SPEEDWAY — Just like last year, the running of the Indianapolis 500 came down to the last lap. And just like last year, a crash helped determine the winner of the 2012 Indianapolis 500, but it came in Turn 1 instead of Turn 4.
Last year, rookie J.R Hildebrand put his car in the wall coming out of Turn 4, allowing the late Dan Wheldon to fly by him and take the victory.
This year, Takuma Sato drove hard into Turn 1 and the back of his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda got loose, pushing him into the wall and brushing against the 2012 Indianapolis 500 winner, Dario Franchitti.
“Takuma came into the last lap, got a good run on the inside,” Franchitti said. “I moved over a bit. I saw him coming. I said ’No, I’m too late.’ This is well before the corner. I moved back up. We turned the corner; I gave him a load of room. With the tight line he lost the rear.
”He’s very aggressive. I think he thought that was his chance. I mean, why not? I think he did everything right up until he lost the rear-end of the car.”
Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon finished second with crowd favorite Tony Kanaan coming in third. Both Dixon and Kanaan agreed Sato became a little too aggressive, saying he probably could have waited to try and pass on the backstretch or on the way out of Turn 4 to the finish line.
Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan coasted to the finish line after the yellow came out. Franchitti steered the No. 50 Target car into victory lane, put on white sunglasses similar to the ones Wheldon used to wear and pointed to the sky before drinking from the traditional bottle of milk reserved for the winner.
“This means the world. This is Indianapolis,” Franchitti said. “Thanks to all of the Indianapolis fans for their tribute to Dan today. What a race. What a race. I think D-dub (Wheldon) would be proud of that one.”
The win marked Franchitti’s third at Indianapolis (2007, ‘10), placing him amongst six others — Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Helio Castroneves — to share that distinction. He trails only legendary racers A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser, who each have four Indy 500 victories.
But the win did not come easy, as the Scotsman plummeted into last place on Lap 15 after spinning while entering the pits as E.J.Viso nudged him from behind.
True to his calm and collected demeanor, Franchitti persevered, climbing back into the race a lap at a time.
“One of the reasons I love driving for the Target team, it’s the same thing the Andretti guys have, there’s no giving up” he said. “It’s like, OK, great, here we go. This is the situation we find ourselves in. How are we going to get out of it?”
That could have been the mantra for the entire Target Chip Ganassi team for their entire stay at IMS this year.
Both Dixon’s and Franchitti’s cars did not run as fast as they expected when qualifying, but between pole day, carb day and race day, the Honda engineers worked diligently to squeeze more speed from their engines as the teams worked to tighten down their end of things.
Of the fast nine to qualify, only one engine was a Honda, the rest were Chevrolets.
As the race wore on, the Penske team that had dominated the month at IMS so far seemed to fade out of the top seven spots and the Target Chip Ganassi squad of Franchitti and Dixon became stronger.
“It’s a team sport,” Franchitti said. “I’m very aware of the fact that the team wins it, myself and all of the other members of the team. That includes Honda. We all win together. I couldn’t just jump into any car here. This group of people I get to work with, I know how lucky I am and I don’t take it for granted.”
Notes: The lead changed three times in the last 10 laps and a record 35 times on the day. It was the second hottest Indianapolis 500 on record, reaching 91 degrees. Track temperature reached 133 degrees at Lap 140. Approximately 190 patients were seen at the infield medical, most were heat related. There were eight cautions throughout the day. Marco Andretti led the most laps with 59 and Dixon was second with 53.