INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti delivered a stirring drive through the field and made a dramatic last-lap save after contact with Takuma Sato to win his third Indianapolis 500 in five years Sunday.
With the estimated crowd of 300,000 on its feet, Franchitti and Sato went into Turn 1 side-by-side on the 200th lap. Sato took his Dallara-Honda to the far inside and spun 180-degrees into the outside wall. The 35-year-old driver from Japan nearly took Franchitti’s Dallara-Honda with him.
“Takuma got a good run in the inside,” Franchitti said. “I moved over (to the left) a bit. I saw him coming. I said, ‘No, I’m too late.’ This was well before the corner. I moved back up. We turned into the corner. I gave him a load of room and with the tight line, he lost the rear, came around and hit us. I managed to catch it. That was it.”
The 96th running of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway featured a new car, the Dallara DW12, that created a draft and plenty of passing opportunities. There were a record 35 lead changes among 10 drivers.
Sato didn’t think Franchitti had left him the one lane on the inside that IndyCar Racing Director Barfield Beaux had mandated.
“He (Franchitti) didn’t give me enough room to go there and I went below the white line, so I’m really disappointed,” Sato said.
Franchitti said he did everything that was required.
“We’re allowed to move over to the wall and leave the car behind a car width and an inch,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure I left more than that. My plan from that point was, deep gulp, I knew I had to go around the outside of (Turn) 1 wide open up toward the gray to stand a chance of winning.
“He lost the rear on the way in. I felt the hit. The car got sideways. I kept my foot in (the throttle) and that was it. He made a good move. I wasn’t very happy about it. But I didn’t touch him. I didn’t squeeze him.”
Sato’s crash brought out the caution, freezing the field. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon finished second and KV Racing Technology’s Tony Kanaan was third.
Franchitti had started 16th in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry and had gained three positions when a caution came out on the 14th lap. Along with the rest of the field, Franchitti pitted. As he approached his pit box, E.J. Viso’s Dallara-Chevrolet tapped Franchitti from behind and spun him into a tire laid out.
Franchitti’s crew pushed him into the pit box, changed the front wing and sent the Scotsman back out. He was 30th, last among the cars running. Franchitti climbed to third, behind Marco Andretti and teammate Scott Dixon, by the 82nd lap.
“The key was timing my passes,” Franchitti said. “I had a good car, but I was able to time the passes coming up.”
Franchitti went into the lead for the first time on Lap 153, passing Sato following a restart. The race was a three-way between them, Dixon and Kanaan to the checkered flag. They traded the lead 12 times in the final 47 laps.
Andretti led 59 of the opening 90 laps, but his Chevrolet-powered Dallara wasn’t getting the fuel mileage of the Hondas and he pitted out of the lead on Lap 91. Andretti restarted 11th and was never able to regain the lead. Andretti was 10th with 18 laps to go, but spun and hit the Turn 1 wall to bring out the final caution.
The race restarted with seven laps remaining and Kanaan in the lead. Franchitti passed Kanaan going into Turn 1, and Dixon passed Franchitti on the next lap, holding it to the 199th lap. Franchitti passed Dixon at the start/finish yard of bricks to start the next-to-last lap, and it turned out to be the last pass of the race.
It was an emotional win for Franchitti, who was a close friend of the late 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. Franchitti’s other Indy victories were in 2007 and 2010, and Sunday’s allows Franchitti to fulfill his desire to have his image on the Borg-Warner Trophy next to Wheldon’s.
“To be on that trophy on either side of Dan means more than anything,” Franchitti said. “I just want to dedicate this win to two of Indy’s finest, Dan Wheldon and Michael Wanser (6-year-old son of Ganassi team manager Barry Wanserk, who died of leukemia a week after Wheldon’s fatal crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October).”
Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner with Ganassi, seemed content with second. He’d started 16th and credited Honda with bringing a more powerful engine and for the team for developing a fast and consistent car.
“It was a tough situation in qualifying,” Dixon said. “The extra (turbo) boost (which added 40 to 50 horsepower) was not to our advantage, and we had engines that were mileaged out, pretty much to the maximum. I think our engine probably didn’t have the best power at that point.
“The new engine (for the race) was definitely better. Fuel mileage was vastly improved. Our cars were mechanically fantastic throughout the race. Even in traffic, it was pretty decent. Three, four cars back, I didn’t have to fight too much all day.”
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