Monday, 30 May 2011 11:57
Page 1 of 5JR 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 when 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 #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 #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. I love everything about Indianapolis, the tradition, the fans, the history," said Wheldon, his voice choking with emotion.
A Panther Racing car has been the Indy 500 runner up the past four years, including 2009 and 2010 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.
The Englishman, who was competing in his first race of the season, continued: "I was just trying to go as hard as I could. 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 qualified 12th as the fastest rookie, inherited the lead when Baguette pitted, said he was trying to conserve fuel after he last pitted on Lap 164, the white flag lap: "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,'. 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 judgement 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 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 while his Andretti Autosport team-mate 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 #7 Team GoDaddy car, but had to pit with 10 laps left.
INDYCAR issued this competition bulletin for the Indianapolis 500:
Rule 7.5(A) and Bulletin 2011-10
The following is added and shall appear as Rule 7.5(A)(6):
"Indianapolis 500 Mile Race - All of the standard restart procedures shall apply with the following exceptions:
After the starter gives the 'one (1) lap to go,' the Safety Car will pull off at Turn 1.
Cars must line up in double file format on the back stretch 'nose to tail.'
The leader is required to maintain the pace lap speed until reaching a cone located on driver's right entering Turn 4.
All car(s) must maintain their respective track position for the restart, including without limitation not changing lanes, until the green condition is declared. After the green condition is declared, passing may occur."
100th INDIANAPOLIS 500 WINNER, RUNNER UP, THIRD PLACE AND OWNER QUICK QUOTES:
"I was just trying to go as hard as I could. I knew it was the last lap, and I knew some of those guys were struggling with fuel. I want to thank my wife. For Bryan Herta and everyone at Bryan Herta Autosport, such a dream ride. It's been absolutely phenomenal. I love Indianapolis. I love the people, I love everything about it. The tradition, the history. I just felt a lot of relief. It's an incredible feeling. I've been runner up two years before this, but I never gave up."
(About his mother, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease):
"I want to say hi to my family back home, my mother. The Alzheimer's Association, the chance to represent them."
(About his victory plans):
"I'm taking my kids to Disney, taking my kids to Disney. It's just an incredible day."
"Well, I knew we were running a little tight on fuel coming to the end, and I had spotters in my ears saying, 'Guys are coming, and they're coming hard because we were having to conserve a little bit of fuel,' and the tires are at the end of their stint. I was just hanging on to get the thing around. I made a last minute judgement call on the 83 car (Kimball). He was out of the pits, and I thought, 'You know what, I don't think I want slow down for him around the wrong part of the track. I would have to slow down a lot to stay behind him, then pull out a lot to pass on the straightaway so I thought, 'Well, I've been able to make this move around the outside before,' and so I went to the high side and just got caught up in the marbles, and that was it."
(Were you aware that you might still be the leader, since you can't pass under caution?):
"I was not aware of that, but honestly, that aside, I owe this run entirely to the Panther Racing team and the National Guard team. These guys have done an awesome job year after year after year. We've been the bridesmaid, and I didn't come to Indianapolis this year expecting to be in a position to win the Indy 500. But we were, and I guess that's why it's a little bit frustrating right now. But here on Memorial Day, I'd just like to say thanks to all service men and women that are here. We put up a heck of a fight for you out there."
"It feels good, that's for sure. I mean, this is what it's all about, you know? We needed to ride the momentum, and we did. And this is obviously a lot better than second place in Brazil, and we'll just keep going on from here. But I'm so proud of the Service Central boys, because starting where we started and to end up here, we passed 26 cars, and that's fantastic."
JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Panther Racing):
"We came here with a rookie driver, and everybody says we're going to have trouble and everything. But I can tell you that he (JR) did a great job. He drove to a fuel number I didn't think was going to be attainable. We're so proud of him and the people at Panther and the crew."
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."