By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com Indianapolis, IN, May 27, 2001 - Helio Castroneves won today's Indianapolis 500, the second year in a row the Memorial Day classic has been won by a rookie driver. Helio interrupted his trip to Victory Lane with...
By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com
Indianapolis, IN, May 27, 2001 - Helio Castroneves won today's Indianapolis 500, the second year in a row the Memorial Day classic has been won by a rookie driver. Helio interrupted his trip to Victory Lane with a victory tradition of his own - climbing the fence on the front straight. He was joined on the fence by several of his Team Penske crew. Boss Roger Penske, celebrating his eleventh Indy 500 victory as an owner, did not join the public fence climbing, but promised to climb one later - in private.
"This is a fantastic team effort. Roger (Penske), thank you very much. The girls worked so hard - everybody. It's unbelievable. I'm just so happy to win it. This is a dream come true."
Helio was grateful to all who helped him reach this victory. "I want this victory to be in memory of Paul Morgan, who prepared our engine and unfortunately passed away two weeks ago. And also in memory of Paul Hogan, who gave me the opportunity for my career. I am here today because both of those guys."
The race was a one-two victory for Team Penske, with teammate and reigning CART champion Gil de Ferran finishing second, 1.7 seconds behind. De Ferran paced Team Penske for nearly three quarters of the race, with Helio taking the honors in a drag race out of the pits on lap 136. The drag race brought collateral damage, with Tony Stewart receiving the brunt end of the Penske cars. Stewart dropped anchor to avoid the cars entering his lane and was tagged from behind, causing damage to Michael Andretti's front wing. Because of the violation of pit lane protocol, the Team Penske cars were placed behind Stewart for the restart.
The Penske pair chased race leader Tony Stewart for a dozen laps, with Helio taking the lead for good on lap 149 during the next round of pit stops.
"It was an unbelievable day for the whole team, and I think it speaks wonders for the type of team we have and all the people that work with us," Gil said after the race. "It really says a lot, because not only do guys have to prepare four IRL cars over the last month but also five CART cars. The cars ran like clockwork through the race. The engines, too, were unbelievable. I have to say they did a great job preparing for this race, their first race with this type of engine. We couldn't really have hoped for a better result."
Team owner Roger Penske was exuberant with the victory as well as his reception upon returning to the Speedway after a six year absence from fielding a car in the race. Team Penske failed to make the field in 1995, their last appearance at the Speedway. "When I think about today's race and the one-two finish, it kind of takes away the pain that we had in 1995. Certainly, I think this young man did an outstanding job. He and Gil have worked together, and the team has jelled. Tim Cindric came on board. His dad built engines for us back in the early days when we were here at Indy. Tim came on board, really pulled the group together. He probably doesn't get the credit due. He kept us on cadence."
Michael Andretti chased the red and white cars home, finishing just under six seconds behind Helio.
"We went up against a lot of things today, and we still got a halfway decent finish. I just wish we could've finished a couple of spots higher. Those doggone Penskes - why'd they have to come?"
Chills and spills and spins
The race was run under menacing weather conditions, hostage to a stagnant front that plagued the Indianapolis area all week. Rain interrupted the event twice, bringing a 12-lap yellow just after the halfway point. A 16 minute, 34 second red flag period occurred at lap 155. This was only the second time the race had been resumed on the same day after a red flag due to rain.
Cool temperatures of 56 degrees led to cold-tire incidents early in the race. The first victim was pole sitter Scott Sharp, who spun in turn 1 on the first lap of the race. "It snapped right out on me," Sharp said. "I thought I caught it, but I didn't. I can't say enough. I feel so bad for the people that worked so hard, Delphi and the whole team."
The race was restarted on lap 7. One lap later, cool tires bit Sarah Fisher in turn 2, with Scott Goodyear caught in the incident. Goodyear hit the wall hard, and was transported to Methodist Hospital awake and alert and in good condition. Goodyear's injuries were reported as a fracture in his lower back. "I was just waiting for the tire temperatures to come up," said Goodyear. "Unfortunately, when the No. 15 car spun in front of me I had nowhere to go except into the wall."
Fisher blamed her spin on cold tires and lack of grip. She discounted running below the white line as a factor. "The tires aren't up to pressure, and it's cold out there. I've run on the white line before and it's never bit me."
On the restart, Sam Hornish spun as he accelerated out of turn 4. His car remained between the walls, and was able to restart after being towed to the pits. Al Unser Jr. wasn't as lucky. With no place to go, Unser crashed into the outside retaining wall, ending his day early.
"The cars are loose because of cold temperatures," explained John Barnes, co-owner of Hornish's car. "Guys are just getting down on the apron."
Al Unser Jr., with 13 Indy 500 starts under his belt, discounted cold tires or the white line as a factor. "It's just that we're not getting up to speed. These are the tires we qualified on, so they've set for a couple of weeks. It's not a fact of a cold day. It's a fact that we needed to run some more laps. We didn't get our momentum going yet. That's what it all boils down to."
After the Hornish incident, 69 laps were run under green, until a track inspection for oil on lap 95.
Runs to the Front and Back
Mark Dismore, who has had more than his share of misfortune at the Speedway, thought his luck had finally turned. He led 29 laps in the first half of the race, drawing out a comfortable lead. Shortly after a successful yellow flag pit stop on lap 91, his car came to a stop with gearbox problems in the turn 3 warmup lane. He eventually finished the race in 16th place, running at the end, five laps off the pace. "We put together some of the fastest race laps. It was too easy. That's the thing - it was too easy. I guess today in a lot of ways we were lucky, but I don't feel very lucky. My hat's off to Roger Penske, but I think we could have done a lot for Tom Kelley."
Greg Ray, always fast and always a threat to win, looked like the man to beat today. He led 40 out of the first 116 laps. His run up front ended when he brushed the wall, damaging his suspension. He spent over four minutes in the pits while his crew made repairs, and went on to 17th place, but was out of contention. "Driving race cars, period, is fun, but winning is a lot more fun. I've got mixed emotions."
Robby Buhl ran among the leaders for most of the day, contending for the lead, while searching for his opportunity to give Infiniti its first Indy 500 victory. On lap 166, running in second place and chasing leader Castroneves, he pushed a little too hard and spun in turn 2. "It was satisfying for me and my guys to know that we were contending for the win. We had a car that could've won. The Infiniti power was great. We had the car geared right. We didn't miss a beat. We were running second at the time, and we didn't want to run second. We wanted to lead. There was some traffic in front of us. I laid down a gear just trying to get a run on Castroneves, and it got loose.
"When I spun out, there I didn't spin trying to hold on. I spun trying to go for the lead. I don't have any regrets for that. That's why we were here, to get in the lead and win the Indy 500."
Davey Hamilton advanced his Sam Schmidt No. 99 from his ninth-row start to seventh place, within a lap of the leaders, in the latter stages of the race. His run came to an end after 182 laps, when the valve train in his engine failed. The team was working on a pit strategy that would have brought them to the end with one lap's worth of fuel remaining. "The strategy worked to put us back on the lead lap at the right time," said team owner Schmidt. "Davey did a nice job today, avoided some potential day-ending incidents, and I just hate it for Davey and the crew. We really needed the finish, but we will look forward to Texas from here. I genuinely appreciate Mi-Jack for stepping up to the plate for the event, and I am glad that we ran solid all day. It's just disappointing to be running so well and to miss it at the very last."
Tony Stewart, competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 today, put in a strong performance for most of the day, running up front and leading 13 laps, but lost the edge after his final pit stop. He finished sixth, the last car on the lead lap. "I hurt us. We took too much downforce off the car at the end, and that cost us. We were fairly reasonable in traffic as long as we had the downforce on it, but as soon as we took the downforce off, which was my call, I was hoping for the shootout at the end and hoping to go fast at the end. I gambled and lost today."
The series continues
Round 5 in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9th.