Fast was the word of the day as a near record setting pace livened up a hard fought race, with a surprise twist of a finish.
It was a beautiful day for racing today with weather in the Mid 80’s, little humidity, and a cloud free sky; this is a Morning in America type scene. There was all the usual fanfare that precedes the event; a parade of past winners, fireworks, and a B2 Bomber all flew overhead. Top Gear: USA host Tanner Foust was even there do a stunt involving a full size Hot Wheels track. The circus was on full swing.
On pole sat little known racer Alex Tagliani. An even more surprising showing by Simona Slivestro from Switzerland overshadowed him qualifying. Also known as the Swiss Missile, she experienced catastrophic suspension failure in practice, flipped her car, and ended up with second-degree burns on her hand. However, the next day she bandaged them and put the car in 22nd position. After the theatrics of qualifying, the race was shaping up to be a show of the ages.
There is no sound on Earth like that of the beginning of an Indy car race. You don’t as much here the cars as you feel them. As the cars approach your seat a wave of sound comes over you followed by a resonance that will not stop ringing from inside your head for the next few days.
This start was like 100 before it. Tagliani jumped out in front, but was soon overtaken by Target Racing driver Scott Dixon. Tagliani on lap 10 soon extinguished Dixon’s lead, the race was officially on. Drivers Jockeyed back and forth until the first caution came out. On Turn 2, Lotus Racing driver Takuma Sato skid into the wall. Shortly after that caution was lifted, his teammate E.J. Viso slid into the wall at turn 4. Tony Kanaan, a former Indy 500 winner, was the lone Lotus driver left.
On lap 35, Scott Dixon overtook Tagliani once again. From there, the field began to settle. The lead pack separated from the back markers and Dixon continued to put time onto his lead. One of these back markers was Simona Slivestro who suffered from mechanical issues all day. Eventually, she would be forced to retire from the race. Her day had come to a close, but everybody else sped headlong into the rest of the race.
On lap 60, Franchitti would become the third leader of the day as he overtook his teammate Scott Dixon. Open lap pitting then began as a few drivers began heading in for fuel, including Dixon. A loose wheel on Vitor Meira’s car caused him to crash and bring out the second caution of the day.
On a caution lap, the field is frozen and no one can change position. This means that Scott Dixon, and others that pitted, were stuck near the back of the field. At this point Ed Carpenter found himself in the lead for a short time until Dario Franchitti relinquished him of the position on lap 100.
After the pace laps for that caution ended, the race once again hit its rhythm. Orial Servia who was soon joined by a hard charging Scott Dixon overtook Dario Franchitti. Average speeds at this time reached 178mph, 5mph faster than the previous fastest race.
Teams began pouring into the pits out of necessity after the long run. After this period, Dario Franchitti would still be in the lead. However, on lap 147, Tagliani’s day would end when a flat tire caused him to crash. Now, with nearly 50 laps to go, pit strategy becomes crucial.
Some teams decided to pit, including Danica Patrick, who hedged their bets that there would be a few more cautions to come. If that were the case, these teams would not need to pit later, setting themselves up for higher positions. However, if the race continued with only a few cautions, these teams would find themselves out of gas.
The next caution came shortly when an altercation in Turn one put two drivers into the wall. I happened to be sitting in that corner and witnessed the crash firsthand. Imagine two hockey players checking into the boards. Now have them move at around 200mph and you can imagine the sound and the fury that results.
Drivers that did not pit before chose to after the accident, including Dario Franchitti. Graham Rahal would then lead with around 30 laps to go. Also pressing for the lead was Tony Kanaan, the lone Lotus driver, who had been struggling through midfield all day.
Rahal would need to pit shortly though and on lap 180 Danica Patrick, who had also been struggling on the day, would inherit the lead. The crowd was now on its feet every time she passed. However, Danica too would need to pit and would end up doing so on lap 190, 10 laps short from glory.
Another little known driver, Bertrand Baguette would take the lead from their, but he was also need to pit at lap 197. From here, rookie J.R. Hildebrand would take the lead with three laps to go.
On the final lap, J.R. Hildebrand is out in front with Dan Wheldon on his tail. The crowd is into the race as Hildebrand makes his way around the course, Wheldon a little more than two seconds behind. On the final corner, Hildebrand goes to pass a slower driver instead of slightly backing off. He hits a rough patch of tarmac outside the racing line and slams into the wall hard. He begins sliding at an over 100 mph on the way to the checkered flag. Wheldon shoots out from behind him and seems to pass him before the yellow is out. The track fell silent as people were reeling from just who won the race. Further replays would show that it was Wheldon, a driver that did not have a full contract this year, had won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.