27 May 2012
Indy 500: Dario wins, from back to front
And what was this, two places back from Sato? Dario Franchitti, back from the dead and already in eighth place, seemingly rising without conspicuous effort and causing his car owner Chip Ganassi none of the heart palpitations that Sato was inflicting on poor old Rahal.
By the time the next round of pit stops loomed, Franchitti had worked his way past Sato and Power and was up into third place behind Andretti and Dixon. Marco was in first among the leaders on lap 75 while the Ganassi duo had few more laps before they came in, seemingly answering for good the pre-race question of whether Honda's newly-improved power was coming at the cost of a significantly shortened fuel mileage. If anything, it seemed that the Honda runners were getting the better distance at Indianapolis, which was quite a surprise to many.
The pit stops cycled through with minimal incident except for Sebastien Bourdais being penalised for speeding on pit lane. That is, until Mike Conway came in and misjudged his approach into his pit stall, promptly bowling over multiple members of his pit crew like a line of skittles. No one was hurt other than bruises and pride, but it was a penalty-level offence.
But there was worse to come for Conway: one of the falling mechanics had landed on the AJ Foyt Racing car's front wing and damaged the struts. When Conway got back out on track and tried getting up to speed, the front wing didn't like that one bit and made its displeasure known by failing to provide the expected levels of downforce. The car wobbled, bobbled - and headed off into the wall.
Unfortunately this happened right in front of Will Power, who was trapped with no where to go but right into the scene of Conway's accident. The Penske car slid under Conway's DW12 and leveraged it up onto its side and hoisted it onto the top of the concrete wall so that Conway was shoved several metres backwards along the race wall propped up at right angles, before the car finally toppled back right-side up onto the race track. Fortunately neither the car nor the driver had made contact with the catchfence, and while there was a lot of damage to both cars there was no harm done to either driver who were both evaluated and released by the infield care centre.
In fact it was Helio Castroneves who came scarily close to being injured in the crash that had happened well away from him. As the two broken cars rebounded from the wall, one of the tyres detached from the wreck and bounced away right into Helio's path. It was frighteningly close to landing in the driver area, and instead bounced off the top of his right front wheel. Although no damage appeared to have been done by the near-miss, the car never seemed the same again and Castroneves complained bitterly of understeer for the rest of the race. He managed to stay out of trouble and hold on to the end to claim tenth place, but his hopes of adding a fourth Indy 500 win to his resumé were done for another year.
The restart was short lived before Ana Beatriz spun in turn 2 on lap 90, right in front of Ed Carpenter. Beatriz avoided putting it into the wall - although her rear wheel guard was dislodged by a glancing blow - but Carpenter managed to bounce two wheels off the wall as he managed to avoid ploughing into her.
There was a divergence of pit stop strategies at this point, with Dixon and Franchitti staying out with Hunter-Reay to assume the lead but Marco leading Sato, Hinchcliffe, Briscoe and a number of others onto pit lane. On their exit they encountered Ana Beatriz, who was now having problems getting back up to speed in the acceleration lane: Marco nearly ran right into her, and exploded on the team radio with fury. In fact, Marco's day had reached something of a turning point and he would increasingly lose his cool - both literally and figuratively - for the remainder of the race, starting with the way his shoe was melting onto the pedal because of the heat in the cockpit.
Looking at the Ganassi pair leap away at the restart, Marco and the Andretti squad as a whole were all wondering whether their decision to come in had been such a good idea after all. The team advised Hinchcliffe to abandon any plans for fuel saving and just use whatever he needed to claw back position, and Hinch responded with a succinct "Roger: hammer down."
As the race passed the halfway mark, Dixon and Franchitti led Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Sato and Justin Wilson. That made it a five-one ratio of Hondas to Chevrolet, a very different situation from the appalling showing by Honda in the qualifying session just a week before. While the end result would see the honours even in the top ten, it certainly showed that the race wasn't shaping up as well as Chevy had been hoping it would.
Simona de Silvestro
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