27 May 2012
Indy 500: Dario wins, from back to front
The race ran incident-free through another round of pit stops, during which time series rookie Rubens Barrichello led for a couple of laps. After the stops had cycled through, it was Sato who proved to have had the best of it and who was now in the lead, and the Ganassi duo seemed quite content to leave him there and just shadow him. It meant that the Japanese driver was expending precious fuel punching a hole through the air, while Dixon and Franchitti were in cruise control.
Elsewhere, a few gremlins were starting to make themselves known. Hunter-Reay was suffering from vibration, and then suddenly something broke at the back - part of the suspension had failed. He had no choice but to come into pit lane and park the car. His team mate Marco Andretti was also highly vocal about vibrations on his own car, and even Dario Franchitti was expressive concern about the shaking on the #50 car - although that would be solved by the next change of tyres.
That opportunity came with the fourth caution of the afternoon on lap 146 triggered by Sebastian Saavedra coming to a halt in turn 2 with electrical problems. At the restart on lap 153, the Ganassi boys had clearly decided that they no longer wanted Sato as their stalking horse and muscled him aside to claim the race lead for themselves, seemingly playing a cagey strategy of swapping track position between them while guarding from any counter-strikes from the rear from the likes of Sato, Hinchcliffe, Wilson or Carpenter.
If the early-race fuel strategies hadn't completely gone out of the window by this point, then the fifth caution of the day for Josef Newgarden's mechanical failure on lap 164 certainly did. While still nominally too far to make it all the way to the end on a single tank of gas, everyone pitted regardless: just a few laps under caution could tip the balance, and even if they didn't arise then the more fuel on board now meant a shorter splash-and-dash near the end.
AT the restart on lap 171, the Ganassis battled for the lead and broke away from two rows of three-wide battles for the remaining positions - so much for single-file restarts! The big winner of this battle was Ed Carpenter, who suddenly looked beautifully poised to take the fight to Dixon and Franchitti - until he pushed it down just that little bit too far on the track and spun out on the white line on lap 181 in turn 1. He kept it off the wall and escaped with nothing more than flat-spotted tyres, but the requisite pit stop that followed meant he was out of contention all the same.
The race restarted with just 16 laps remaining to run. It was a messy getaway, and the person to benefit the most was none other than Tony Kanaan who jumped from sixth place and into the lead for the first time today. For the first time in almost half a race, the Ganassi duo were looking rattled: here was someone with the quality of race car coupled with the wisdom of proven experience who could ruin the day for them. The 300,000-strong crowd sweltering under record-breaking temperatures at Indianapolis Motor Speedway erupted: there could have been no more popular win at this point than for Kanaan to go on and lead from here to the chequered flag, and they made their feelings known with a roar.
And then the race was suspended again: a seventh caution was out, after Marco Andretti got too low and suddenly had his car take off and hit the wall hard side-on at turn 1, knocking the wind out of him. After having spent the latter half of the afternoon venting his fury over the radio about one annoyance after another, how he was uncharacteristically quiet: "Just gimmie a minute," he replied to his team as they radioed to see if he was okay.
Six to go at the restart, and the crowd cheered again for Kanaan as he led the field to the green flag. But Dixon and Franchitti had regrouped from their earlier surprise and had no time for crowd favourites, quickly passing Kanaan and leaving the Brazilian to try - and fail - to hold off Takuma Sato for third place.
If Scott and Dario thought that the final laps would be a sibling battle between themselves, then Sato was about to give them a final rude awakening. Having passed Kanaan, he kept on coming: Dixon couldn't hold him back and suddenly the race was down to a two-lap shootout between Sato and Franchitti.
Franchitti was just ahead as the pair took the white flag, but the early laps had demonstrated just how much the aerodynamics of the DW12 on a speedway disadvantaged the leader and favoured the pursuer. Sato moved out of the tow, moved down, and took the tight inside line into turn 1. It was neck-and-neck, wheel-to-wheel as Franchitti moved down to pinch him as tightly as he could to defend his position. It was for the Indy 500 victory, after all - do or die.
Simona de Silvestro
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