30 May 2011
Indy 500: 'A Cinderella story' - Wheldon
"On that last lap I was trying to deal with bears between turns 3 and 4. In the corner of my eye, I saw him hit the fence. I just carried on by. As Bryan says, you have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point, I knew it was mine.
"When I saw him crash, I mean, I knew it wasn't serious. As soon as I knew it was not serious, there was a little smile on my face, I will say," he admitted. "From that point, it was just making sure that I didn't do anything silly. Then I think I got on the radio and started crying ... I'm not normally that emotional!"
With Ganassi running dry and Penske strangely never a factor in the race at all, Hildebrand's exit from the race in those last few yards cleared the final hurdle for one of the sport's all-time classic "David versus Goliath" victories.
"With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske's organisation and Chip Ganassi. We've had a very, very quick car all month. I don't think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race. So that's a testament to [our] team," he said. "It's tough to beat these big teams. This is a Cinderella story."
Bryan Herta was at pains to point out just how much this Cinderella story relied on the partnership he and his team had forged with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, who despite being in the full time IndyCar series for the first time themselves this year nonetheless bring a huge amount of experience from previous Indy 500 efforts and from their dominant IndyLights operation. Their lead driver was polesitter Tagliani, who crashed three-quarters of the way through the race after the car lost its handling.
"I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the technical partnership we had with Sam Schmidt Motorsports," said Herta. "They welcomed us. Something that could have been viewed as a distraction by them, they saw that this is a benefit and we can really work together. They were very, very open with us in everything. Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell, Dan - they worked as teammates all month long. I think that absolutely made a difference to our program. We really have a big, big thank you to them, as well."
Asked how he felt about his win, Wheldon understandably struggled to put it into words. "Just extremely happy. I mean, this is obviously a very, very special racetrack to me. I love this racetrack. I love how the fans energize the Speedway. To think that I'm a two-time winner ...
"I'm talking a lot, but just very, very emotional," he said at last. "It was emotional for me, as well, to win for my wife and my family.
"I think my contract expires at midnight tonight!" he said, beaming - as big as hint as could be that here was a newly crowned Indy 500 champion looking for a good offer to come back to racing full time as he could give short of taking out a billboard advertisment. "I'm sure I'll be back to changing diapers by tomorrow. My wife might let me off tomorrow morning, but tomorrow afternoon...
"People shouldn't forget what a great job my wife has done," Wheldon continued. "There's times where you do doubt yourself a little bit. Through all of this, she's been incredibly supportive, and she understands that this is all I've ever done. Racing is all I've ever done. She knows that racing creates the personality in me that she loves. So she was desperate to get me back out the house and in a race!"
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