IRL: Indy 500: Honda race report

Wheldon Wins Indy; 1-2-3-4 for Honda Already a three-time winner this season, Indy Racing League championship leader Dan Wheldon prevailed in a Honda-powered "shootout" including a half-dozen drivers over the final 15...

Wheldon Wins Indy; 1-2-3-4 for Honda

Already a three-time winner this season, Indy Racing League championship leader Dan Wheldon prevailed in a Honda-powered "shootout" including a half-dozen drivers over the final 15 laps to win the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, becoming the first English driver to do so since Graham Hill in 1966. It also is Honda's second consecutive Indy 1-2-3-4 sweep.

Wheldon, who started his Andretti Green Racing Honda only 16th after a disappointing qualifying run, consistently worked his way through the field during the early stages of the race, reaching the lead pack by Lap 50 of the 200-lap event. From there, the race developed into an "intramural" contest among a variety of Honda drivers as other potential contenders fell by the wayside.

Two of Wheldon's teammates, pole qualifier Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti, were among the early pacesetters, along with impressive rookie Danica Patrick, Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp and Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr.

Kanaan and Franchitti would combine to lead a total of 69 laps as they frequently swapped the advantage, but both would fade late in the race. Franchitti would finish sixth after nearly being forced into the Turn One wall on a restart, while Kanaan struggled with handling problems the last 25 laps and would cross the line in eighth. But as they fell back, the other AGR drivers -- Wheldon and Bryan Herta -- came to the fore.

A caution period on Lap 186, when eighth-place Kosuke Matsuura side-swiped the Turn One wall, set the stage for the final sprint. As the green flag waved on Lap 190, Wheldon quickly jumped past first Herta, then race leader Patrick on Lap 194 for a lead he would not relinquish.

Rahal Letterman Racing's Vitor Meira also put on an impressive charge in the final laps, moving from fifth to second at the checkered, with Herta rounding out the top three.

Patrick displayed a great deal of grit and talent, leading a total of 19 laps and surviving a pair of "rookie" mistakes (a stall during a pit stop and a spin that triggered a multi-car accident on Lap 155) to finish fourth, the best of six rookies in the 2005 field.

Another Indy rookie, reigning Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, was headed for a fifth-place finish for Honda and Newman/Haas Racing, but had a tire fail after contact with Buddy Lazier, sending Bourdais into the Turn Three wall on Lap 198, resulting in a caution-flag finish for this year's 500.

Sharp was yet another Honda-powered race contender, running in the lead pack throughout the first 180 laps, but then the veteran was assessed a "drive-through" [pit lane] penalty for blocking, dropping him to 11th place. He moved up four positions in the closing laps and finished seventh, just ahead of Kanaan.

Returning to competition for the first time since the end of the 2004 season, Adrian Fernandez took his Mo Nunn/Fernandez Racing entry to a 14th-place finish, while teammate Matsuura ran as high as eighth prior to his accident. Roger Yasukawa had clutch problems early in the race, but appeared headed for a top-12 finish until his retirement due to worsening mechanical problems. His Dreyer & Reinbold teammate, rookie Jeff Bucknum, was caught up in the multi-car accident on Lap 155.

Kenny Brack's day also ended early with suspension problems aboard the Rahal Letterman Racing machine he drove in place of the injured Buddy Rice, and Bruno Junqueira sustained a concussion and back fractures -- similar to Rice's injuries -- in a crash on Lap 76.

Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 16th, finished 1st, first Indy 500 victory, fourth IRL race win in five events, second consecutive Honda '500' win: "This race is incredibly special to me. Today I realized a dream, and it is the proudest moment of my life. My teammates are all very talented individuals and they've all helped me develop as a driver. The field was incredibly competitive today, and it was much more difficult to come up through the field than I anticipated. But you've got a Honda, so you've got to expect to be quick. The car worked very well in traffic all week and come the race, it was very good by itself as well. As a kid coming over here from England in 1999 and watching Kenny Brack win, the magnitude of the event just opened my eyes. And now, to have won the event, I just feel very proud and lucky to be here."

Vitor Meira (#17 Menards Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 7th, finished 2nd: "The first thing I have to mention is how good the Menards crew was today. We made eight pit stops, or something like that, and in every single one I gained anywhere from one to three positions. So, obviously my crew had a great day. The car wasn't the best in traffic, but overall it was a great day for Rahal Letterman Racing and Honda. I'm so proud to be a part of this team. Honda finished first through fourth for the second year in row, that's something to be really, really proud of. A win doesn't happen very often, but I just finished second in the biggest race in the world, so I'm very happy. But I would have liked to have done better, and that's what next year is for."

Bryan Herta (#7 XM Radio Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 18th, finished 3rd: "It was an up-and- down day. We struggled to get to the front. We finally made it into the lead pack and then got busted for speeding in pit lane. That moved us back, but it gave us the opportunity to do something different with the fuel strategy. And in the end, that all worked out. I'm just happy with the result. I'm happy for Michael [Andretti] and Dan [Wheldon]. I would have liked to have been the one to give Michael his victory here. But the important thing now is that he has it."

Danica Patrick (#16 Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 4th, finished 4th, top finishing Indy rookie: "I'm so proud of Vitor [Meira]. He had a great month on the race track and he had a great race today. From my side of it, gosh, did I make some mistakes. I stalled the engine [during her second pit stop] and later I spun. I can't believe that my car didn't completely demolish, because I got hit at least twice. I can't believe the car spun and kept running. Someone was sitting by my side today. It's important to stay calm, even when things go wrong. They eventually came together for me today. I made a hell of a point for anyone. I came from the back of the pack -- twice -- and it sucks back there! My engineer Ray [Leto] told me I had to have the restart of the century, and I think we did, but the car started getting loose at the end. I don't know if it had something to do with the [low] fuel situation, but I think its pretty great where we ended up, actually [fourth]."

Dario Franchitti (#27 Arca/Ex Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 6th, finished 6th: "I'm disappointed. I thought we were looking pretty good throughout most of the race, but then I got driven into the wall at one of the last restarts. I lost of lot of momentum saving the car and fell back in the field a bit. That put me back into a lot of turbulence from the other cars, and I wasn't able to drive through it like some others could today. Congratulations to Dan [Wheldon]. He drove his heart out and really deserved the win today."

Scott Sharp (#8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 7th: "We chased the car's handling for a while after the start of the race, but eventually I think we had one of the fastest -- if not the fastest -- cars out there today. We took a little bit of a gamble at the end and that allowed us to recover a top-seven finish after the penalty. I'm sorry Buddy [Lazier] and I had contact, and I'm sorry it cost the team a position or two at the finish, but that was the kind of driving that was going on out there all day. I thought I was just giving as good as I got, but we were the ones who got penalized."

Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 8th: "We had a very strong car early in the race, but went the wrong way with some changes and didn't have a very good car at the end, when we really needed it. That's very disappointing. But you win as a team, and lose together as well."

Sebastien Bourdais (#37 Centrix Newman/Haas Racing Honda) Started 15th, finished 12th (not running-contact): "The Newman/Haas team did just a great job today, it's just a shame I couldn't give them a top finish. We were only a few small details away from a perfect car. We probably don't know the car as well as the regular IRL teams, but still were having a strong run late in the race. Two laps from the end I was coming up on Danica pretty fast and had to back off the throttle for a moment. Buddy [Lazier] was right behind me and he must've hit my right rear tire with his front wing, because the tire lost pressure and the car started to wiggle real bad. I thought I'd saved it, but then it wiggled again and I was off for the wall. Then I just took my hands off the wheel and waited for the hit."

Kosuke Matsuura (#55 Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 8th, finished 17th (not running-contact): "It was really a shame there at the end. Early in the race, we had handling problems, but we added more downforce after our first pit stop and the car was really good. I had contact with another car and the front tire started vibrating so we had to pit early. After that, everything was fine and I was able to push again. In the last stint, I was running in ninth position. When I tried to close the gap to another car, my car started going push-loose. It was pretty edgy. When I crashed, I was behind Dario [Franchitti] and he lifted a little bit for a backmarker. I was too close to him and I had a big push and hit the wall. It was such a shame that I couldn't save the car. I think I could have finished in the top six."

Roger Yasukawa (#24 Investment Properties Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Honda) Started 17th, finished 18th (not running-mechanical): "It was really unfortunate not to be able to see the checkered-flag today. We were looking for a top-12 finish and the car was running fast throughout the day, even though the clutch failed very early in the race. We definitely need to resolve the clutch problems we've been having. I know the team and the Honda guys will work really hard before the Texas race to sort it out, we're hoping for a great race there. For the month, I think the team did a great job based on our situation and we learned quite a bit. Most importantly, I think we built up trust between the team's personnel. It's not the result we wanted, but the overall outcome was successful for us in the long run."

-honda-

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