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Indy 500: Wheldon takes second title as JR crashes

He kept on coming, and the crowd kept on cheering the prospect of an All-American victory on the ultra-patriotic Memorial Day weekend. Up ahead the only fly in Hildebrand's ointment was the slow traffic of Charlie Kimball, but Hildebrand kept up high to make sure he gave his fellow rookie enough room, not wanting to startle him and cause any crashes the last time through turns 3 and 4.

He went high ... and he kept on going higher. Once on the marbles he was gone and into the wall on the exit of turn four, just yards now from the famed yard of bricks marking the start/finish line. It was agonising: the impact against the wall had wrecked the car, there was no way of steering and no power, yet still the car ground its way over the remaining distance, clawing its way forward like some dying animal determined to get its offspring to safety.

It made it; the #4 slid all the way down the track and finally came to a halt on the entrance to turn 1. The only problem was that the process had been agonisingly slow, and before the wreckage could manage to get itself over the finish line there had been a blur of orange and white go past.

Unbelievably, Dan Wheldon had taken the chequered flag first, and would head to pit lane to drink the traditional glass of milk and don the winner's laurel.

"In the corner of my eye, I saw him hit the fence," said Wheldon. "I just carried on by. As Bryan [Herta, car owner] says, you have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point, I knew it was mine."

It was a horrible moment for Hildebrand, who had been holding his destiny in his own hands when he made the error that cost him the most famous of race victories possible. No one could quite believe it, and for a time rumours flew that Panther would appeal the race result on the grounds that Wheldon had overtaken Hildebrand under caution - a strict racing protocol no-no. Two hours later, an official review of the video and photographic evidence proved that the caution had not in fact been out when Wheldon passed Hildebrand's crushed car; and IndyCar officials made clear that even if this had not been the case they would still rule that the Panther was too "wounded" to be legitimately protected by the yellow flags.

Wheldon's victory was confirmed: the British driver who had been left without a regular season drive in IndyCar in 2011 had come almost out of nowhere to claim his second Indy 500 title, after two consecutive years of finishing second (all of them in different teams) and also with a third and a fourth to his name in ten starts overall in this famous race - quite a record.

Dan Wheldon couldn't quite believe it, and the tears streamed down as he climbed out of the car. Team owner Bryan Herta couldn't believe it either: while Wheldon's track record here is undeniable, no one expected him to be seriously in with a chance to win the race with a start-up team, even one run by a motor racing great like Herta.

"We came here to win," said his car owner Bryan Herta, who was a driver here in 2005 when Wheldon won his first Indy 500. "We always said we came here to win ... But we actually won!"

And as celebrations overran victory lane, spare a thought for the young man standing in disbelief next to a wrecked car, running his fingers through his hair, wondering exactly how he'd managed to not get a couple of dozen yards down the road in time.




Related Pictures

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Pippa Mann is delighted, giving interviews after succeeding in qualifying for the Indy 500 grid. Bump Day, Sunday May 23, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Dana Garrett for IndyCar Media]
Andretti Autosport`s Danica Patrick during Indianapolis 500 qualification weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2011. [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
Dan Wheldon, who crossed the line first at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 race on Sunday May 29. [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29: Alex Tagliani (bottom), Scott Dixon (middle) and Oriol Servia (top) form the front row. [Picture credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) wrecks on the last turn of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 while running in the lead. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 29 2011. [Picture credit: Jim Haines for IndyCar Media]
Dan Wheldon celebrates with the traditional drink of milk at end of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: LAT Photo USA]
Dan Wheldon celebrates at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: LAT Photo USA]
The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: Larry Seidman for IndyCar Media]
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates his pole position Sunday, May 31, 2015 for today`s Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit, the second of two IndyCar races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. Qualifying was not completed due to rain and standing water on the track. Montoya captures the pole position based on being the leader in the driver point standings. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates his pole position Sunday, May 31, 2015 for today`s Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit, the second of two IndyCar races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. Qualifying was not completed due to rain and standing water on the track. Montoya captures the pole position based on being the leader in the driver point standings. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, runs in the rain during qualifying Sunday, May 31, 2015 for today`s Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit, the second of two IndyCar races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. Qualifying was not completed due to rain and standing water on the track. Montoya captures the pole position based on being the leader in the driver point standings. (Photo by Scott R. LePage/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power crosses the start/finish line during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle Park - Saturday May 30 2015. (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Hello Castroneves, driver of the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet V6 IndyCar, races to a sixth-place finish Saturday, May 30, 2015, during the the first of two Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Scott R. LePage/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V6 IndyCar, races to a fifth-place finish Saturday, May 30, 2015, during the the first of two Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan.(Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V6 IndyCar, races to a fourth-place finish Saturday, May 30, 2015, during the the first of two Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet V6 IndyCar, celebrates his third-place finish Saturday, May 30, 2015, during the the first of two Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet V6 IndyCar, races to a third-place finish Saturday, May 30, 2015, during the the first of two Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Dual In Detroit races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott R. LePage/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power leads the field through Turn 8 during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle Park (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)

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