On paper, it was as dominant a victory for Dario Franchitti in the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 as there has been in the last decade. Outside of the drama in the last 10 laps, it was a largely trouble-free race for the winner while the rest of the field gave chase to the Scot who led 155 of 200 laps.
The race ended under caution from a savage accident involving Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials said Conway sustained orthopedic injuries to his left leg, and was transported via air to Methodist Hospital. Hunter-Reay had a thumb injury suffered during a pit stop. Two fans were treated for minor injuries and released after being struck by debris from the accident.
The final caution after the accident changed the final rundown. IMS officials reviewed videos from when the yellow flag flew and where cars were based on timing and scoring.
After review, IMS officials changed the final finishing order. Originally sixth, Marco Andretti was promoted to third while Alex Lloyd, Scott Dixon and Danica Patrick all dropped a position. Additionally, Mario Romancini moved to 13th ahead of Simona de Silvestro now in 14th as the top finishing rookie.
All month, things were going swimmingly for polesitter Helio Castroneves. But they quickly went south after the green flag flew. Franchitti's assault on the race began with a first lap pass of both Penskes, Castroneves and Will Power, and it had to be quick because the green didn't last long.
"That move at the start, I knew the car was capable of it," Franchitti said. "I was right at Helio's gearbox at turn 2, and then I was always able to gap them on restarts. I think we made a lot of the right choices on the car setup, I drove the thing as hard as I could."
The first yellow flew for Davey Hamilton for de Ferran Dragon Racing. The oldest driver in the field lost control out of turn 2 on the first lap, and he smashed into a non-SAFER barrier on the insider of the course. Already Tony Kanaan had leapt to 25th from 33rd, with Tomas Scheckter to 14th from 20th.
Honorary starter Jack Nicholson was still in the starter's stand for the lap 5 restart but that green period also was short. Bruno Junqueira, who was quick in limited seat time the last week-plus, also lost his FAZZT Race Team Dallara-Honda out of turn 2.
Franchitti controlled the pace on the restart from Power and Castroneves, and led the first 30 laps. Power looked like a potential winner with a lap 31 pass for the lead, but this lasted only five laps before Franchitti retook the position on lap 36.
Power's pit stop under green was calamitous, as he left the pits with the fuel nozzle still attached. The first of many penalties levied by IndyCar competition president Brian Barnhart sent Power back to the pits for a drive-through.
Most of the field made pit stops in the interim before another yellow on lap 40. The third of the day was caused by a dislodged mirror for Belgian rookie Bertrand Baguette of Conquest Racing. That cost him 17 laps and took the otherwise solidly running driver out of contention for the rookie-of-the-year honors.
On Franchitti's first stop, the Ganassi team made a slight front wing adjustment that propelled the Scot to lap times that left the rest of the field in the dust. He'd stretched the gap to Castroneves to 4.1 seconds on lap 62 after holding a 2.7 second margin on lap 57.
"My car was a handful, but a fast handful," Franchitti said of the changes. "It was a handful doing 223s and it looked better than it was half the time."
Another one to bite the dust from both penalties and the track was John Andretti. Michael's cousin and fifth driver had been given a black flag for blocking Dan Wheldon on lap 53 and on lap 65 he was the third to meet the turn 2 wall.
This pit stop sequence saw the demise of two front-runners. Raphael Matos had lifted the lead de Ferran Dragon entry to third place with a car very quick in the hot conditions and race trim and Scott Dixon was in tow in Ganassi's second car.
But as both left their stops, they were left to ponder the lyrics to "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille" only with "loose wheel" substituting. Matos left without his left rear tire, Dixon his left front, as neither was properly secured on the stop. They dropped to the tail of the lead lap drivers.
Things moved from bad to worse for "Rafa" after the restart. Matos lost the back of the car through turn 1 and suffered a heavy incident on lap 73.
Wheldon's camouflage-liveried Panther Racing entry was on the receiving end of another chop block down the backstraight after the restart on lap 79. Rahal moved Wheldon down to the white line and for his efforts earned the wrath of the officials, and a black flag with a drive-through penalty to serve.
The similarly ill-handling Newman/Haas Racing entry of Hideki Mutoh also bit the bullet around the halfway mark, joining five others out of the race.
While Franchitti had cruised to lead a majority of the first 100 laps, he was still chased by the Penske teammates Castroneves and Briscoe, Ed Carpenter who had a quiet but solid run for the joint Panther/Vision entry, the fast-charging Kanaan, Scheckter, Hunter-Reay, Power (who had recovered from his pit faux pas), Townsend Bell and Wheldon in the top 10.
At lap 100 the air temperature stood at 94 degrees Fahrenheit and the track at a toasty 128 degrees Fahrenheit.
The yellow flew again on lap 105 when Vitor Meira slowed following light contact that damaged the right front of his car and brought his retirement. Racing resumed on lap 112 with Scheckter assuming the lead on a slightly off-sequence pit strategy, followed by Franchitti, Castroneves, Kanaan and Briscoe. Kanaan passed Castroneves for third, then took aim on Franchitti who swapped places with Scheckter with Kanaan in tow. With the move, "TK" matched Scott Goodyear's record 33rd to second climb through the field.
The hottest 500 peaked at 96 ambient and 131 degrees Fahrenheit on the track at lap 125. Franchitti continued to lead Kanaan by more than five seconds, with Scheckter in third. Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Briscoe, Hunter-Reay, Bell, Power and Wheldon made up the rest of the top ten. Sarah Fisher retired after striking the wall with the right rear, breaking suspension parts.
The leaders pitted between laps 143 and 146 with Franchitti stretching his lead to fully twelve seconds after the stops. Marco Andretti moved ahead of teammate Kanaan into second. At lap 148 Briscoe hit the outside wall of turn 4, then bounced back into the inner wall and ripped off the right side of the car. Briscoe climbed from the car unhurt.
The running order with 125 miles left was Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Kanaan, Scheckter, Bell, Hunter-Reay, Wheldon, Dixon, Power and Mike Conway. The restart came on lap 156 as Franchitti leapt away from the field once again, followed by Kanaan who got the jump on Marco Andretti to take second. Four laps later the yellow came out once more as Sebastian Saavedra hit the wall in turn 2 and brought his rookie year to a close.
Conway inherited the lead after the leaders topped-off prior to the lap 170 restart, followed by Wilson and Castroneves. Rahal moved up to fourth and Franchitti settled into fifth ahead of Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Scheckter and Wheldon, with Dixon up to tenth. At lap 180 Conway pitted for fuel and tires with the running order Wilson, Castroneves, Rahal (all three of whom were yet to make their final stop), Franchitti, Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Wheldon, Hunter-Reay, Scheckter and Dixon.
Ten laps to go found Castroneves at the top of the scoring pylon for the first time all day, still yet to pit however. Franchitti, Kanaan, Wilson, Marco Andretti and Wheldon followed, with Rahal, Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Scheckter rounding out the top ten. Five miles later on lap 192 Franchitti moved back into the lead as Castroneves came into the pits, with Kanaan following at an interval of 1.6 seconds. Wheldon held third, Marco Andretti was fifth and Dixon entered the top five.
Kanaan ran down the fuel to the last drop before pitting with four laps remaining, leaving Franchitti on the lead and in cruise mode. Franchitti dropped the speed down to less than 210 miles per hour as lapped traffic moved past him, towing him around the Speedway. An accident involving Hunter-Reay and airborne Conway assured Franchitti his second Indianapolis 500 championship as he coasted home on the final lap under yellow to receive the checkered flag of the 94th Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The accident happened right in front of Conway's Dreyer & Reinbold Racing teammate Wilson, who explained his vantage point.
"I saw it first-hand, as I was underneath him at time," Wilson said. "I think Ryan ran out of fuel, because he slowed pretty quick. Mike tried to avoid him by pulling onto the grass but he just ran out of road."
Hunter-Reay was one of the main individuals involved. "I can't believe it didn't hit my head. That's one of the downsides of these cars having the driver heads exposed. That car should have come down on my head; I don't know how it didn't. I hope Mike is all right."
The final top 10: Franchitti, Wheldon, Marco Andretti, Lloyd, Dixon, Patrick, Wilson, Power, Castroneves and Tagliani. Romancini was top rookie in 13th ahead of de Silvestro with the Speedway set to vote on who receives rookie-of-the-year honors tomorrow. Romancini was fastest rookie qualifier although he started 27th after qualifying on Bump Day.
See also: Franchitti peerless at Indianapolis