By A.J. Foyt
The Indianapolis 500 is the world’s most famous race and because of that, the questions raised beforehand took on a greater importance. Sunday’s race delivered answers.
Will the Chevrolets dominate the race like they did in qualifying? The Hondas came alive in this race and not only gave the Chevys a run for the money, the Hondas took the money and the Borg Warner trophy with a one-two finish by Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
Will the Lotus-powered cars, due to their lack of speed, be a danger to the rest of the field? They were retired by the officials before it became an issue. It took a while to get one of the drivers off the track but I think he wanted to make his race last as long as he could.
Will race director Beaux Barfield do a good job in officiating the most famous race in the world? He handled a variety of situations with consistency, with one notable exception. The restart near the end had some drivers complaining that Tony Kanaan jumped the start – he went from fifth to second by turn 1 (but the crowd loved it).
Will the new cars provide the protection they were designed to give? There were some hard-hitting accidents, and one spectacular accident (ours), and all of the drivers walked away—including mine.
My driver Mike Conway seemed to be having fun in the No.14 ABC Supply Honda car. I thought he had a shot at winning! He started 29th but he didn’t stay there very long. He kept passing cars and pretty soon he was in the top 10. He was driving a helluva race and the ABC Supply crew was giving him fast and solid pit stops.
Then in a split second, it wasn’t fun anymore. On lap 77, he came into the pit box too fast. When he went to angle in and then angle out, the car didn’t respond. It came too close to the wall and took down a couple of crew members. They were bruised but not badly hurt. In fact they picked themselves up, did a full stop and sent him on his way, not realizing in all the upset that the right front wing had been damaged.
What wasn’t apparent when Mike left the pits became very clear to him as he sped by us on the frontstretch. It was an “Oh $#*!” moment that drivers hate. He saw the right front endplate sticking up in the air as he approached turn 1.
With Will Power at speed and closing fast, Conway knew he didn’t want to back off too much. That could be bad. So he eased off the throttle going into turn 1, caught the car once but the second time he couldn’t. He spun in the short chute and Power, with nowhere to go, hit the 14 car, launching it into the catch fence. Power slid along the wall underneath him.
The cars did their job, but Mike and Will were lucky to walk away from that one. I’m sure the INDYCAR technical team is analyzing ways to improve the current design.
As dramatic as that end to our race was, my other car, the No. 41 ECat (an electric bike company in case you’re wondering)/ABC Supply Honda driven by rookie Wade Cunningham went out quietly. I felt bad for him because it turned out that a broken valve spring put him out of the race early—41 laps. Retiring early is hard on the rookies; it was especially hard on Wade who worked so long to get there. He won three times at Indy in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 race but this was the race that really mattered to him.
He started 26th, jumped up to 24th, got shuffled back to 28th and was making his way to the front when the problems started. We tried a few things, thinking it was in the ignition and replacing the coil which led to a funny moment.
Sitting in the car, race strategist Larry Curry told Wade, “We’re going to change the coil.” Wade replied, “I’m not a rocket scientist but how is changing the oil going to help?” “Coil, Wade, we’re changing the coil,” Curry answered.
The thing about Indy is that when it’s your day, it’s your day. Franchitti spun in the pits (he got tagged) and came back to win. I think back to my own wins and it could have gone either way-heck I ran out of fuel in ’77 and still won. I should have won in ’75 and ’76 but the weather shortened those races so I finished third and second.
The other thing about Indy is that when it comes down to those last laps, drivers go for it. They throw the percentage moves out the window and think only about winning.
Takuma Sato tried to pass Franchitti with two laps to go with a risky pass going into turn 1. It ended with Sato against the wall crying foul and Franchitti sailing on by to win his third Indy 500.
Once again, the line from ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” applied to the most famous race in the world as it has so many times in the past 100 years.
It’s what keeps us and the fans coming back for more.