Monday, May 25, 2009
Helio Wears Glass Slipper For Third Time at Indy 500
Indianapolis now has it's latest three time winner in the 500 and although Helio Castroneves was certainly no Cinderella, his win capped a storybook month of May that many are suggesting is the stuff of movies and fairy tale happy endings. It was a wild day at Indy with multiple crashes due to drivers drifting up into the marbles and into the fence. Others like Moraes and Marco got tangled up and the worst was saved for last as Matos turned down on Meira entering Turn One which created a massive wreck for them. Poor Vitor had already survived a scary looking pit fire and now may be laid up for awhile with broken vertebrate. All that aside, Helio was his usual self, climbing the front stretch fencing with his crew and sobbing in Victory Lane with a release of emotions that must have felt like being reborn after passing Dixon on a restart and checking out the rest of the way. Now I know you can read all the details of the race in plenty of other places, and you may already have done that. For this Hoosier, the conclusion of the race wrapped up one of the best months of May I have ever had at the Speedway and I am going to write about the things I saw and felt in terms of those who may be happy or sad relative to the outcome of the 500 this year. There are plenty of stories to tell and these are just a few from my perspective.
Helio of course. And my predicted winner, Dan Wheldon who with Panther Racing showed the mettle to return to their championship form of the Hornish days with a stout second place finish.
Alex Tagliani. Tags did an awesome job with Conquest and should easily win 500 Rookie of the Year as virtually all of the other newcomers found concrete or the SAFER barrier during the race.
Sarah Fisher and John Andretti. For Sarah, she stayed out of harm's way, finished 500 miles for the first time and her team (and equipment) is intact to take to Texas. For John, his qualifying performance was amazing and he handled race traffic well to finish, and while he was never really in contention for a Top 10 position, one-off entries at Indy usually don't fare as well as he did.
The IRL. With the Sprint Cup race postponed to today, the ratings for the ABC telecast should have gotten a boost which can only help Indycars.
Ed Carpenter and Alex Pink Lloyd. Both men's wives are due to give birth at any time and there were no deliveries at the Speedway! Ed looked strong and Pink had the hottest looking car and ran well despite losing a lap early and running in the pack most of the day.
Paul Tracy. Despite all the hoo-ha about 2002 leading up to this year's 500, PT handled himself gracefully and with humor all month. With all due respect to the three women in the race, he was the only one I saw all race day who seemed to have the cajones to try high-side passes in Turn 1. He provided some great wheel to wheel shots from my vantage point. Having the Geico cave man in a driver suit with him in the 500 Festival Parade on Saturday was a hoot!
KV Racing. Bell was spectacular all day and KV has made up ground on the IRL regulars and is clearly the cream of the crop (along with Newman Haas Lanigan of course) of the former Champ Car teams. I'm glad they are in the series and seeing Jimmy Vasser on pit road talking with Tagliani before qualifying was one of the highlights of my month as it showed that racers are racers willing to help another struggling driver out, even if it was a competitor.
The Speedway. Although there were some empty seats in the stands, it looked to me like loads more people than past years opted for the cheaper infield tickets as the mounds were jammed and the weather was Tony Hulman perfect.
Larry Rice. May you rest in peace. Racing has lost another icon for fans of the 500 and USAC racing, and this former Indy Rookie of the Year will be missed.
Vitor. When does he catch a break anyway? One of the most likable guys in the IRL should not have to endure sheet time right now. Now will AJ have to put someone else in the car for Texas? Could this be another fill-in job for Will Power?
Moraes and Marco. The fastest rookie in qualifying, Moraes never got a chance to show his stuff race day. Marco had no business going high side on the first lap with a rookie under him, so it was another typical Andretti move - overly aggressive and ill advised - which took them both out.
Tony Kanaan. This year, his car failed him and he pounded the wall in Turn 3. Two years running now, Turn 3 has been his nemesis and neither time was his fault, and it broke a long string of 500's where he had led laps. He was the only AGR driver who seemed to have anything for Dixon and Franchitti early on.
Rahal. Two years in a row now, he finds the fence in Turn 4 running up in the marbles. This time he was trying to get by Duno, and he should know better by now.
Will Power. The Australian with the piercing eyes had a shot to win but now looks like he could be on the sidelines for the rest of the season. C'mon Roger! Keep him in the seat.
Hunter-Reay. After barely getting in the show, the lack of race preparations clearly hurt him as he ran high all race and it finally bit him in Turn 4.
Traffic. The early morning traffic was a godawful mess and we were lucky to get in the track through the credential gate before the track opened to the public. Sitting on Georgetown Road at 25th Street with other media people, IRL officials and yellow shirts behind people who just wanted to get in the infield was a new experience. I got lucky. Lots of others did not.
There are 364 days to the Indy 500...
Go to American Motor Journal and subscribe! More of my May pix will be posted there and on my Picasa page once the next edition comes out as I have features in mind to share, and shots a few thousand images this May of everything from the initial balloon races, the Mini Marathon, to crowds and scenes, and off course race cars. I'll be back soon!