The most lead changes in race history, an almost last lap pass for the win, amazing restarts, close and tight racing, turbo engines, new chassis and a super competitive field; the 2012 edition of the Indianapolis 500 looked to have it all. Anticipation for the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was met with amazing results and once the checkers fell, reality surpassed expectations. This was the kind of race we all dream about; an “I was there” moment. Although having the Target superpower and Dario Franchitti win did not truly reflect the amazing 200 laps of racing we witnessed, it was nonetheless a race that lived up to the hype of a classic Indy 500; something more difficult to pull off than could be imagined. The back and forth at the front was complimented with cage match racing behind and there was not a moment when we knew what was going to happen.
The man, The Myth, The Legend – Say what you will about the flying Scotsman, but Dario Franchitti is the best driver of our generation. With his third Indy 500 win, he enters a very elite club of three time winners. And in nine starts, he has done it sooner than any of the other seven, three time winners. We have two active three time winners in the series, making the current class of indycar drivers comparable to the “golden age” of the early to mid 90’s. I have done my fair share of Franchitti bashing in the past, but you cannot deny what he has done in open wheel racing. Yes, the man seems to own the golden horseshoe, but this much success doesn’t come without skill and a high level of teamwork. He knows what he is doing and doesn’t look to be slowing down on the ovals one bit. Now, if he could recover his speed on the twisties this year could be very telling about his staying power in the face of adversity.
The Young Prince – If Marco Andretti isn’t sabotaging his own race, it seems his team will do it for him. I had Marco picked for the win and in the early stages of the race he looked to be a lock. Andretti led many laps early on and looked to be the car to beat. Why he was called in for a split strategy I do not know, but if it didn’t end his chances of a win, it severely crippled his odds. You just don’t pull a leading car off the race track to play with an off strategy plan. Just ask Jimmy Vasser after he pulled Takuma Sato out of the lead in Sao Paulo last year if this ever plays out in a team or drivers favor. I am by no means a race engineer but this call seems like the worst possible strategy for winning. Maybe he thought more of the field would follow him in, but it did not work out for the team. If you are leading, you run the tank dry and stay with the leaders, you don’t try some wonky pit strategy to fool the competition.
Turn One – Also known as calamity corner for this year’s edition of the Memorial Day Classic. All eight yellow flag periods were a result of some sort of action that started in turn one. I have no reasonable explanation as to why we saw the high number of incidents on the south end of the facility, but it bit more than a few drivers in a bad way. But then again, turn one is the place where most races are won or lost and this year was no exception. We saw no less than five drivers spin on their own and we watched Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter thrown away their chances of winning in the corner. If you hop on and simulator with IMS as a track option, you will see why the drivers say T1 and T2 are totally different than T3 and T4. It is truly like threading a needle into T1 and with the inherently unsettled DW12, the room for error was clearly very small. By the end of the race I was biting my nails anytime someone threw it violently into T1 because we really didn’t know if they would come out the other side with the sharp end still pointing forward.
Racing – In a single, over used word? EPIC. The early predictions of Indy Lights style racing were spot on. Restarts were insane… literally insane, if you think you have the cojones to race at the 500, re watch Marco Andretti’s lap 184 restart. He was in the dust on the inside and looked to have no rear end grip but kept his foot in it the entire time. Or how about Kanaan’s move on Kimball on the lap 152 restart? The racing was incredibly close all afternoon long and given the outright elbowing that we saw, drivers really kept their cool and raced like the pros we know they are. I hate to say that I was pleasantly surprised and impressed beyond words at how the drivers handled themselves, but that’s the truth. On the sports largest stage, no one took an overtly silly risk to put other drivers in danger. And they did this all while putting on possibly the best show that the Brickyard has ever seen. We truly saw a race for the ages.
Lotus – With all of the good we saw this weekend; it was truly a 31 car race from the beginning. HVM Racing and driver Simona De Silvestro dutifully responded to the lap 10 black flag that both Lotus teams received. She entered the pits and the team packed up for the day. They played along well and given the heavy political atmosphere permeating through the paddock; it was probably a smart move. Fan Force United did not play as nice. The ignored the black flags and fought their case with INDYCAR officials. When they came in on lap 11, they were thanked with a two lap penalty. This places them behind full season driver De Silvestro in the final standings. It sounds more like political posturing, than an honest penalty to me. FFU sounds committed to growing with Lotus and they fully understand the position the British manufacturer has put them in. We need a true underdog to root for and Lotus and FFU are in prime position to be the backmarker bandwagon ready to be jumped onto. If they will continue any further into the season is unknown, but HVM needs a second team to help with development of the painfully slow Lotus engine program.
Another 500 weekend completed, and 51 weeks until the next edition. Now the 2012 season is in full swing and there is nothing left to work at expect for the season championship. Teams have a grueling four week schedule ahead of them without an off weekend to recuperate and the pressure cooker of the championship will weigh heavy on them as they embark on the next phase of the championship. Will Powers lead has been slightly diminished and the 12 team’s oval performance will be an interesting story line to follow as Power attempts to find championship redemption from 2011. I’m pumped for a summer of crazy action and hopefully a tight championship heading into autumn. The 2012 Indy 500 was the perfect way to kick off the oval portion of the season. Detroit awaits the teams this weekend before the left turn assault commences. Here we go.
Programming Note: I have collected some interesting stories from my time behind the scenes thanks to the Social Media Garage and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and they will see the light of day in the coming weeks. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and it was great to put a face and handshake behind the @.