Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon won the 2008 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday (May 25th) capping a month-long demonstration of speed that eventually overwhelmed every challenger. Dixon's win was a career first for him at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,...
Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon won the 2008 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday (May 25th) capping a month-long demonstration of speed that eventually overwhelmed every challenger. Dixon's win was a career first for him at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in his sixth '500' start.
"The whole month has been good," said Dixon. "A lot of people have worked hard on these cars to make them fast. It's hard work and the team has been unstoppable because of it. There were so many yellows (eight) it was hard to get a rhythm. Toward the end I didn't think anyone could pass me. The team did a fantastic job."
The win is the third Indy 500 victory for team owner Chip Ganassi, first since 2000, and a day after he celebrated his 50th birthday. "That milk tasted mighty good!" said Ganassi from the dais in the press room afterwards.
Eight cautions slowed the race for 69 laps, and all pit stops for the leaders occurred under the yellow-flag conditions. It was difficult for the field to maintain a rhythm as there were no green-flag runs longer than 25 laps, and those were the last 25 following the final round of stops.
Vitor Meira finished second for Panther Racing, a valiant effort for the series' seemingly eternal bridesmaid. This was his eighth runner-up finish in his career and second at Indianapolis (2005 to Dan Wheldon). Andretti Green Racing's Marco Andretti capped off the podium, with Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) and Vison Racing's Ed Carpenter completing the top five.
The Brazilian celebrated his finish as a triumph for his team which has struggled over the last year to compete with the 'Big 3' teams on the grid: Ganassi, Andretti Green and Team Penske. "This is the right place for everything to come back together," Meira said. "My crew put me in front (of third-place finisher Marco Andretti) with the pit stops. Everybody did their best and focused on the race this year."
Andretti's race was blighted by a controversial incident with teammate Tony Kanaan, even though the two drivers did not make contact. Andretti attempted a lunge underneath Kanaan, sending the Brazilian into the marbles and out of control.
Kanaan lost the rear and was then hit directly in the side-pod by Sarah Fisher. Kanaan's abysmal luck at this racetrack continues; while he has led all of his seven starts here, he failed to win yet again.
"It was a stupid move; I think teammates shouldn't do that to teammates," a frustrated Kanaan said afterwards. "I'm sure he will have a good explanation for what he did. Halfway through the race with a bunch of traffic, why are you going to dive into me like that?"
Andretti countered, "I'm sorry about it. In hindsight, it's easy to point out mistakes in the race. We finished third, got good points, let's move on."
Under clear skies and no threat of rain for one of the first times all month, the 33-car-field headed off into turn one. With the 11 rows of three approaching the green flag, they became strung out, a staple in recent years, which allowed the field to make it through without any contact. As it was, contact was a common thread throughout the afternoon.
The first caution occurred on lap eight, as the right side mirror on Bruno Junqueira's car flew onto the track. After staying out, Fisher extended the caution by spinning out off turn three. Buddy Rice led Justin Wilson on the restart until the Ganassi pair of Wheldon and Dixon passed them both.
Almost instantaneously after Dixon re-passed Wheldon for the point, rookie Graham Rahal lost it coming out of turn four. Rahal ran high trying to pass a lethargic Alex Lloyd and trashed his white Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car, a shame as Rahal had high expectations for his debut here.
"Lloyd, for some reason, wouldn't stay right on the bottom and when he came up just a couple of feet, I reacted slightly and just got in the marbles," Rahal noted afterwards.
Another caution flew when Marty Roth crashed for the third time in his fourth start at this race. In the wreck, debris flew from the car and damaged Castroneves' front wing, forcing the previous two-time winner here into an unscheduled pit stop. Darren Manning also suffered damage during this period having collided with Rice on pit lane, and also needed a new front wing.
Dixon and Wheldon exchanged the lead after the race resumed but just as soon as they got going, the pace car made yet another appearance on lap 80. This time it was Jaime Camara who wrecked, crashing hard on the exit to turn one and then hitting the wall a second time in turn two.
The ensuing restart on lap 92 ended the Ganassi juggernaut for the time being. Kanaan basically shot out of a cannon as he rocketed first by Dixon, then Wheldon to take the lead for the seventh consecutive year at this race, a record. Andretti and Tomas Scheckter were engaged in a great battle as each surpassed the slumping Wheldon at crossed flags.
Kanaan's incident happened shortly thereafter. As Andretti made the pass, Kanaan lost it on the outside of turn three and then was clobbered by the hapless Fisher. During this period, Jeff Simmons' car suddenly snapped right into the front straight wall and then back across the track. Suspension failure appeared the cause though the right rear tire looked flat as well.
A brief green period saw Dixon and Andretti duke it out. By lap 133, Justin Wilson's race ended, losing the rear after turn one and crashing into the inside retaining wall. Wilson's accident marked an ignominious return to the track for the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team; both cars crashed after a taxing month.
With just under 50 laps remaining, Lloyd's first IndyCar start ended in dramatic fashion. The 2007 Indy Lights champion smacked the turn four wall and spun across the track onto pit road, taking out the pit lane speed limiter and several cones. The driver was unhurt but the inanimate objects didn't live to see another day.
At this stage, prior top-five runners Wheldon and Scheckter bit the bullet. Wheldon's engine cover was lifted but he returned to the track, while Scheckter's outstanding run for the part-time Luczo Dragon Racing effort ended with apparent driveshaft failure. The South African thanked each of his crew members for their respective efforts.
On the restart, Meira made a thrilling appearance at the front of the field. After lurking around the top five all day, Meira shot through the middle of Dixon and Carpenter to assume the lead, a spot he held for the next twelve laps. Carpenter stayed out during the Lloyd caution to regain the lost track position from a failed airjack during his previous stop.
There was one final caution that came as a result of Buddy Lazier cutting down on Milka Duno into turn three. Importantly during this sequence was the final round of pit stops, and a quicker one for Dixon eclipsed Meira's on-track pass. At pit exit, Danica Patrick was exiting after an uneventful race, but found herself backwards after Ryan Briscoe peeled out. Both were eliminated from the race.
"I was going down pit lane, and as people pull out of their pit boxes if you are in the outside lane, then they have to wait to blend in," Patrick offered after the controversial collision. "From what I know, it looked like it was pretty obvious what happened. What are you going to do? The guys worked so hard today. We worked so hard on the car all month. Unfortunately, we didn't get to show for it in the end. Congrats to (Scott) Dixon. He was strong all month and he deserves it. It is probably best I didn't get down there (Briscoe's pit box) anyway, isn't it?"
As could be expected Briscoe saw it differently. "From what I can see, there was still plenty of room on the right side for her to get around and there are people pointing fingers, but that's not the way we are. We both have a brake pedal in our cars, and from what I can tell, there was still plenty of room for her to get around me. I was trying to get around Wheldon, and I was staying in the middle lane. I got ran up in the back, and it's a shame."
The final restart saw Dixon jump to a sizeable lead, with Meira the only car in tow. Andretti passed Castroneves for third; the Brazilian having fought all day from his earlier wing woes. Meira's last best chance occurred with five laps to go, closing to within four-tenths of Dixon. But that was as close as he got.
Dixon took the checkered flag 1.7498 seconds clear of Meira, with Andretti, Castroneves, and Carpenter completing the top five. This equaled Carpenter's best career finish and capped a solid month for him.
Quietly, Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Rahal Letterman Racing entry, kept his nose clean en route to finishing sixth, top rookie for this year's Indy 500. He made a determined effort to pass Hideki Mutoh and did so with six laps remaining; Mutoh was next up followed by Rice, Manning, and Townsend Bell.
"I just learned so much through the pace of the race," Hunter-Reay said. "We ran above our weight today. I really think this was a seventh-place car, and we finished sixth. I'm happy with it."
Dixon owns the lead in the IndyCar championship chase with a fifteen point cushion over Castroneves. Dixon has 191 points, Castroneves 176 and Dan Wheldon is third, with 153 points.
The IndyCar series hits the road destined for the Milwaukee Mile next weekend. The one-mile oval hosts the teams and drivers for three days, culminating in the A.J. Foyt 225 race on Sunday (June 1st).