Dismal day for three-time Indy champ Dario
27 May 2013
Dario Franchitti inadvertently played a major role in deciding the outcome of the 97th running of the Indy 500 on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But not in a way he would have wanted.
At the final restart with three laps to do, Franchitti's #10 Ganassi car understeered off into the marbles - and then right into the wall. That ended Franchitti's race, but in truth he hadn't been in it from the start.
"Sums up our day," said the Scot, who turned 40 last week the day after qualifying for this year's Indy 500. "Our car was never really good all day. In traffic, we couldn't make anything happen. It was loose in the middle, big understeer.
"I was just going backward, sliding around on those old tyres," he said. "I went into the first corner on the last restart, and it just didn't turn and then the hit. The big, old hit."
That meant the race ended under caution, and with Franchitti's good friend Tony Kanaan having just pulled around Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead in the brief spell of green flag running it meant that Franchitti's misfortune had just handed the Brazilian his first Indy 500 victory.
When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up a little bit!" admitted Franchitti. "Great, just phenomenal that Tony won. We had a crap day. We were never in contention, but I'm just so happy he won. He's a very, very deserving winner."
Franchitti was one of the first to congratulate Kanaan in the mayhem of victory circle in the shadow of the Pagoda, and did indeed look genuinely happy knowing that Kanaan's face would not sit alongside those of Franchitti and Dan Wheldon on the surface of the massive Borg-Warner Trophy - three of the four Andretti-Green musketeers reunited in silver plate, with the fourth - Bryan Herta - there in spirit as well as the owner of Wheldon's 2011 race-winning car.
Franchitti was the fifth driver to cause a caution during the two hour 40 minute race on Sunday. The first had been JR Hildebrand who lost the back-end of the Panther #4 National Guard in turn 2 on lap 3; then Sebastian Saavedra had exited the race with a crash on lap 34 after getting chopped and squeezed down low in turn 4 by Dale Coyne Racing's Pippa Mann.
"I just got loose, and I was trying to stay on the outside while giving [James Hinchcliffe] enough room to pull out," said Hildebrand. "I just got loose and saved it once - but couldn't save it twice, and at that point, it just went around."
"It's sad the way the month had to finish," said Dragon Racing's Saavedra of his own premature exit from the race. "We had an amazing car that was drilling its way from the back to the front. Unfortunately, circumstances happen that come out of your hands and destroyed our chances of showing our true potential today. Something needs to be done to help prevent these kinds of situations from happening," he added, seething over Mann's 'chop' that ended his race.
Mann was apologetic but said that it hadn't been her fault. "I know Sebastian is really furious at me right now," she said. "It's so unfortunate. I was just trying to avoid Buddy Lazier in front of me. I don't know why, but he [Lazier] was off the pace in between Turns 3 and 4, and to avoid hitting him I had to stand on the brakes.
"I very nearly lost my car because of that, and then I looked in my mirrors and saw Sebastian spinning," Mann added. "I feel incredibly bad for him and his crew, and for the work they will subsequently have to do."
Takuma Sato brought out a caution when he spun in turn 2 on lap 56, but he didn't hit anything with the #14 and was able to continue. "It was a difficult spin for us," he said. "It was lucky we saved it, but our problem all day was with the grip. We had big problems with that."
Less lucky was Graham Rahal, who brought a 135-lap green flag stint to an end when he spun on lap 193, skated over the infield grass and hit the inside retaining wall on the exit of turn 2.
"I'm obviously pretty bummed for the team," said Rahal, who was driving for his father Bobby's Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team this year. "I told Dad the lap before, 'This thing is getting really loose.' I tried to hold on to it, but I was fully off the throttle, and that was it. I was probably pushing too hard to make up some spots, and it snapped sideways in Turn 2. I tried to save it, and it didn't come back, unfortunately."
Dale Coyne Racing's Pippa Mann and Schmidt-Peterson's Katherine Legge both had contact with the wall early in the race. Neither brought out a yellow, but while Legge was able to carry on albeit seven laps down after repairs, Mann's day was done on lap 46 - and she wasn't happy about the outcome.
"I'm furious over race control and Graham Rahal, she said. "Under the yellow flag period, a lot of cars pitted and then stood on the gas after the blend line on pit lane exit, and blended in front of me when they shouldn't have been there. I was told to re-take my position, which I tried to do, and then there was some very aggressive re-passing going on under yellows, with cars that were meant to be lined up behind me.
"Graham Rahal was one of them, and I've since heard that he's been fined by race control, but regardless, he was in front of me on the restart," she continued. "I caught him a couple of laps later as he was moving around in front of me, and I made a rookie mistake in his dirty air and hit the wall.
"I'm pretty frustrated right now. For sure with myself, but also with race control and Graham, too," she finished.
Rahal was indeed fined £10,000 for a rule violation related to how he blended back into the field of cars after his pit stop. His RLL team mate James Jakes also received the same fine for a similar violation. But it was no consolation for Mann, who ended up watching the rest of the race from pit lane.
The only other cars not to make it to the finish were Buddy Lazier's #91 Lazier Partners car which developed mechanical problems on lap 44, and Dragon's Sebastien Bourdais who made it all the way to lap 178 before an error coming into pit lane slammed his car into the pit wall as he tried to slow down.
"On that first fuel stint, we got low on fuel and lost fuel pressure, and we could never get it back," said Lazier. "It was something electronic or mechanical; we can't tell for sure. It was missing bad enough that you can't run the speed to stay out there. And it was only getting worse and we wanted to keep it from getting expensive," he admitted.
As for Bourdais, there was little that the four-time Champ Car World Series champion could do but to cop to a rookie error.
"Tried too hard coming into the pits," he said. "I jumped on the brakes and locked the rears up, which caused me to lose the rear end and hit the wall inside of the pits. It's a shame because we have worked real hard to put this #7 McAfee/Variety car up front and were not able to get the results we wanted today."
In total, only six cars failed to last the distance meaning that 27 cars made it to the chequered flag - a new record, beating the previous best of 26 lasting the distance. That's a record that has stood since the very first Indianapolis 500 back in 1911.
The race also saw the the longest green flag period in Indianapolis 500 history since caution flag laps were first recorded in 1976, and matched the record for the fewest number of laps under yellow (21) in the same period.