After 12 years of trying Tony Kanaan finally put it all together to score a very popular win in Sunday’s 97th Indianapolis 500. Kanaan has been racing Indycars since 1998 and started his first Indy 500 in 2002. He’s led eight of the 12 500s he’s started, finishing second in 2004 and third in 2003 and again last year. He also won the IRL championship in ‘03.
After eight years with Michael Andretti’s team the Brazilian joined Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser’s KV Racing Technology team in 2011. Kanaan qualified 12th at Indianapolis this year and was in the hunt all the way, taking the lead for the first time on lap eight and leading for no fewer than 15 times for a total of 34 of the 200 laps. In the closing stages Kanaan duelled for the lead with Ryan Hunter-Reay and was running second when the yellow came out with seven laps to go after Graham Rahal crashed.
The final restart came with three laps to go and Kanaan pounced immediately diving inside leader Hunter-Reay on the run into the first turn with talented young Colombian rookie Carlos Muñoz following him through. But as the field rocketed through the first turn Dario Franchitti lost control and clouted the wall, bringing out another yellow. With that, the race was over and both Kanaan and KV Racing had their long-sought first win at Indianapolis.
“We had a great car,” Kanaan said. “I knew that from the get-go. We had a great plan and it was one of those days. Everything was so smooth. Jimmy [Vasser] was calm and I was calm. I felt that everything was under control, but in the 11 times I’ve been here I had the same thing.
“When there were six laps to go and I wasn’t in the lead I said, ‘today might be the day’. I knew I had to get the lead on the restart. Today, the yellow was my best friend. It was very special. I never had any doubt I could win this thing. There were many times when I thought I could do it and today it worked.”
After looking a likely winner, Hunter-Reay was disappointed to lose his chance on the last restart. “I could just put the car where I wanted to and pass when I wanted to,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were just kind of biding our time. The frustrating part is we were quick enough. But when you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer. Everybody will come on by. I’m actually happy we got third. I figured with the restart, being first, we would be shuffled back to fourth or so.
“When I got through turn one, tucking in behind Carlos, I said, you know what? This is perfect. We’re third with four laps to go. I can bide my time, put myself into a position to fight for it at the end, but it never came because the yellow came right back out. It was unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, Indy Lights championship leader Muñoz did an excellent job to finish second in his first IndyCar race. Muñoz ran with the leaders all the way and led the 500 five times for a dozen laps. He was in third place for the final restart and stole second on the run into the first turn. Muñoz was a unanimous winner of the 500’s Rookie of the Year award.
“I was a little bit nervous with the pitstops and the entry into the pitlane and out because I’d never done those things before,” Munoz said. “But I was pretty patient and at the end I was pushing more. It was a nice race for me, really a fun race for sure. I’m really happy with my race and I think I did a great month through all the days, the qualifying and everything.”
Fourth place went to Marco Andretti who started from the outside of the front row and led much of the early going. Marco led 31 laps and enjoyed a clean race, running in the thick of the battle for the lead all the way. Justin Wilson drove an excellent race to finish fifth in one of Dale Coyne’s cars, beating home Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and AJ Allmendinger. Chevrolet-powered cars swept the first seven places with Simon Pagenaud the first Honda driver to make the finish in eighth place.
Pole winner Ed Carpenter led the opening laps and looked a possible winner until falling back to finish 10th. But Carpenter led 37 laps, more than anyone else, and showed yet again that he’s a very good oval racer. “We were a little conservative and didn’t have the right amount of downforce compared to some guys and that did us in the end,” Carpenter said. “But that’s the strategy we went with and it didn’t work out.”
Out of luck were Long Beach winner Takuma Sato, Penske’s Will Power and Ganassi pair Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Sato ran with the leaders but spun in the middle of the race without hitting anything. He eventually finished 13th. Power was able to get to the lead at one stage but then fell back and found himself struggling in traffic. Late in the race he had to make an extra stop for fuel and finished 19th, the last man to complete all 200 laps.
After scoring an outstanding 1-2 sweep last year Franchitti and Dixon struggled with poorly balanced cars and were never able to run consistently in the top 10. Dixon made the finish in 14th place while Franchitti crashed on the final restart, bringing out the yellow that determined the race.
The race was the fastest 500 in history. Kanaan’s winning time of two hours, 40 minutes and 03.4181 seconds and speed of 187.433 mph broke Arie Luyendyk’s previous record of 185.981 mph set in 1990.
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