91st Indianapolis 500
Who Would Have Thought That?
by Esteban Morales
May 27 , 2007
Jaws dropped across Indianapolis when Dario Franchitti set a four-lap average of 225.191 miles per hour on Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500. Franchitti’s time remained atop the charts for hours and withstood attacks from fan favorites such as Sam Hornish Jr. and Dan Wheldon. When Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan eclipsed Franchitti’s time late in the day many fans were not surprised to see the Scotsman shuffled to the outside of the first row. Instead, inquiries concerning Wheldon and Hornish filled the air. Despite driving for one of the Indy Racing League’s top three teams, the road and street course specialist was not touted as a race day favorite. Instead eyes were glued to former winners such as Hornish, Castroneves, and Wheldon along with up and comers Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti, and even returning veterans like Michael Andretti and Davey Hamilton.
When Peyton Manning dropped the green Franchitti held onto third while Castroneves and Kanaan defied a humdrum season that has lacked the excitement of previous IRL seasons. The Brazilians traded the lead several times in the first ten laps before a mirror from John Andretti’s Dallara brought out the first caution of the race. Castroneves grabbed the lead during pit stops and led the field back to the lap 16 restart. The Brazilians continued their fierce battle at the front while Hornish, Wheldon and Marco Andretti attempted to leave their mark by joining the top five. Meanwhile, Franchitti held to a conservative strategy just outside the top five.
Castroneves began to open a comfortable lead just before veteran Roberto Moreno collided with the turn 1 SAFER Barrier on lap 37. Following the second set of stops Marco Andretti led the event for the second time in his career after Castroneves encountered an uncharacteristic fuel-refilling problem. At the restart Castroneves lay in 29th while Franchitti quietly kept in touch with the lead group of cars six spots behind Andretti. Though Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon quickly took the lead from the sophomore driver it was clear that this year’s 500 was not going to be a Penske-Ganassi contest. Andretti responded and kept in touch with Dixon on the track and in the pits during a caution for an incident involving Jon Herb. Sensing impending showers, Tony Kanaan, Jeff Simmons, and former winner Buddy Rice elected not to pit under yellow.
At the lap 60 restart the leaders, particularly Andretti, scrambled for position. Surprisingly Simmons held onto third until a caution for a turn 1 accident involving Milka Duno brought him along with frontrunners Kanaan, Andretti, and Wheldon into pit lane. Dixon assumed the lead with Hornish and Franchitti behind. The Scotsman made his presence felt when the green flag was unfurled for the restart. He quickly passed Dixon for second and pursued Hornish who was now leading. Three laps later Franchitti dove into turn 1 and grabbed the lead. Franchitti led through what would ultimately become the halfway mark of the race, lap 83, and slowed six laps later for a scheduled pit stop. With Franchitti and others in the pits, Tony Kanaan, on a different fuel strategy, retook the lead followed by Marco Andretti, Jeff Simmons, Dan Wheldon, and Danica Patrick. Despite different pit sequences at this stage in the race, the field slid into the pits after John Andretti moved out of the racing groove and collided in turn 2.
With showers minutes away from the track the field scrambled out of the pits with Marco Andretti in front followed by Kanaan, Patrick, Vitor Meira, and Franchitti. As Andretti Green Racing occupied the first three positions in the race, most expected either Andretti, Kanaan or Patrick to win their first 500. Kanaan easily took the lead into turn 1 during the lap 107 restart. Immediately after newcomer Phil Giebler collided in the same turn. During the yellow the skies opened and Kanaan looked set to win his first Indianapolis 500 while Franchitti sat fifth when the red flag flew on lap 113.
To Kanaan’s dismay nature cooperated and nearly three hours later cars were pushed back onto pit lane, tarps were removed, and drivers were strapped back in. Prior to the restart Franchitti was unknowingly blessed with a right rear tire puncture that forced him into the pits. At the restart Kanaan and Andretti fought for the lead before Patrick took second and Kanaan solidified his lead. By lap 121 Kanaan, Patrick, and Andretti were joined by Castroneves who had marched back from 29th. Although the leaders began to pit on lap 134 Franchitti inherited the lead three laps later. The Scotsman peeled off on lap 143 for an 11-second pit stop. Kanaan retook the lead followed by Hornish and Franchitti, who had clearly established himself as a frontrunner at this stage in the event. A lap 150 caution for a turn 1 crash involving Marty Roth halted the field a penultimate time. While most of the frontrunners elected to pit, Franchitti, who was able to make a later stop, kept his Dallara on the track and assumed the lead.
At the restart Kanaan was virtually eliminated when he spun to avoid Jaques Lazier, who collided exiting turn 4. The race was restarted a final time on lap 162 with only minutes left to run before rains soaked the track. Franchitti held onto the lead while a violent crash ensued behind him on lap 163. Marco Andretti touched wheels with Dan Wheldon sending the American on a wild ride that saw his car flip through the infield. While Franchitti led the field around the track under yellow showers drenched the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the checkered flags flew on lap 166. Wife and actress Ashley Judd celebrated under the rain while Franchitti and his AGR Dallara were led underneath Victory Lane due to the wet weather. When a jubilant Franchitti climbed out of his car he seemed more surprised than fans to learn that his face would be carved onto the Borg-Warner. “Who would have thought that?” he asked in disbelief. Minutes later he backed his surprise with the understatement of a lifetime, “I’m pretty happy,” and solidified his reputation as the cool Scotsman.