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Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
May 26th 2013 -
By:  Mark W. Theisen  |  INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA M ay 26, 2013:  From start to finish today’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 was one for the record books as Tony Kanaan grabbed the lead on a lap 198 restart and when the caution came out behind him for a spin by last year’s 500 winner, Dario Franchitti he achieved his ultimate goal, winning the 500 in his 12th attempt in what has to be one of the most popular wins in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history.

     Today’s race will go down as the most competitive 500 ever with an unbelievable 68 lead changes among 14 different drivers setting a race record average speed of 187.433 as only 21 laps were lost to the caution flag and an astounding 133 laps of consecutive green flag laps led to the most exciting 500 ever and contributed to the record number of leads changes. 

      In a bit of statistical irony Kanaan became the 68 the different driver to win the 500 in it’s 97 running’s and by fan reaction standpoint it was a hugely popular win for the veteran driver who had been referred to as the most deserving among the non-winners in the race.

     In his previous 11 Indy 500 starts, Kanaan led in 8 of those races amassing an impressive total of 221 laps led with only a second place finish in 2003 as his best effort, always in contention yet lacking that break that he needed to pull off the win.

     "I got a little bit of luck today,” said Kanaan, whose win sent a continuous roar throughout the grandstands and that roar lasted for a long period after the race showing just how much the fans thought that the win was deserved and a long time coming for a very popular driver, always humble in loss but now at the top of the IZOD Indy Car world.

     With cool overcast skies, ideal for producing horsepower and speed the field of 33 cars was brought to the start/finish line by pole sitter Ed Carpenter and from the first lap it was evident that the lead was the position to be in.

     It also was evident that Chevrolet had done its homework since last years 500 coming back this year with a stronger engine package, better fuel mileage, and a better exhaust system design that relegated all those in Honda’s to fight for what was left and coupled with the cool weather the day played right into their hands as the Honda contingent was only able to lead 7 of the 200 laps and all those came during green flag pit stops.

     Carpenter paced the Andretti Autosports drivers Marco Andretti and rookie Carlos Munoz for the first three laps before JR Hildebrand lost control of his car in the middle of turns one and two and struck the wall with enough damage to put the runner-up driver in the 2010 500 out of the race brining out the initial caution flag of the race.

      The first signs that the Honda contingent were counting on the event to be a fuel mileage event came when 6 of their powered cars came into the pits after just laps to top off their fuel in hopes of running longer during a fuel stint than their rivals.

     Kanaan was the first to come up through the field charging from his 12th starting berth to overtake Carpenter for the lead on lap 9 and the dicing began.

     Carpenter, Andretti and Kanaan then swapped the lead 9 times before the first series of green flag pit stops began on lap 30 with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and James Jakes taking a turn at the front before making their pit stops.

     Jakes, who was one of the early Honda powered cars to pit, was in the lead when Sebastian Saavedra was forced to take evasive action from an errant car driver by Pippa Mann.  The move resulted in contact with the outside wall out of the fourth turn taking from the race and brining out caution number two.

     It took eight laps to clean the debris from the accident and also give the track a quick cleaning and that enabled Jakes to lead a total of 5 laps in the race before making his pit stop.

     Carpenter retook the lead when Jakes made his stop and was in front until the green flag came back out on lap 43 and the restart allowed Andretti to get the jump he needed to propel him back into the lead.  It became apparent that the lead car on a restart this day was sitting duck but it took Carpenter only one lap to reclaim the lead.

     At the 50 lap mark or a quarter of the race it was Carpenter ahead of Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Kanaan, Takuma Sato, EJ Viso, Munoz, Alex Tagliani and Will Power. Only two of these ten where in Hondas, those of Sato and Tagliani, the rest were Chevrolet powered.

     Sato suffered misfortune on lap 57 when he lost control of his car exiting turn 2.  He spun but did not hit either the inside or outside walls.  He tried to keep the engine fired but he did stall it requiring a tow to the pits for new tires and a restart.  Sato, the series point leader going into the 500 in A.J. Foyt Racing ABC Supply Honda, was able to gain his lost lap later in the race and finished 13th at the end unable to maintain his point lead.

     All the leaders pitted at this juncture of the race with Hunter-Reay being the first out of the pits to lead the field to the lap 61 restart.  This time it was Andretti using the slingshot to take the lead and for the next two laps the pair swapped the lead before Carpenter reasserted his strength to lead for the next 8 laps.

     Carpenter then bobbled out of the fourth turn after surrendering the lead to Kanaan on 73 and would not lead another lap in the race.  Carpenter went off the track and into the grass before righting his car avoiding any contact but the off track excursion must have done something to the handling because he could never recover the prowess he had earlier in the race.     

     At the halfway mark it was A.J. Allmendinger in his Penske Chevrolet leading as his race car suddenly came to life at this juncture of the race injecting his name into the competition as well.  Allmendinger was followed by Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Viso, Andretti, Castroneves, Power, Carpenter, Tagliani and Oriol Servia with Tagliani now being the only Honda in the top 10.

     Allmendinger lead until lap 113 when he suddenly pulled into the pits to have his right cross seat belt, which unexplainably came loose, reattached.  His crew fueled the car and changed the tire and he came out in 24th position, still on the lead lap, but now well behind and out of sequence, pit stop wise, with the rest of the front runners.

     The next round of green flag pit stops commenced on lap 121 with Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Munoz, Tagliani, Towsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe taking turns at the point until all the stops cycled through.

     It was then a battle among the Andretti Autosports cars for the next 11 laps with Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Viso swapping the top spot lap after lap.

     Allmendinger concluded his stunning march back through the field and was on top again by the 137 lap and again in the thick of the chase for the win albeit still well out of sequence on pit stops with the rest of the front runners.

     At the 150 lap mark it was Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Munoz, Carpenter, Kanaan, Viso, Servia, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal in the top 10.

     Another round of green flag stops began on lap 152 and the stops shuffled Allmendinger back to the front and leading until he needed his next stop on lap 167.

     Andretti, Kanaan, Munoz, and Hunter-Reay than traded the top spot lap after lap moving toward the final pit stop and the conclusion of the race.

     Almost as impressive as the lead changes was the flawlessness of the pit stops.  It seemed no matter whom it was the pit stops did not cost any of the top runners any position on the track and with the lack of caution flags it was key to not make any mistakes in the pits.

     Kanaan made the first move on lap 178 with his stop and his KV Racing Team was true to the form they displayed all day, a perfect stop and he was back on the track.

     When all the stops were concluded on lap 190 it was Hunter-Reay ahead of Kanaan, Munoz, Andretti, Justin Wilson, Castroneves, Franchitti and Allmendinger.

     The incredible streak of green flag laps came to an end on lap 194 when Rahal did a full spin exiting turn 2, sliding across the track hitting the inside retaining wall with the left front wheel.

     Lucky for the field and Kanaan in particular the debris from the accident did not cover the track and the clean-up was rather quick.  Unlucky was Hunter-Reay who now had to contend with a quartet of drivers behind him on the restart, the sitting duck, as I referred to earlier.

     When the green flag came out to start lap 198 three cars came side-by-side down the front straightaway with Kanaan being the winner over Munoz with Hunter-Reay falling to third.

     As the leaders roared through the second turn and down the backstretch, Franchitti slipped high out of the groove in turn one and hit the wall, bringing out the caution flag thereby freezing the field at the time of the yellow giving race to Kanaan as it would take longer than two laps to clear the field from the final caution.

     Behind the pace car Kanaan brought Munoz, Hunter-Reay, Andretti and Wilson across the line behind him.  Wilson’s fifth place in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda was the highest finishing Honda and he did so with being consistent all race long.

     Castroneves, Allmendinger, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball and Carpenter rounded out the top 10.  Pagenaud and Kimball were in Hondas and because of better fuel mileage were able to stop later than the Chevrolets late in the race and parlayed that advantage into a top 10 finish in the race.

      "This win, well it’s for the fans,” said Kanaan who was in awe of the display of emotion from the crowd as he made his victory lap in his car and then in the pace car following victory lane ceremonies.  "I could hear, I could feel it, it was awesome.  You know they treated me the same when I fell out of races or had bad luck. Today was a day that I could repay them (the fans) for their support all these years.”

     For his team co-owner, Jimmy Vasser, it was also a dream come true.  "I was never able to win this event as a driver, never could, so I went out and hired someone who could!” said an equally jubilant Vasser following the race.  "You would not believe it but we really did not get a handle on a set-up that would work for Tony (Kanaan) until late in practice last Sunday.  Suddenly Tony went from upset and disappointed to happy as lark.  He knew then that we had stumbled upon something for today and it all came together.  I could not ask for anything more.”

     It was also a special day for an unnamed 24 year-old woman whom Kanaan helped some nines year ago.  Facing a surgery that could prove fatal Kanaan visited the then young woman in the hospital and gave her a medal that his mother had given him for good luck.  Feeling that he enough out of the medal he parted with it.  This week that woman visited Kanaan and gave him his medal back saying she had received her help and now felt that he could use it and he went into the race with the medal in his pocket.

     In addition a long time friend Alex Zanardi, back in Indianapolis this week as a guest of Target Chip Ganassi Racing let Kanaan rub his gold medal won in Paralympics competition this year for luck and that also worked.  It was special for Vassar also, as he was a teammate to Zanardi at Ganassi in the early years and they remained friends.

    Munoz, a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and making his first start in a race that required four tire pit stops, was near flawless in his only attempt in an Indy Car this year and was right in position at the end.

     "I was a bit nervous at the start,” said Munoz, "and nervous of the pit stops also as I didn’t have a lot of practice but I was patient and that is what I want to take away from this experience.  I should be happy, but I thought I should have won this thing.  The car was so great from the first lap to the last lap.  Let’s see what my future will bring now, maybe I can make it back and win”

     Hunter-Reay echoed what was seem and observed up and down pit road after the race.  "Well, if I couldn’t win, I was glad to see Tony (Kanaan) win, said Hunter-Reay after the race. "It was awesome to run up front all day and having a car that could win the race.  The frustrating part is we were quick enough did it did not work out.  That is what a 500 mile race is all about.  Our team, all five of us, were equally prepared and all in position at the end.  We’ll take this and move on hand hopefully be back at the point again next year.”

     "I knew were in the wrong place on the final restart,” said Andretti.  "We made what we thought was the right adjustment on the final stop but did not get the track position we needed on the restart and were shuffled back.  It is disappointing to lead as many laps as we did today and they not have a shot at the end but that is what racing at this track is all about.”

     "Today everyone was quick,” said Wilson.  "It was tough to get by out there, so much turbulent air, and we could just not get close enough to anyone to make it a race.  I think we had a great run today, the draft had such a huge effect, and we fought all day and ended up in the top five.  It was a great team effort with the right strategy at the end.”

     Cars from Andretti Autosports finished second, third, fourth, 18th and 21st after qualifying all five in the top nine.  Team Penske cars finished sixth, seventh and 19th after also qualifying in the top nine so the expected battle among the powerhouse Chevrolet never saw a conclusion.

    Kanaan’s car number, 11, was a first for that numeral at Indianapolis, which had never been on the side of a winning car.  Kanaan was told that statistic prior to the race and now hopes he proven that any number at any time could win.

     Arie Luyendyk’s 185.981 race winning speed of 1990 was eclipsed today and it was only the fifth time since 1972 that the race record was broken and was due to the small number of cautions in today’s race.

     Castroneves completed the full 500 miles, without a relief driver, for the ninth time today to become the first driver to accomplish such a feat.  Ted Horn and Foyt had gone 8 500 mile races here without relief.  Relief is referred to the olden days when the races were long and sometimes needed help to complete the race.  "It is nice to have that record,” said Castroneves a three time winner of the 500, "but I would certainly like to win my fourth a join that group.  Our car was as good as the rest today, we just needed the right set circumstances and they never appeared today.”

     I wrote about competitiveness in the IZOD Indy Car series all month along and that was born out today. 19 of the 33 cars finished the race completing all 200 laps, 26 were running at the finish and that tied a record going back to the inaugural ace in 1911 when the same number were still running at the end.

     Kanaan led 15 different times as did Andretti but for Andretti it was a dubious distinction because he did not win the race.  Rodger Ward led 10 times in the exciting battle with Jim Rathman in the 1960 500 and did win for the previous record.

     The crowd was estimated at higher than last year and with what was witnessed today I can only see that number growing.  It was truly and exiting race from start to finish with a popular driver winning his first for the icing on the cake.