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2013 Indy 500: Tony Kanaan makes it to victory lane - at last!

26 May 2013

Never say never.

There have been times in recent years when it looked as though Tony Kanaan might retire from the sport, either willingly or forced out by the lack of a deal to keep him in a race seat. If that had been the case then he'd have exited the sport without ever having been able to claim victory in the greatest spectacle in motorsport, and without ever putting his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy alongside those of his great friends Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti.

Whatever happens now for the popular Brazilian, that's no longer a concern.

Tony Kanaan is, finally, an Indianapolis 500 champion at the 12th time of asking and at a tender 38 years of age, and he did it in fine form. No accident or flukes here, just a completely well-deserved soaking in the traditional pint of milk to help hide the tears of joy in his eyes.

The grid had seen a full compliment of 33 cars take the green flag, after Charlie Kimball had been given the all-clear from the medics after recovering from a nasty 24-hour bug in the run-up to race day. Polesitter Ed Carpenter took point, with Marco Andretti quickly displacing Carlos Munoz from second as the race got underway in cooler and more overcast conditions than expected.

It was only four laps before the first incident, JR Hildebrand spinning out the Panther car in turns 1 and 2 while trying to pass James Hinchcliffe and going backwards into the outside retaining wall. Some of the cars further back down the order took an opportunistic chance to visit pit lane before Ed Carpenter held off Andretti at the restart, but neither were match for Tony Kanaan who was absolutely flying even at this early stage of the proceedings, leaping from 12th place into a brief lead in a matter of just a couple of laps.

After a brief revival from Carpenter, it was Kanaan and Andretti who continued to trade the top spot between themselves over the next few laps until Kanaan became the first of the leaders to come in at the end of lap 29 for fuel and tyres, signalling the first proper round of pit stops for the day. Andretti and Carpenter were in next time around, signalling a flood of cars next time around with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud among the last to make their appearance on lap 32.

No sooner had the pit stops completed than the 2.5-mile speedway was under caution, after Sebastian Saavedra got chopped and spun the Dragon Racing #6 into the wall at turn 4. As one of the drivers to have pitted early under the first caution, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's James Jakes was leading but once he and the others likewise off=sync came in for a second stop it was Carpenter and Andretti who were duly restored at the front for the restart on lap 43 after a prolonged yellow.

There had been early electrical problems for Charlie Kimball putting the #83 Ganassi off the lead lap. Katherine Legge went seven laps down after needing suspension repairs following a brush with the wall, while Pippa Mann's glancing impact proved more serious and put the #63 Dale Coyne Racing car out of the race. Also sidelined was Buddy Lazier with a mechanical issue, while KV Racing's Simona de Silvestro received a drive-thru penalty for running over pit equipment during her stop. At least Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's woes were limited to the financial side rather than the track, as both received $10k fines for blend line violations.

One of the favourites for the win in this year's race, AJ Foyt's Takuma Sato - who had gone into the final lap last year battling Dario Franchitti for the lead - spun out exiting turn 2 and to his chagrin then stalled the engine, dropping him off the lead lap while getting re-fired as the third caution of the day came out that allowed the field to come in for a new round of pit stops on lap 58.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race off pit lane to lead Andretti, Carpenter and Kanaan at the restart on lap 61 but the pole sitter was soon back in charge of proceedings for a dozen laps before Kanaan jumped in front on lap 73 and then Will Power came on strong and took over two laps later as some of the early leaders - Carpenter and Andretti among them - started to wane and fall back as the green stint wore on.

As a new round of pit stops loomed it was Power leading Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, AJ Allmendinger, Andretti, EJ Viso and Carlos Munoz leading the race. Power surrendered the lead for his stop on lap 89 and the rest of the field cycled quickly through so that on lap 92 the sequence was complete and Kanaan was in front ahead of Hunter-Reay and Viso, Power having fallen back to seventh in the pit shuffle during which Jakes received a drive-thru for a safety violation after making contact with one of his pit crew.

Just before the midway point of the race, there was a new leader at the front - Indy 500 rookie AJ Allmendinger, having overcome early issues with gearing ratios and too much downforce, was having a phenomenal run and became the ninth leader of the race following 29 lead changes - already close to the track record of 34 for the entire 500 miles - after setting the fastest lap of the race so far at 225.9mph. The last time that he'd led at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 race in 2008.

Allmendinger's run in front came to an unfortunate end on lap 113 when he was forced to pit when his seat belt came loose, the stop putting him a lap down and landing the lead to Kanaan, Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Viso with three-time winner Helio Castroneves in hot pursuit. Despite the long green stint, the top 19 cars were still running within five seconds of the front as a new round of pit stops neared as triggered by Kanaan and Andretti coming in first on lap 122.

Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe were the last to come in and pit on lap 125 - coincidentally breaking the old record for lead changes in the process while also equalling the record of 12 different leaders in the Indy 500 - and the lead was back in Marco Andretti's hands ahead of Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Viso, Castroneves and Carpenter. The Andretti Autosport trio continued to rotate the lead between themselves while the fourth member of the line-up, James Hinchcliffe, survived contact with the wall which nearly bounced him into the path of fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani while running in the midfield.

After that unfortunate unscheduled pit stop earlier on, an off-sync Allmendinger was back in the lead on lap 137 in a race which saw the top nine cars running within 2.5 seconds of one another - and every single one of them a Chevrolet, the highest Honda car at this point being Scott Dixon in tenth place, confirming just how much the engine wars had swung in Chevy's favour in 2013.

Still disadvantaged by being knocked off his pit strategy but by no means out of contention for the win as a result, Allmendinger was in for his next stop at the end of lap 143 which briefly allowed Castroneves to lead - the 13th different man in front, another new record, as lead changes hit 45 and counting for the day when Marco Andretti popped back in front a lap later before his own pit stop on lap 152 to signal the start of a few fuel and tyres cycle. The one driver to have been seriously adversely affected by the penultimate round of pit stops of the day was EJ Viso, who stalled and fell to the back of the lead lap in 25th place as a result.

Once that all shook out, Marco Andretti was back fighting with team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead with Allmendinger in third ahead of Munoz, Kanaan and Carpenter, everyone with one stop to make although Allmendinger's schedule would mean his would be earlier, and take longer for additional fuel. However the good news was that no one was looking at an aggressive fuel conservation strategy at this stage: Allmendinger certainly wasn't saving anything at this stage, and on lap 165 he went back in front again for a period just to make the point.

Alex Tagliani and Townsend Bell were both forced to pit early after being bitten by the wall in separate incidents, and on lap 174 it was Allmendinger's turn to make his crucial final stop; Kanaan and Andretti were still trading the lead but super-rookie Carlos Munoz was also moving right into the thick of things, not having put a foot wrong so far all afternoon. hat couldn't be said about the vastly more experienced Sebastien Bourdais, who locked up his brakes coming onto pit road for his final stop only to snap the #7 Dragon car into the wall and crumple the front left suspension.

With fewer than 20 laps to go, the final pit stops played out and Kanaan was left at the head of the field trading the lead back and forth with Hunter-Reay ahead of Andretti and Munoz with Justin Wilson coming on strong in the closing stages with the fastest lap of the race to put him into fifth ahead of Helio Castroneves, Allmendinger having dropped back to ninth place with his need for extra fuel compared to the others but still only 2.7s off the lead all the same.

Then just when it looked as through the race was going to finish with a near-140 lap green flag run to the flag, Graham Rahal lost the rear of the #15 out of turn 2 and spun across the track and into a heavy hit with the inside wall to bring out the caution flags and set up a grandstand three-lap shoot-out finish to the Indy 500.

The restart came on lap 197 with Hunter-Reay leading Kanaan at the green flag; Kanaan had just ducked underneath Hunter-Reay for the lead and Munoz round the outside for second place when Dario Franchitti capped a thoroughly mediocre race for the Ganassi #10 by understeering into the wall to bring the yellows out again: for a few seconds no one quite realised the significance, but this close to the finish there was no chance of the wreck being cleared up in time to attempt a restart. With no equivalent to the NASCAR green-white-chequered system, the race would end under yellow with the field frozen as it stood.

It was no four-wide photo finish as had been the case in Friday's Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 (in which ironically Munoz had been the big loser as the line) but it was no less popular a result for all that: Tony Kanaan had finally won the Indianapolis 500 at his 12th attempt having finished second in 2004, third twice in 2003 and 2012 and fourth in 2011.

He was surely due this final step up to the top of the podium, and it seemed the entire Indianapolis Motor Speedway was delighted to join in the celebrations, including Alex Zanardi who had been on hand before the race to allow Kanaan a rub of his Paralympics gold medal for good luck - which had clearly paid off in spades.

You'd have thought that coming home in second in his first Indy 500 would have had Carlos Munoz jumping around in ecstasy after finishing in second ahead of Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Wilson, Castroneves, Allmendinger, Pagenaud, Kimball and Carpenter. But no: the Colombian looked crestfallen that after completing 200 laps and 500 miles of an inch-perfect d├ębut at IMS he had come within inches of a famous victory for the second time in just 48 hours.

It's clear that the 21-year-old has a great future ahead of him in the sport, maybe even one to match his compatriot and idol Juan Pablo Montoya. But as for the present, that belongs to Tony Kanaan.

Finally. And deservedly.

Full race results and championship standings are now available.


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