Dario Franchitti drove a magnificent race at Indianapolis on Sunday to score his third win in America’s biggest race in the past six years.
Dario made a superb recovery after he was knocked into a spin by EJ Viso as he came into the pits for his first stop. The incident required fitting a new nose to Franchitti’s car, dropping him to the tail of the restart line, but Dario worked his way methodically back through the field so that he and Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon were challenging for the lead by half-distance.
Over the race’s second half Franchitti and Dixon ran together at the front most of the way pursued by a long train of cars. Among those giving chase were Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan and pole winner Ryan Briscoe resulting in some exciting closing laps as each of Kanaan and Sato fought their way to the front for short periods of time.
Going into the last lap Franchitti was leading with Sato making a serious run down the inside as they went into Turn One. For a few hundred yards they were side-by-side with Franchitti squeezing Sato but leaving him room until the Japanese ace lost control and spun, clouting the wall. Thus did the 96th Indy 500 finish under the yellow with Franchitti and Dixon scoring a resounding one-two for Chip Ganassi’s team and Honda engines.
“It was a crazy race, getting spun in the first pit stop and having to fight our way from the back to the front,” Dario said. “That was tough, but it also gave me a lot of confidence because I knew how good the car was. After the last pit stop they came on the radio and said you need to save fuel. I said, ‘been here before’. Off we went and Scott and I were fighting backwards and forwards and Takuma was in there and Tony too.
“Then Takuma came into the last lap and got a good run on the inside. I moved over a bit. I saw him coming and I said, ‘I’m too late’. I moved back up and we turned into the corner. I gave him a load of room but with the tight line he lost the rear and came around and hit us. I managed to catch it. That was it. A hell of a finish.”
After dominating qualifying it was surprising to see the Chevrolet teams, led by Penske and Andretti Autosport, struggle in the race. The Chevy engines appeared to lack the power advantage they showed in qualifying, and were unable to match Honda’s fuel mileage. A new ‘step two’ Honda engine was introduced after qualifying and the new engine clearly is a big improvement.
Despite sweeping the front two rows in qualifying the Penske and Andretti teams did not feature in the race. Pole man Briscoe was Penske’s best finisher in fifth place while Helio Castroneves finished a disappointing 10th and championship leader Will Power was eliminated in an accident with Mike Conway early in the race.
Through the race’s opening stages Andretti’s top three cars looked like serious contenders with Marco Andretti leading more laps than anyone else before his car’s handling went off and he fell back before crashing late in the race. Team-mates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay also ran well but Hinchcliffe lost time in the pits before fighting his way back to take sixth place while Hunter-Reay dropped out with a suspension failure.
One of the race’s more impressive performances came from Oriol Servia who worked his way up from the ninth row to finish fourth only a few seconds behind winner Franchitti. Justin Wilson also turned in an excellent race aboard one of Dale Coyne’s cars. Wilson fought for the lead at one point and eventually finished seventh behind Briscoe and Hinchcliffe.
So Franchitti has established himself as one of the Indy 500’s three-time winners joining Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Maury Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Helio Castroneves. It was also his 31st IndyCar win moving him into a three-way tie with Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais on the all-time winners’ list.
After a tough start to the season Franchitti now has the chance to mount a proper defence of his championship. With five of 16 races complete Dario has moved into a tie with Simon Pagenaud for sixth in the championship while Power continues to lead the points from Castroneves, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay.