92nd Indy 500
by Esteban Morales
May 25, 2008
During the last twelve years the Indianapolis 500 has undeniably produced compelling stories: Buddy Lazier winning with a broken back, Robby Gordon running out of fuel with one lap to go, and Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to lead the event, just to name a few. Despite the story lines, the 500 and American open-wheel racing were marred by a bitter schism between the IRL and CART (which ultimately became Champ Car) that deprived some of America’s best from competing at Indy. That changed during the off season due to an unexpected but long overdue merger between the two series that left the sport in the best position in recent memory.
The 92nd running of the Indy 500 did not feature a last lap pass for the lead as the 2006 race did, nor did it feature a story book ending. In fact, it was somewhat predictable; the fastest driver all month long, Scott Dixon, who was also one of the most deserving drivers in the field who had not won the 500, took the checkered flags. Nonetheless, Indy was back.
There was a buzz in the air leading up to the event that could not be denied. Indy finally brought together open wheel’s finest under one banner: young guns Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, and Danica Patrick, Champ Car standouts Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Bruno Junqueira, and IRL veterans such as Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice. With the split by the wayside the drivers performed leading up to the 500, already making this one of the most memorable seasons in recent history. Graham Rahal became the youngest driver to take an IndyCar victory while Danica Patrick collected her breakthrough win at Motegi.
But enough talk, let’s go racing! Very few teams are ever able to outshine Roger Penske’s outfit. Target Chip Ganassi Racing not only outshone Penske, they added an exclamation point on pole day. It looked like Penske’s new driver, Ryan Briscoe, was going to split the Target cars on the first row leading into the first turn. Ganassi had other plans. With about twenty minutes left in the session Ganassi sent out Dan Wheldon. Though Wheldon was unable to steal pole from his teammate Scott Dixon, he demoted Briscoe to third and sent a message through the infield: Ganassi was here to win.
Ganassi’s drivers confirmed their qualifying performance on race day as the two led the opening stint of the event. Though they were briefly halted by a yellow, the TCGR drivers quickly disposed of Buddy Rice, who led briefly with an off-sequence strategy. Wheldon characteristically charged to the front over his teammate until Dixon took the lead on lap 36, one lap before rookie Graham Rahal smacked the wall after sliding his car into the gray in the fourth turn. Dixon held onto the lead through pit stops and stretched it after the restart. Dixon briefly gave up his lead to Wheldon after a yellow for a turn 4 accident involving Marty Roth but retook it in turn 1 on lap 80 moments before Jaime Camara made heavy contact in turns 1 and 2.
Following pit stops and the restart the Target cars continued to dominate for a few laps before running into trouble. Andretti Green Racing’s Tony Kanaan had been hanging back while the Dixon and Wheldon battled at the front. Kanaan made his move on lap 93 and split the Target cars. One lap later he grabbed the lead from Wheldon in turn 1. Unfortunately for Kanaan, his stint at the front was a brief one. By lap 105 Kanaan began weaving his way through lapped traffic. Dixon took the opportunity to close on Kanaan and took the lead. Kanaan’s teammate, Marco Andretti, saw an opening, albeit a questionable one, and dove under Kanaan. Kanaan had no place to go and stayed on the high line, spun his car and collided with Sarah Fisher.
Despite Kanaan’s setback, AGR continued to push the Target cars at the front. Following pit stops and Kanaan’s caution, Marco Andretti took the fight to Dixon and grabbed the lead on lap 122. Suddenly it looked as if the Ganassi strategy was beginning to unravel. With Dixon in second Wheldon began to fall backwards while Vitor Meira in the lone Panther Racing entry began to shine and carved his way to the front. On lap 133, however, Justin Wilson made contact in turns 1 and 2 setting up a chain of events that would see Dixon regain the lead. Though Andretti beat Dixon out of the pits during the caution, both found themselves behind rookie Mario Moraes, who led the field on an alternate fuel strategy. Andretti and Dixon split Moraes at the restart with Dixon beating Andretti into the first turn. Dixon led for about twenty laps before another caution setup the race to the finish.
Dixon led Andretti, Tomas Scheckter and Meira into pit lane under the yellow. Andretti had a slow stop, Scheckter broke a driveshaft, and Meira was blessed with a quick stop that moved him right behind Dixon; Dixon and Meira fell in behind Ed Carpenter who did not pit. At the penultimate restart Meira split Carpenter and Dixon and led for Panther Racing. Meira led for ten laps before contact between Milka Duno and Buddy Lazier brought out the final caution on lap 169. After Meira brought the grid into pit lane for the final time the Ganassi crew gave Dixon a flawless stop that catapulted him back into the lead. Following the restart Meira kept the leader in sight but was unable to catch Dixon who collected his first Indy 500 victory and Chip Ganassi’s second.