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Indy 500: 'A Cinderella story' - Wheldon

Dan Wheldon was in tears as he took the chequered flag at the end of the centennial Indianapolis 500, saying it was a fairy tale come true: "This is a Cinderella story!"
No one doubted Dan Wheldon's driving talent and abilities coming into the 2011 Indianapolis 500: two consecutive second-place finishes here in the last two years proved that well enough.

But coming here in a one-off deal with a start-up team, having failed to find a regular IndyCar season seat for the year, meant that Dan Wheldon never featured in anyone's list of "drivers who might actually pull this off", not when faced with the Ganassi and Penske juggernauts - even when the team performed impressively on pole day and qualified for the race on the second row of the grid in sixth place.

"On paper, based on our previous effort, anything, on paper we really had no business believing we could win it," admitted Bryan Herta, the team owner behind Dan Wheldon's Indy 500 campaign. "But Dan believed in us so strongly he made us believe it, too. I really think over the course of this last two weeks, he made the crew guys believe it, he made a lot of people on the outside believe it ... It's really his spirit that came across the whole team and made us believe we had a chance to win this thing."

"Bryan has been a teammate and a good friend for a long time gave me a fantastic opportunity to win this race," said Wheldon, beaming from ear to ear. "I just knew when I started this race that I wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for not just myself, I didn't feel we had anything to prove, but for such a great group of people."

It wouldn't be right to say that Wheldon simply won because others' pit stop strategies backfired - the Bryan Herta Autosport William Rast #98 was always circulating right up there in the top six from the very start, and wouldn't budge even as others (such as polesitter Alex Tagliani) started to falter over the gruelling 500 mile, three hour race.

But certainly it was Ganassi's strange decision to put race leader Dario Franchitti on a daring long-distance fuel conservation strategy and to short-fill Scott Dixon that opened a door of opportunity to Herta's leading driver.

"There were several different strategies being played out there," said Herta. "We were on the strategy of Dario had been going longer than us on the pits all day long. When we saw him coming in, it kind of made up our mind to stay out because we knew we couldn't beat him on fuel mileage. We had to try something different.

"So when these strategies were playing out, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. But we knew we wanted to give this guy enough fuel to race to the end, just keep it flat. We didn't want to save fuel, we wanted to go race those guys."

Wheldon was fully on board with that. "On the radio with 20 to go, they said: 'Listen, this is the deal. Some people are going to try to make it on fuel. You're one of the guys that can make it to the end. But you've got to go and you have to make sure you get everything out of the car that you possibly can,'" he explained. "I didn't have a problem. I was able to catch traffic perfectly without having to lift. They said that there was one person [JR Hildebrand] that potentially could make it, I believe. So that made me even more hungry. I started pressing the overtake ...




Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Dan Wheldon can`t believe he`s just on his second Indy 500. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday May 29, 2011. [Picture credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
Scott Dixon rolls out of pitlane during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway, Will Power, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. (Photo Credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. (Photo Credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
James Hinchcliffe on course during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens)
James Hinchcliffe on course during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park. (Photo Credit: Chris Jones)
Chevrolet Racing introduces the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 Indianapolis 500 pace car Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will drive the Camaro Z/28 to pace the 98th running of the race on May 25. It’s the eighth time a Camaro has been the pace car, starting in 1967 – and the 25th time a Chevrolet has paced the race. The 2014 Camaro Z/28 is the most track-capable model in its history, building on the legacy of the original SCCA Trans Am-series contender introduced in 1967. (Photo Courtesy of IMS Photography for Chevy Racing)
Chevrolet Racing introduces the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 Indianapolis 500 pace car Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will drive the Camaro Z/28 to pace the 98th running of the race on May 25. It’s the eighth time a Camaro has been the pace car, starting in 1967 – and the 25th time a Chevrolet has paced the race. The 2014 Camaro Z/28 is the most track-capable model in its history, building on the legacy of the original SCCA Trans Am-series contender introduced in 1967. (Photo Courtesy of IMS Photography for Chevy Racing)
Chevrolet Racing announces Tuesday, March 25, 2014 that three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will drive a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 to pace the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. It’s the eighth time a Camaro has been the pace car, starting in 1967 – and the 25th time a Chevrolet has paced the race. The 2014 Camaro Z/28 is the most track-capable model in its history, building on the legacy of the original SCCA Trans Am-series contender introduced in 1967. (Photo Courtesy of IMS Photography for Chevy Racing)
Chevrolet Racing announces Tuesday, March 25, 2014 that three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will drive a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 to pace the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. It’s the eighth time a Camaro has been the pace car, starting in 1967 – and the 25th time a Chevrolet has paced the race. The 2014 Camaro Z/28 is the most track-capable model in its history, building on the legacy of the original SCCA Trans Am-series contender introduced in 1967. (Photo Courtesy of IMS Photography for Chevy Racing)
Dario Franchitti reviews data in the Target Chip Ganassi pit stand at the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Oriol Servia sits in his car on pit lane during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway preps to head out on course during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud sits in his machine prior to practice during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Mikhail Aleshin on course during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves sits in his machine on pit lane during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya sits in his car on pitlane during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya sits in his machine on pit lane during the 2014 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday March 18. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)

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Well Done Dan - Unregistered

May 30, 2011 11:18 PM

Sad thing is, here in England most of the newspapers today giving full page coverage of the Monaco GP and Lewis's outburst, and then as a tiny footnote 'Oh by the way, a British driver won the Indy 500...' We have got great (winning) talent in motorsport worldwide, but if you ain't in F1 then you don't get the recognition.

Federico_USA - Unregistered

May 31, 2011 4:17 PM

A deserving win for Dan "the closer" and Bryan Herta Motorsports. Dan is a true champion and he and Bryan are great spokesmen for the sport. Dan drove his heart out and as was said before you have to lead the last lap and cross those bricks to close it and win all the marbles.. Hopefully sponsors will be coming out of the wood works for Dan and Bryan to do some more racing in the near future. All the best to both of you.



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