Indy 500: Conway crash among early exits
28 May 2012
In his first Indianapolis 500 run since his massive accident in 2010 that put him out of motor racing for the rest of the year, Mike Conway found himself once again not quite the right way up on Sunday - and perilously close to the catchfence that had done for his car two years ago.
Fortunately on this occasion the upturned #14 AJ Foyt Racing car managed to ride the top edge of the concrete wall before falling back right-side-up onto the track with no further harm done. The accident had started with damage to his front wing in a pit road incident that ended up sending him into the wall on lap 78, collecting Will Power on the process.
"My mistake coming into the pits," admitted Conway. "Came in a bit too hard and collected some of my guys, and that screwed up the front wing and we didn't realise it till I got out.
"Through turns 3 and 4 it felt a little wiggly, and I thought it was just tyre temperatures," he explained. "But down the front straight when I went down into turn 1, I could see one of the endplates sticking up in the air. I knew it wouldn't be right turning in, so I tried to back out just going in.
"I knew Will was close behind me so I didn't want to back out too much, and the car got very loose, which I was able to correct it once. But it broke loose again, and I couldn't catch it the second time and then I was just a passenger onboard. I'm very sorry for my guys; I'm glad that they are okay."
Will Power was distinctly unimpressed at being the victim of someone else's accident when he'd been minding his own business all day.
"[Conway] said the team sent him out with a broken wing. I don't understand why they would do that," he said. "I'm fine, but I'm just disappointed for the Verizon guys. All the work they put in this month, and to be just taken out that. Obviously, both of us are okay. We'll move on."
Conway and Power were just two of the 11 retirements during the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500, which began with Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro being black-flagged for not keeping up to sufficient speed, and ended with Takuma Sato crashing out at the start of the final lap while battling race winner Dario Franchitti for the lead.
Wade Cunningham retired on lap 42 after being beset with electrical problems from early in the race: "At about 30 laps, the motor started winding down, and I could no longer run sixth gear," he said. We made our first pit stop early, which indicated we had a problem in the engine. The engine never really ran after that ... The engine wouldn't go over 11,000 rpm, so rather than get in the way and potentially ruin someone else's race, we pulled it back here to the garage."
"It's heartbreaking," admitted the Kiwi racer. "I've worked seven months to put this together to find the sponsorship to make a contract with Larry [Foyt] that would work for everyone."
Bryan Clauson was next out on lap 46, having earlier spun in turn 2 to bring out the first caution of the afternoon on lap 14. "It wasn't good," Clauson said of the car after that first early mishap. "We were struggling with the handling and not getting any speed out of it."
Ryan Hunter-Reay ran strongly early in the race, but once past the mid-point of the event his car suddenly experienced a suspension failure at the right rear of the car on lap 123: "We had a good car. We were just taking our time, saving fuel. We were behind the Ganassi cars and ready to do battle later on," he said. "We had a really bad vibration with one of the tires earlier. And then, something happened with the CV joint on the back. It came off. All the grease came out. We're lucky we didn't crash."
Sebastian Saavedra was also disappointed to be out of the race 20 laps later. "We were running a pretty strong race, we had an amazing car. We made very little adjustments in the early stops," he said. "From then on, we tried to push leaders. We got a drive-through penalty [for speeding during the first round of pit stops] and tried to stay positive. It was an amazing job by the AFS crew, but in the end we had a mechanical failure. We tried to fix it, but we couldn't find the problem. So we called it a day."
Josef Newgarden's day was also beset by ongoing technical gremlins, and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing rookie who had been such a standout performer in practice for the Indy 500 and who had been the highest-placed Honda-powered runner on the starting grid ended up pulling over onto the infield grass on lap 161.
"We were struggling from the start," he admitted. "We had a couple of issues trying to get gears in the pits, which put us back in a bad position. We kept fighting, though. We did a great job of staying in the hunt. We got really lucky when we got our lap back. We just kept pounding on the laps and finally got it back. Then it seems like we lost a bank [of engine cylinders.]"
Marco Andretti had the distinction of leading the most laps of the race - 59 of the 200 - but it all came to nought when he lost the handling of the #26 Andretti Autosport car on lap 187 and headed into the wall in a hard side-on impact just 13 laps from the finish. Andretti was distinctly unhappy with Oriol Servia, who he felt had pinched him down too low and left him on the white line and the grass verge that had caused the loss of handling.
"Servia decided to run two-wide at Indianapolis for two consecutive laps and makes me turn in from the white line," he complained. "I had no hope of making that corner because not only am I turning in from the white line, he just crossed my bow, so I was completely out of it. Nothing I can do.
"I'm disappointed, it definitely rang my bell," he admitted. Although unhurt, he'd had the air knocked out of him and looked slightly stunned when he eventually climbed out. When the team had radioed him to check he was okay, it was all he could do to gasp back: "Gimmie a minute."
Unfortunately it was just one more case of the Andretti curse making itself known, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway once more unwilling to succumb to the charms of one of America's premier motor racing families for at least another year.