Indianapolis Motor Speedway
WHELDON WINS 100th ANNIVERSARY INDIANAPOLIS 500 AS HILDEBRAND CRASHES ON FINAL LAP
INDIANAPOLISIn - JR Hildebrand stood beside A crumpled car and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to discern just what transpired on the final lap of the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
The 23-year-old Californian was a few hundred yards from being the first rookie to win the race since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and creating a storyline that would follow him into the record books. But, as all veterans will say, nothing is for certain in 200 laps of racing on the 2.5-mile strip of asphalt.
Hildebrand's No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car drifted up the track exiting Turn 4 and smacked the SAFER Barrier. Dan Wheldon, the 2005 race and IZOD IndyCar Series champion, was Danny on the spot for the victory.
Wheldon's No. 98 William Rast-CURB/Big Machine car for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian overtook Hildebrand's sliding car and crossed the start/finish line under yellow. Chief steward Brian Barnhart said there's no requirement for cars not involved in an accident to stay behind those involved/disabled.
"It's a fantastic achievement everybody at Bryan Herta Autosport," said Wheldon, his voice choking with emotion. "I love everything about Indianapolis - the tradition, the fans, the history."
A Panther Racing car has been the Indy 500 runner-up the past four years (including 2009 and '10 driven by Wheldon).
Wheldon, who started sixth, said his surprise of seeing Hildebrand car make heavy right-side contact with the SAFER Barrier turned to "relief." Wheldon was running fifth with 10 laps remaining, but jumped into contention when race leader Bertrand Baguette pitted for a splash on Lap 197 and he overtook Scott Dixon a lap later.
"I was just trying to go as hard as I could," continued Wheldon, who was competing in his first race of the season. "I knew it was the last lap and I knew some of those guys were struggling with fuel (he pitted on Lap 177). I've been runner-up two years before this, but I never gave up. It's an incredible feeling."
Hildebrand, who inherited the lead when Baguette pitted, said he was trying to conserve fuel (he last pitted on Lap 164) on the white flag lap.
It's an incredible feeling.
"I knew we were really tight on fuel coming to the end, and the spotters were in my ear saying, 'The guys are coming and they're coming hard,' '' said Hildebrand, who qualified 12th (the fastest rookie). "We had to conserve a little fuel and the tires were coming to the end of their stint. I was hanging a little on to get the thing around.
"I made a judgment call catching up on the 83 (the lapped car driven by fellow rookie Charlie Kimball) and I thought I don't really want to slow down behind him and pull out on the straightaway, and I've been able to make this move on the outside before and so I went to the high side and because it was at the end of the stint I got up in the marbles and that was it.
"I'm OK, but this is not really about me at this point. You always show up to try to win. My disappointment is for the team and for National Guard as a sponsor. It's one of the those things, as a driver, you never really know what you're going to expect. We knew we had a fast race car. We knew if the race came to us, we may be in a position to sort of finish top three, top five."
Graham Rahal, who started 29th, finished third for his second consecutive podium, and Tony Kanaan charged from 22nd to finish fourth. Dixon, who started in the middle of the front row and led a field-high 73 laps, faded to fifth, and Oriol Servia, who started on the front row, was sixth.
Franchitti, the 2010 race winner, led 51 laps and was running second on Lap 195. But he had to pit for a splash of fuel on Lap 199 and finished 12th.
Tomas Scheckter advanced 13 positions to finish eighth and Marco Andretti picked up 18 spots to finish ninth. Andretti Autosport teammate Danica Patrick was 10th.
There were 23 lead changes among 10 drivers and seven cautions for 40 laps. Patrick led 10 laps late in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car, but had to pit with 10 laps left.
Sam Schmidt, owner of the pole-winning car of Alex Tagliani and the car of Townsend Bell, talked about his team's Month of May. Schmidt's team also had a technical relationship with the race-winning Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian team.
SAM SCHMIDT (Owner, Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "They dug all month. The 77 (Tagliani) and 99 (Bell) worked really well together and had fast cars. Unfortunately, they both got a little out of sequence. We probably should've finished at least second or third when all was said and done. You can't second-guess what happens in the race, and that is what this place is all about. At least we got a little piece of that car rolling up on victory circle right there. It was Bryan's (Herta), and that's cool."
The 96th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 27, 2012.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Firestone Twin 275s on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway. The event will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94, Sirius channel 212 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the David Hobbs 100 at the Milwaukee Mile on June 19.