enough ethanol to get to the finish. His speed of just over 202 mph three laps from the end was by far his slowest of the day and, even then, he was certain he could reach the finish.

“He was definitely slowing down,’’ Wheldon said. “I feel I could have gone a little bit quicker those last few laps had I perhaps not been as disciplined as I was.

The issue was decided on lap 199 of the 200-lap event when Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed. The race finished under caution with the disappointed Wheldon crossing the finish line right behind Franchitti.

“Nonetheless, we got a good result and we’ll carry that momentum to Texas (Saturday night) and, hopefully, that will propel us to a great second half of the season in the championship,’’ Wheldon  said.

But finishing strong at Indy does not come close to satisfyiing Wheldon’s hunger for another 500 win.

“It was a good day,’’ he said of Sunday’s race. “But I can tell you, if I have to race until I’m 86 years old, I’m going to race until I win another Indianapolis 500. It’s an amazing event.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2010
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