Wheldon Wins 100th 500 After Last Turn Crash
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Indianapolis – Englishman Dan Wheldon celebrated his second Indianapolis 500 victory Sunday with the clock ticking, and the beach and dirty diapers beckoning.
“I think my contract expires at midnight tonight,” said Wheldon, joking with team co-owners Bryan Herta and Steve Newey during their post-race news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I just knew when I started this race that I wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for not just myself – I didn’t feel I had anything to prove – but for such a great group of people.”
Working under terms of a one-off/Indy-only schedule, Wheldon and the fledgling Bryan Herta Autosport IZOD IndyCar Series team scored an upset for the ages during the 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500. Wheldon inherited the lead on the 200th and final lap when rookie J.R. Hildebrand hit the wall exiting Turn 4, a straightaway removed from what would have been an even bigger upset.
“In the corner of my eye, I saw him hit the fence,” said Wheldon, a 32-year-old native of
Emberton, England, now residing in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I just carried on by. As Bryan says, you have to make it to the Bricks (start/finish line) with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point I knew it was mine.”
Sunday’s victory in the No. 98 William Rast–CURB/Big Machine Dallara/Honda was the second for Wheldon at IMS, where he won in 2005 with Andretti Green Racing en route to the driver’s championship.
“This is obviously a very, very special racetrack to me,” said Wheldon, the 18th multiple winner of the Indy 500. “I love this racetrack. I love how the fans energize the Speedway. To think that I’m a two-time winner, I mean, Bryan – who has been a teammate and a good friend for a long time – gave me a fantastic opportunity to win the race.”
It appeared, however, that Wheldon was destined for his third consecutive second-place finish here to rookie Hildebrand, the driver who replaced him at Panther Racing after a sometimes tumultuous two-year stint. Hildebrand had inherited the lead on Lap 198, when Bertrand Baguette of Rahal Letterman Lanigan LLC was forced to pit for fuel under green. At that point, Hildebrand’s lead over Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, stood at a healthy 3.5925-seconds. On Lap 199, Hildebrand’s advantage over Dixon grew to 3.8403-seconds.
With the crowd standing and applauding John Barnes’ Indianapolis-based team, Hildebrand exited Turn 4 high and slid into the SAFER Barrier while attempting to lap fellow-rookie Charlie Kimball. Hildebrand’s car hugged the wall, leaving a black streak on the white concrete as the yellow and checkered flags flew. Wheldon, who had passed Dixon for second, crossed the Yard of Bricks with tears in his eyes.
“My emotions, I didn’t have any,” said Wheldon, who was credited with leading only one lap – the fewest by any Indy 500 winner. “Right up until the point that I passed JR, I didn’t. I was so focused. It was one of those races where it was so competitive that you
had to be on your game. When I saw him crash, I mean, I knew it wasn’t serious. As soon as I knew it was not serious, there was a little smile on my face, I will say. From that point, it was just making sure that I didn’t do anything silly.
“Then I think I got on the radio and started crying. I’m not normally that emotional. But having been through what we’ve been through, being able to deliver this for everybody is certainly very gratifying. Proud of everybody. In terms of what it will do for the future, it will make me a happier person on the beach.”
Hildebrand, a 23-year-old native of Sausalito, Calif., didn’t waste much energy on what might-have-been. Running at a pace designed to conserve fuel and tires, Hildebrand said he was aware that Wheldon and Dixon were “coming with some heat” as the laps clicked off.
“Certainly, I was aware of the fact that I had some gap on them,” said Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Honda. “But then, on the last lap, I started catching some other cars coming out of the pits as I was cycling through (Turns) 3 and 4. I guess as it happened, I ended up catching the No. 83 (of Kimball), I think, going into Turn 4 _ a fairly inopportune area.
“I quickly decided, knowing that the cars in second and third were coming pretty strong, that rather than downshifting a bunch, sort of risking slowing the car way down coming onto the front straight to stay behind me, I thought I’ll breathe it and go to the high side because it was a move I used earlier in the race to get around some slower cars in a fairly similar situation.
“I guess with the tires as worn as they were, that sort of stint of the race being as long as it was, there were a bunch of marbles (balls of tire rubber) on the outside. Once I got up there, there wasn’t a lot I could do. I mean, I was like Flat Chad after I hit the wall to try to get the thing across the start/finish line. It’s a helpless feeling driving the race car when you get in a situation like that. It’s most extreme at a place like this where it truly does turn into a one-groove track towards the end of the race. That was certainly my mistake to have judged it otherwise.”
Wheldon’s margin of victory was 2.1086-seconds at an average speed of 170.265 mph. Wheldon scored the 16th victory of his IndyCar Series career and first since prevailing at Iowa Speedway in June 2008.
Herta, Wheldon’s former teammate at Andretti Green (now Andretti Autosport), said this deal was finalized shortly before the IndyCar season-opener in March.
“Dan has done such a great job,” said Herta, who won four open-wheel events and made five Indy 500 starts between 1994 and 2006. “One of the things he did for us is bring an attitude and a belief we could win this race. On paper, based on our previous effort, we really had no business believing we could win it. But Dan believed in us so strongly he made us believe it, too. I really think over the course of the last two weeks he made the crew guys believe it, he made a lot of people on the outside believe it, because so many people were coming up to us the week of the race saying, ‘We think you’re going to win.’ It was so uplifting.
“So when these strategies were playing-out, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. But we knew we wanted to give this guy enough fuel to race to the end, just keep flat. We didn’t want to save fuel, we wanted to race those guys. Somehow, it all worked out.”
Second-generation driver Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing finished third and Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology-Lotus placed fourth. Dixon rounded out the top five, followed by Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing, Baguette, Tomas Scheckter of KV Racing Technology – SH Racing, Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport and teammate Danica Patrick. With rumors continuing to swirl around a fulltime move to NASCAR in 2012, Patrick led 10 laps (179-188) before being forced to pit for fuel.
Ganassi Racing’s Dixon (73) and Dario Franchitti (51) combined to lead 124 laps, while pole-sitter Alex Tagliani paced another 20 laps before his victory bid for Sam Schmidt Motorsports ended against the Turn 4 wall with 52 laps to go. The popular Canadian finished 28th.
Team Penske’s victory plans ended when the organization’s lone lead-lap driver, Ryan Briscoe, was involved in a Turn 1 wreck with Townsend Bell on Lap 158. Teammate Will Power suffered a major problem just after the start of the race when he exited the pits with a left rear wheel unsecured. The wheel quickly fell off; Power soldiered to a 14th-place finish. And Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, underwent a series of misadventures, including a flat left rear tire on Lap 158. He finished 17th.
Wheldon believes he has found a home with Bryan Herta Autosport, which is preparing to run the full IndyCar schedule in 2012 _ when a new chassis/engine package will be introduced. Herta added he currently has no plans to compete in Round 6 of the series, the Firestone Twin 275s night races at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on June 11.
“It was not the plan,” said Herta, who forged a technical association with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at IMS. “Our plan has always been to race here, and we’ve got a project that we’re going to be working on a little later this year that we’re committed to. We never had a plan to do more races this year. Our plan was always to try to come back and compete fulltime next year. Right now, that’s still the plan.
“Does this (win) change anything? I don’t know. I think it’s going to create some opportunities for us for sure and I think we’re going to have to decide if we stay the course or if we take advantage of any of the opportunities that may come up. But for me, there’s nothing else we can do this year that’s going to be any better than this. All we can do is come down the mountain now. If I were to look ahead right now, what I really want is to sign a sponsor and sign Dan Wheldon and go racing next year fulltime and try and win the championship.”
Wheldon, meanwhile, said it wouldn’t take long for him to gear down. “I’m sure I’ll be back changing diapers by tomorrow,” said Wheldon, the father of two boys. “My wife (Susie) might let me off tomorrow morning, but tomorrow afternoon…”
Results Sunday of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (6) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
2. (12) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
3. (29) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
4. (22) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
5. (2) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
6. (3) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
7. (14) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
10. (25) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
11. (8) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
12. (9) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
13. (28) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
14. (5) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
15. (11) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
16. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
17. (16) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
18. (7) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
19. (30) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
20. (31) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
21. (32) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
22. (17) John Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
23. (33) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
24. (15) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 193, Running
25. (24) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 175, Running
26. (4) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
27. (26) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
28. (1) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 147, Contact
29. (13) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 99, Contact
30. (20) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 60, Contact
31. (23) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 44, Handling
32. (18) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
33. (10) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 20, Contact
Winners average speed: 170.265
Time of Race: 2:56:11.7267
Margin of victory: Under Caution
Cautions: 7 for 40
Lead changes: 23 among 10 drivers
Lap Leaders: Dixon 1-7, Tagliani 8-26, Dixon 27-33, Tagliani 34, Dixon 35-60, Franchitti 61, Carpenter 62-64, Franchitti 65-72, Dixon 73-98, Franchitti 99, Hildebrand 100-103, Franchitti 104-112, Servia 113-128, Franchitti 129-137, Hildebrand 138, Baguette 139-140, Franchitti 141-163, Servia 164-165, Rahal 166-171, Dixon 172-178, Patrick 179-188, Baguette 189-197, Hildebrand 198-199, Wheldon 200.
Point Standings: Power 194, Franchitti 178, Servia 150, Kanaan 135, Dixon 129, Rahal 120, Briscoe 117, Hildebrand 113, Tagliani 110, Mike Conway 102.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments