93rd Indy 500
Hollywood Meets Indy
by Esteban Morales
May 24, 2009
Helio Castroneves dramatically earned his third victory at the Brickyard. After having been acquitted of tax evasion charges in April, Castroneves returned to the cockpit of an IndyCar and began building momentum leading up to the 500. At Long Beach Castroneves finished in the top ten. He improved in Kansas by finishing second. When the IndyCar circus rolled into Indianapolis Castroneves consistently kept his Dallara near the top of the speed charts during the first three days of practice. The Brazilian laid the mortar for his third win at the Brickyard by taking the pole in the closing stages of Pole Day.
On race day, however, Castroneves dropped out of the top spot and ran as low as sixth during the first half of the event. Castroneves held onto the lead through the first lap but was brought to a crawl after Mario Moraes moved high while exiting Turn 1 and collided with Marco Andretti. The caution allowed Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti to setup a pass for the lead one lap after the restart. Franchitti steadily opened a half-second lead before Ryan Hunter-Reay white-walled Turn 4 and smacked the inside wall leading to the pits. Franchitti led the field through the first set of pit stops while Castroneves fell to third. Castroneves lost another spot during the restart to Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon.
With Castroneves in fourth, Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe took the fight to the Ganassi entries. On lap 53 Briscoe setup Franchitti and took the lead in the first turn. Three laps later, Newman Haas Lanigan’s Graham Rahal collided with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier while running in the lead pack. Briscoe led the field through the second set of stops while Castroneves fell to fifth. Following the restart Team Penske’s fortune took a dismal turn. Castroneves lost another spot while Briscoe was shuffled to ninth before making another stop and falling off the lead lap. Penske’s third driver, Will Power, steadily continued in the top ten but was too far back to challenge the leaders. With Team Penske faltering, Ganassi’s duo began to dominate. Two laps shy of the halfway mark, Tony Kanaan was bitten by his abysmal luck at the Speedway. While running third, Kanaan’s Dallara veered into the wall on the backstretch before sliding into the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier.
Following the restart, Dixon controlled the race and easily pulled away from the first of the Penske cars in third. On lap 132 Nelson Philippe brushed the wall in Turn 4, leading to the sixth yellow flag of the race. The caution resulted in a critical shift in Team Penske’s momentum and setup Castroneves’ third victory. Though Dixon led the field in and out of the pits, Franchitti nearly left the pits with a fuel hose attached to his Dallara’s buckeye. Franchitti’s costly stop allowed Castroneves to jump into second and dropped Franchitti to the eighth position. During the restart, Castroneves picked off Dixon in Turn 1 and led the rest of the way. Several laps later, Dixon gave up second to Power’s Penske Dallara. The final pit sequence saw Dixon fall to seventh while Ryan Briscoe, Dan Wheldon, and Danica Patrick joined Castroneves at the head of the field.
With 34 laps to go most of the field was preparing for a fuel conservation run to the finish. After lap 174, however, fuel was no longer a concern. Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos locked wheels in Turn 1 sending Meira head-on into the SAFER Barrier. Though Matos walked away from the accident, Meira suffered back injuries that may sideline him for the rest of the season. During the yellow, Briscoe gave up the second position to top off after having short-filled during his previous stop. Castroneves led Wheldon, Patrick, Power and Townsend Bell to the final restart. Castroneves, who Wheldon later described as “incredibly strong at the end,” did not allow a shootout to materialize and controlled the final laps of the event. Castroneves ultimately crossed the line two seconds clear of Wheldon and gave Roger Penske his 15th Indianapolis 500 win. Wheldon recorded Panther Racing’s second consecutive runner-up finish while Patrick’s third place marked the best result for a woman at the Speedway. Townsend Bell’s fourth place finish was his best result in the IndyCar Series.