Many have said that you always remember your first big race, but Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand will surely want to forget his.
In a thrilling conclusion, Dan Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500-mile race on the final lap, taking Bryan Herta’s first win as a team-owner. The 2005 winner was set to finish second for the third year in a row before clinching the victory following a disastrous turn of events for JR Hildebrand.
Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon casts his eye over an extraordinary centenary race…
All across the IndyCar landscape, many were preparing their headlines to read “ROOKIE WINS GREATEST SPECTACLE IN RACING”. Newspaper editors could have re-used their headlines from the 2011 Daytona 500 when rookie Trevor Bayne won NASCAR’s greatest prize in only his second start. While Hildebrand had slightly more starts to his name, 2011 was still his rookie season. Making his last tank of fuel last an astonishing 36 laps, Hildebrand was comfortably leading on his final lap when disaster struck.
Rounding the final turn, the 2009 Indy Lights champion was set to win for Panther Racing, who hadn’t tasted victory since Tomas Scheckter took the twin chequers at Texas in 2005, and who were runners-up in the last two 500-mile races when Hildebrand crashed with the chequered flag in sight.
While lapping Charlie Kimball, Hildebrand drifted wide and hit the outside of Turn 4, smashing his right-front and sliding down the track towards the finish line. However, it was not enough to keep Dan Wheldon at bay, who incredulously cruised past Hildebrand to take the win. Hildebrand’s forward momentum was enough to carry him across the line to finish second, while Graham Rahal took an excellent third for Team Ganassi. Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servià rounded out the Top 5.
Earlier, the race was dominated by Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. The early stages of the race saw pole-sitter Alex Tagliani swapping the lead with Dixon multiple times. The fairytale run for Sam Schmidt and Tagliani was not to be however, with Tags falling off the pace after his third pit stop, dropping back as far as 19th, and eventually retiring from the race after a brush with the wall broke his suspension. Franchitti looked good for a large part of the day, pitting with 36 laps to go for what he hoped would have been enough to take him to a second consecutive win. He was not able to save enough fuel though and was forced to pit with one lap to go, dropping him to 12th overall.
Dixon fell off the pace at his final stop and came home 6th and no doubt disappointed.
Elsewhere, it was a miserable day for Roger Penske and his three entries. A big concern was the outright lack of pace from three-time Indy winner Hélio Castroneves, who was never in contention and ultimately finished 17th and a lap down. Will Power was running in the higher midfield until his wheel decided to part company with the rest of the car after his first pit stop, sending the series points leader to the back of the field as he was forced to pit again, however he eventually recovered slightly to finish in 14th place. The highest Penske hope was carried by Ryan Briscoe, who was running well most of the day before a late tangle with the other Schmidt car of Townsend Bell ended his run.
After so much drama and lack of pace on Pole Day & Bump Day, the Andretti cars were again lost in the pack for much of the day, however Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick enjoyed a brief off- sequence period toward the front, with Danica leading for a few laps, but ultimately keeping their cars out of trouble to finish 9th and 10th – a respectable result considering their dismal month of May overall.
Dreyer & Reinbold had an uncharacteristically uncompetitive day, with Justin Wilson the highest finisher in 16th, with Ana Beatriz, Davey Hamilton and Paul Tracy in 21st, 24th and 25th respectively, with the latter enjoying an extended period in the pits receiving repairs for a brush with the wall.
But Hildebrand’s misfortune was the talking point of the day, along with Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon taking a lucky but no-less-deserved victory. Herta, whose small team had committed only to the Indy 500 as their sole appearance of 2011, should now have little trouble seeking more lucrative sponsors for more frequent appearances on the grid.
2011 Indianapolis 500 Final Standings (200 laps):
|1.||Dan Wheldon||Bryan Herta Autosport||200||2:56:11.7267|
|2.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||200||+ 2.1086|
|3.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 5.5949|
|4.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||200||+ 7.4870|
|5.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||200||+ 8.8757|
|6.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 9.9434|
|7.||Bertrand Baguette||Rahal / Letterman / Lanigan||200||+ 23.9631|
|8.||Tomas Scheckter||KV / SH Racing||200||+ 24.3299|
|9.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||200||+ 25.4711|
|10.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||200||+ 26.4483|
|11.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher||200||+ 27.0375|
|12.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi Racing||200||+ 56.4167|
|13.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||199||1 lap behind|
|14.||Will Power||Team Penske||199||1 lap behind|
|15.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||199||1 lap behind|
|16.||Justin Wilson||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||199||1 lap behind|
|17.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||199||1 lap behind|
|18.||Buddy Rice||Panther Racing||198||2 laps behind|
|19.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||198||2 laps behind|
|20.||Pippa Mann||Conquest Racing||198||2 laps behind|
|21.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||197||3 laps behind|
|22.||John Andretti||Richard Petty / Andretti||197||3 laps behind|
|23.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||AJ Foyt Enterprises||197||3 laps behind|
|24.||Davey Hamilton||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||193||7 laps behind|
|25.||Paul Tracy||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||175||25 laps behind|
|DNF.||Townsend Bell||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||157||Contact|
|DNF.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||157||Contact|
|DNF.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||147||Contact|
|DNF.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||99||Contact|
|DNF.||Jay Howard||Schmidt / RLL||60||Contact|
|DNF.||Simona di Silvestro||HVM Racing||44||Handling|
|DNF.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||27||Contact|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||20||Contact|
|DNS.||Bruno Junqueira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||Substituted|
|DID NOT QUALIFY|
|Raphael Matos||AFS Racing||Did Not Qualify|
|Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||Did Not Qualify|
|James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||Did Not Qualify|
|Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest||Did Not Qualify|
|Ho-Pin Tung||Dragon Racing||Did Not Qualify|
|Scott Speed||Dragon Racing||Did Not Qualify|
|Patrick Carpentier||Dragon Racing||Did Not Qualify|