24 May 2009
Castroneves wins Indy 500.
Helio Castroneves produced the perfect ending to a remarkable Month of May by capturing victory in the Indianapolis 500, his third in the event and Team Penske's record 15th success.
Just five weeks on from facing possible incarceration on tax evasion charges, the Brazilian added to pole position, fastest time on Carb Day and success in the annual pre-race pit-stop challenge by leading the last 58 laps to add to both his, and Penske's, Brickyard legacy.
Despite a mid-race blip, when a gearbox glitch gave rival Target Chip Ganassi Racing a shot at repeating in Victory Lane, Castroneves and Penske were in touch for most of the 500 miles, eventually sweeping back past 2008 winner Scott Dixon in turn one to reclaim the lead, and pulling away from the race's final caution to lead Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick across the famed row of bricks.
Although Castroneves got the jump on the field at the second time of asking - his initial attempt at taking the green having been waved off due to the margin he had built up - his lead lasted only for seven laps, all of which were run under yellow after Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti got together in turn three, ending the Brazilian's race on the spot and Andretti's after a brief return that only served to confirm that his handling was too awry to be safe.
On the restart, Castroneves' advantage was erased immediately as Dario Franchitti swept under the Penske entry into turn one, and the Scot underlined Ganassi's challenge by leading through to the first round of pit-stops, taken two laps after Ryan Hunter-Reay had compounded a miserable month by scrapping one of the Vision Racing Dallaras against, first, the turn four wall and then several acres of concrete as he careered down pit-lane.
Franchitti led off pit-lane too, with Ryan Briscoe getting the jump on team-mate Castroneves as the familiar white-and-red cars followed the Scot back on track, and the Australian was the next to taste the lead as he passed Franchitti into turn one on lap 54. He retained the advantage through the second spree of stops, facilitated by Graham Rahal replicating his 2008 exit against the turn four wall while trying to pass the slower Milka Duno, while Dixon came into the reckoning by beating his team-mate off pit-road to make it two Ganassi cars behind the leading Penske.
It wasn't long before the reigning IndyCar champion hit the front either, but Dixon's move was created by a bizarre loss of form for Briscoe, who reported that his car suddenly had no grip, the #6 causing the pack to go four-wide in places as it plummeted down the order and the train swept past. By the time he was able to stop for a new set of tyres, the Australian was in danger of dropping out of the top 20, and returned to the fray a little further back.
He was running 23rd when veteran Davey Hamilton brought out the race's fourth caution after collecting the wall in turn four, the ensuing pit-stops seeing Franchitti getting back out in front, ahead of Dixon, Tony Kanaan, while Castroneves lurked back in fourth, albeit seemingly unable to do anything about the trio ahead of him. The Brazilian was followed by impressive rookie Raphael Matos, who was holding Patrick and Will Power at bay.
The restart, on lap 90, confirmed that Dixon was not prepared to play second fiddle to his team-mate, Franchitti despatched at turn one, but the Ganassi battle was interrupted by a big hit for the luckless Kanaan. The Brazilian arrived at Indianapolis at the head of the point standings, but his Brickyard misfortune saw the #11 entry turn sharp right on the back straight thanks to a suspected driveshaft failure, before careering into the following bend at unabated speed. Kanaan was a passenger, but still managed to escape unhurt, if a little battered, bruised and dazed.
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