29 May 2011
Indy 500: Wheldon takes second title as JR crashes
Dixon had got ahead of Tagliani before that second caution, and at the restart Tag returned the favour and went ahead again for a lap. But the Sam Schmidt Motorsports car then dropped back to second as the meat in a Ganassi sandwich: Dixon in the lead, Dario Franchitti running in third ahead of Oriol Servia. Tagliani lost his rhythm and fell back, and Servia's speed was no match for the Ganassis and he too lost positions during this stint. It seemed to be coming together very nicely indeed for Chip Ganassi, with one of his junior team drivers Graham Rahal also figuring strongly and one of the biggest gainers of the early part of the race.
Green flag pit stops had just started to cycle through on lap 62 when Jay Howard emerged from pit lane - only to suddenly have his right rear tyre fly off, in a more dramatic version of Will Power's earlier mishap. The loss spun him into impact with the inside wall, robbing him of the chance to get the car back to the pits for new tyres. He was out of the race.
It turned into a remarkably good stroke of fortune for Dario Franchitti, who had entered pit lane just before it was closed for the caution and therefore able to take his stop as normal - a break which saw him take over the lead of the race from Scott Dixon. Danica Patrick, on the other hand, was stuck out on the race track with her #7 running on fumes. She had to resort to a "splash and dash" mercy run and then make a second proper stop when the pits finally properly opened for business, but it wasn't helping her campaign.
It was also not a helpful stop for Tony Kanaan, who had been running strongly up in the top six during this stage of the race. But when he came into pit lane he had the misfortune of trying to pull into his pit just as Pippa Mann pulled out of hers, and she blocked his access. In F1 terms it was "unsafe release" and the responsibility of the team to give her better direction, but that was no consolation to Kanaan.
At the restart on lap 70, the top six order was Franchitti, Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell and JR Hildebrand. The latest attempt at a double file restart was messy (and occasionally three-wide) but without incident, although Dixon cruised past Franchitti for the lead and Tagliani took third from Wheldon. The top five quickly pulled out a gap of some 3s over the rest.
Further back, Ryan Hunter-Reay had been running in 15th in his transplanted AJ Foyt Racing entry, but on lap 79 he got to high up and gave the wall a light tap that broke his rhythm and dropped him to the back of the lead lap in 24th.
As the race made it to the midway point it was time for another cycle of green flag pit stops - and once again, they were incomplete when the fourth caution of the afternoon came out. This time it was James Hinchcliffe who went into the wall in turn 1 on lap 101: "Sorry, boys," he said over the radio, sounding truly gutted for his pit crew.
"At that point, we were driving on borrowed time after what happened with Viso," he admitted. "We were just about to pit; the tires were just starting to go off. Bertrand [Baguette] got a good run on me, and I was really just trying to let him go. I backed off early and was giving him the corner but unfortunately got a little bit in the grey [marbles]. With how worn the tires were, at that stage of the stint I was just a passenger."
Once again the yellow had come out just after Dario had made it into the pits for his scheduled stop; once again, Danica was caught out and had to bring in her #7 for a mercy splash-and-dash and come back for a proper stop when pit lane was properly open.
The pit stops had left Dario in the lead ahead of Oriol, Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter, with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon in fifth and sixth at the restart on lap 107, which was even messier than before but IndyCar was clearly in no mood to waste everyone's time and patience on waving off restart attempts if it could be helped. Helio Castroneves was also in the lead pack, but as lapped traffic - until he promptly got past Dario to unlap himself and put himself temporarily back on the lead lap after all.
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