Wheldon grabs second Indy win

Indycar Racing News

This year’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 turned into one of the most exciting races anyone has seen at the historic track. The outcome was impossible to predict through the closing laps as the field shuffled itself while fuel strategies played out. For a while it looked like Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi’s team had played their cards perfectly, with the Scot stopping for fuel under a late yellow and then moving towards the front as the leaders peeled in for their stops.

But then Franchitti started running low on fuel, and instead of assuming the lead had to make another visit to the pits. That left rookie JR Hildebrand to lead the chase and he looked set to score a surprising win before it all went wrong as he lapped Charlie Kimball’s car into Turn 4 on the final lap.


“Knowing that the cars in second and third were coming [on] pretty strong I decided that rather than downshifting to risk slowing the car down coming onto the front straight,” said Hildebrand. “It was a move I had used earlier in the race to get around some slower cars but I guess with the tyres worn there were a bunch of marbles on the outside. Once I got up there, there wasn’t a lot I could do.”

In a flash Hildebrand was in the wall (below), and as his car skated toward the start/finish line Dan Wheldon shot past to lead the race’s final few hundred yards. It was the first time Wheldon had led all day but it was the right time to be in front as he scored his second Indy 500 victory, crossing the line two seconds ahead of Hildebrand’s churning wreck.

Wheldon first won at Indianapolis in 2005 when he was driving for Michael Andretti’s team. This year the Briton found himself without a ride but was hired a few months ago by Bryan Herta to drive his car on a one-off basis at Indy. Wheldon may not be the world’s greatest road racer but he’s an ace on ovals, finishing second at the track the past two years. He qualified on the outside of row two for this year’s 500 and was in the hunt all the way, running third or fourth for most of the distance in company with poleman Alex Tagliani, Chip Ganassi team-mates Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and Oriol Servia in Newman/Haas’s lead entry.


In the closing stages Wheldon and Herta’s team, led by veteran engineer Steve Newey, played their fuel strategy perfectly. As the 200 laps ran out Wheldon was in second place, closing fast on Hildebrand, and when he crashed Wheldon was perfectly placed to score a popular victory for a small team with only one race in its schedule this year.

“With 20 laps to go they said on the radio, ‘You’re one of the guys that can make it to the end, but you’ve got to make sure you get everything out of the car that you possibly can’,” explained Wheldon. “So I said to myself I’m going to move the weight jacker every lap to optimise every corner and adjust the rollbars to maximise everything. I was able to catch traffic without having to lift and I started pressing the overtake button. On the last lap I was trying to deal with some lapped cars in turns three and four and in the corner of my eye I saw JR hit the fence. I just carried on by and at that point I knew it was mine.”

Dan Wheldon cools down with the traditional quart of milk after his Indy win

A great win for Wheldon then, and a jump-start surely for his stalled career. Former driver Herta says his plan is to concentrate on putting together a full season for Wheldon in 2012 rather than trying to add some races this year.

As Wheldon took the flag Hildebrand scraped home in second followed by Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan and Dixon, while a deeply disappointed Franchitti was 12th, the last driver to complete the full race distance. Team Penske’s three cars were surprisingly uncompetitive with Will Power and Hélio Castroneves finishing a lap down in 14th and 17th and Ryan Briscoe eliminated in a collision with Townsend Bell.

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