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2011 INDY 500 JUNE 2011

2011 INDY 500 JUNE 2011
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Los Angeles, Calif. June 2011- The 2011 Indianapolis 500 definitely lived up to the hype and delivered a classic, memorable race as expected. It was the best Indy 500 in decades. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” phrase is still true. The 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 in 1911 will be recalled and remembered for the next 100 years and longer whenever exciting, dramatic Indy 500 races are discussed. The 2011 edition had action, drama, two-abreast restarts for the first time, and of course that shocking race leader crash by rookie J.R Hildebrand, 23, in the final turn on the last lap. He negotiated the track's four turns successfully 799 times, but the 800th and final turn bit him. It was ABC-TV Wide World of Sports “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” encapsulated in an instant. J.R was about to become a rare first-time winner in his initial 500 start. He would do so on the patriotic Memorial Day weekend driving a camouflage color No 4 car sponsored by the National Guard. Add to that fact that the unheralded rookie is an American driver from Sausalito, CA (next to San Francisco Bay) and you would have had a major upset and patriotic one at that.

If Hildebrand had won the Indy 500 it would've book-ended NASCAR Cup rookie Trevor Bayne, 20, winning NASCAR's biggest race—the Daytona 500—in February. Both drivers are clean-cut, well-spoken, American-born drivers with tremendous upside. They both captured the imagination and consciousness of fans and media alike and represent the future of their respective sports. Hildebrand's spotters were second guessed for not informing him about his estimated four second lead on the final lap. Indy 500 veteran driver Pancho Carter was the Panther Team spotter in turn one and an undisclosed spotter was in the third turn. As J.R entered turn three on the final lap, Wheldon's P. 2 car was at least half a straightaway behind him. J.R could have slowed and followed the fuel deficient No. 83 car of fellow rookie Charlie Kimball (who was 13th and the last driver on the lead lap) safely through turn four and passed him on the front straight. J.R didn't know that. Later he said he knew pursuers were closing in, so he tried to pass Kimball on the outside at turn four, lost grip on the gray surface and pushed up into the wall. The image of J.R's car hitting the wall made all the evening TV news sports segments and photos of his crash made most newspapers Monday as well. Sports Illustrated magazine did not have that photo on the front cover, but ran it inside with the race story. SI's cover ran a photo of departing Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, a poor choice if you want to sell more SI magazines nationally.

Hildebrand did keep his damaged car driving next to the wall towards the finish line at about 80 mph and placed second, only 30-yards behind when Wheldon crossed the finish line. Panther Racing owner John Barnes has now finished second in the Indy 500 four years in a row—2008 Vitor Meira, 2009-10 Dan Wheldon and 2011 Hildebrand. Barnes is still seeking his first victory at Indy. It had to be a crushing outcome for him and his Panther team. At May 31 victory celebration ceremonies the winner received $2,567,255 versus a P. 2 check of $1,064,895 for the runner-up. That's a difference of $1,502,360.Wheldon sued Barnes last year for money he said was owed to him as the 2010 Panther driver. It's ironic that Wheldon kept his old boss from realizing his dream of an Indy 500 victory by beating his 2011 driver to the finish line by 2.1086 seconds. TV replays showed clearly that Dan passed J.R's damaged car on the front straight right after the yellow light flashed. Wheldon was very emotional in victory lane after his stunning triumph because his mother, 55, had been diagnosed recently with Alzheimer's Disease. Dan had placed an Alzheimer Association decal on his winning car to raise awareness of the disease.

Personable Wheldon, 32, was the only driver in the top four finishers who had won a prior 500 (2005). Hildebrand, P. 3 Graham Rahal, youngest driver in the race and an American, and P. 4 Tony Kanaan would have been new faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Actually, the only other driver in the top 11 finishers who had won an Indy 500 was fifth finisher Scott Dixon. So a new face on the famous trophy almost happened for the first time since 2008 (Dixon). Dixon led 73 laps in the 2011 Indy 500, adding to his 220 laps in front prior to this year. He moved into second place among active drivers with 293 laps led at Indy during his career. Dario Franchitti led 51 laps this year to increase his Indy 500 total to 306 laps, tops among active drivers. Wheldon led only the final lap (really only the final 300 yards) to move his career total to 235 and dropped from second place to third among active Indy 500 lap leaders. Castroneves (231) and Kanaan (214) did not lead a lap this year and remained in positions 4-5 respectively.

The 2011 Indy 500, under sunny sky and upper 80s temperature, took 2:56.11.7267 for an average speed of 170.265 mph. It had 23 lead changes among ten drivers and five of the leaders were first-time race leaders at Indy. Most lead changes (14 of 23) occurred on the track and not in the pits as in many past races. Nine lead changes this year occurred during pit stops. Seven caution flags consumed 40 (20%) of the 200 laps. Wheldon, who led only the final 900 feet of the final lap, is articulate, glib, humorous and a PR dream for the IZOD Indy Car Series. He was a “one-off” driver for Californian Bryan Herta and co-owner Steve Newey, who leased their car from Sam Schmidt. Dan made the usual rounds of talk show appearances as the 500 winner. On Monday, June 6, Wheldon was the second guest on the Late Show with David Letterman from 12:24-12:30 am (PDT); he performed on air as an experienced pro. The new 2012 Indy Car (oval track version) was shown parked on the street outside Letterman's CBS studio and talked about, giving additional publicity to the new 2012 Indy Car. Wheldon was even photographed earlier that day in NYC at the 103rd floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. Dan's day after the race photos--kissing the bricks at the IMS finish line with his blond long-haired 2-year old son Sebastian and with the Borg-Warner Trophy-- are memorable.

TV RATING: The ABC television rating for the 2011 Indy 500 increased nationally 7% over last year and by 17.6% locally in Indianapolis. The Indy 500 outdrew NASCAR's Sprint Cup Charlotte 600 telecast, which had a 4.0 overnight rating on FOX. Indy registered a 4.3 rating vs the 4.0 last year. Almost five million US households watched Indy's centennial 500. Indy Car is clearly making strides towards regaining lost viewers after the split between IRL and CART in 1996 cost the sport fans and viewers. Attendance at the track was way up over recent years, including the infield, according to veteran Indy 500 observers. Most said it was the largest crowd since the 1995 race. There were an estimated 20,000 empty seats, but the track has 252,000 seats, so the occupied seats total is still significant. The Indy 500 remains “the largest one-day sports event attendance in the world.” The 500 buzz was up this year as well thanks to the many interesting story-lines. The action-filled, safe, competitive race and dramatic finish should keep them and others coming back to the 500. Bobby Rahal, the 1986 winner, had to have conflicting emotions as he watched his car (Baguette) racing with his son Graham in the lead pack. Both led but needed fuel to finish. Blood must prevail in such a case.

The ABC Network Indy 500 telecast rates an A+ for content and delivery. ABC used 12 on-board TV cameras and wisely chose the camera cars (including Hildebrand's). Innovative features included the opening segment with actor William Fichtner walking on the race track and using props to give Indy 500 history. The feature on diabetic 500 driver Charlie Kimball and how he monitors his blood glucose level during races was necessary and a first at Indy. The taped feature about paraplegic car owner Sam Schmidt was appropriate with his small team accomplishing so much. Dick Harroun, 96-year old son of the 1911 500 race winner, was brought in from his Florida home and interviewed by host Brent Musberger in ABC's pagoda TV studio on the centennial of his dad's victory. Dave Callabro driver introductions in 11 rows of three, Jim Nabors' singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana”, and the starting command from Mari Hulman George were covered just right. The side-by-side presentation of TV commercials on the right 2/3 of the screen while continuing on-track coverage on the left third of the screen during commercials was appreciated.

Randy Bernard, in his 14th month as IZOD Indy Car CEO, said, “you have to hit a home run on your biggest race of the year.” He clearly did that and has given Indy Car momentum heading into the future. New stars, such as Hildebrand, courageous, skilled and personable Simona de Silvestro, and young American second-generation drivers Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are now familiar to the American sports public. They add to the usual five front-running Penske and Ganassi team drivers and Danica. When confronted by driver unhappiness about double file restarts, Bernard consulted with key parties and compromised on the race starting point, but held his ground and delivered two-abreast restarts that fans wanted. The procedure delivered additional excitement on restarts and more passing. Drivers handled them well with two exceptions (E. J. Viso and Townsend Bell). Some drivers (Kanaan) against two-abreast restarts liked them after the 500. The final 50 laps (125 miles) were sensational up front with eight different race leaders and seven lead changes--Franchitti (L 141-163), O. Servia (164-165), G. Rahal (166-171),Dixon (172-178), Danica Patrick (179-188), B. Baguette (189-197), Hildebrand (198-199) and Wheldon (200).

FACTS: For the sixth consecutive year there were no Honda engine failures. Also, Firestone tires again performed admirably at the 500. ... 11 of 33 starters in 2011 are USA-born. Most of the foreign-born drivers now are USA residents (Florida or Indiana primarily). ... The 2011 500 field was the fifth most closely matched in history with a mere 3.593 mph separating FQ Alex Tagliani's 227.472 mph from 33rd quickest Ana Beatriz' 223.879 mph. The closest was 3.130 mph in 1953. Qualifying time from fastest to slowest qualifiers this year was 2.5399 seconds, the old track record was 3.0622 seconds last year. .. The 2011 500 had five past Indy winners, five rookies and a record-tying four females—Patrick, de Silvestro, Beatriz and Brit rookie Pippa Mann, an Indy Lights veteran at the 2.5-mile IMS track. Four of the three females were racing at the finish & one (Danica) led the race. ... 25 of 33 starters finished the race, with 12 on the lead lap. ... Wall contact eliminated seven drivers. A handling problem sidelined de Silvestro. ... Per one source, 25 drivers used Arai helmets made in Japan. ... Four American drivers were among the ten who led the 2011 Indy 500. ... Drivers Hildebrand and Kimball are brainy as well as fast. Hildebrand was accepted by MIT and Kimball by Stanford. ... Wheldon's No. 98 William Rast-Curb/Agajanian car is the first Indy 500-winning 98 car since Parnelli Jones won the 1963 race in J. C. Agajanian's Watson roadster nicknamed Calhoun. .. Kanaan came through the field twice and passed 80 cars en-route to his P. 4 finish.

Wheldon, Kanaan, Franchitti and Castroneves are foreign-born drivers who have as much reverence for the Indianapolis 500 and its history as do native Hoosier drivers. Wheldon stated, “I love everything about Indianapolis—the tradition, the fans and the history.” ... This year the 33 best Indy 500 drivers in history were voted on by a select group of voters. Their published list had a glaring omission—Wheldon. All he has done is record six top four Indy 500 finishes in nine career Indy 500 starts. He has won the 500 twice (2005 & 11) and finished second twice (2009-10), giving him finishes of 2-2-1 in the last three 500s. He also has third and fourth place Indy finishes. His other finishes were 12, 19 and 22, with accidents in 2003 and 2007. Dan has completed all 200 laps six times in his nine starts at Indy and led the race in five of his nine Indy 500s. He ran 1,729 laps out of 1,800 possible laps at Indy for an amazing 96%. He is only the 18th driver in history to have won the Indy 500 at least twice. Wheldon is the modern-day version of 1940s driver Mauri Rose, also a natural as an Indy 500 driver. A revised top 33 Indy 500 drivers of all time should be printed immediately and Wheldon's name should be among the top 15 at least. Graham Hill, the 1966 500 winner, could be dropped from the list easily. He only had three Indy starts (1966-68) with a win as a rookie and finishes of 32 (piston) and 19 (accident). Formula One World Champion Hill led only 10 laps during his brief three year Indy 500 career.

PENSKE PROBLEMS: Shockingly, Roger Penske's three-car team had a most un-Penske 500. None of his cars led a lap or finished in the top ten. His cars (Fittipaldi and Unser, Jr) DNQ for the 1995 Indy 500 for his last dismal 500. The 15-time Indy 500 winning car owner had another forgettable 500 this year. His cars had pit problems or accidents. Will Power lost a LR wheel leaving his pit stall, lost a lap he could not regain and finished a lap down in P.14. Castroneves cut a tire, lost time and a lap and was never a factor before placing 16th . Blameless Ryan Briscoe was involved in a crash caused by T. Bell cutting into his path entering turn one. Damage sidelined Briscoe's 6T car for P. 27 (157 laps). Briscoe crashed his primary 6 car in practice before pole day. Anticipating possible problems because of double-file restarts, Roger stationed a team member with a radio in the first turn to warm Penske drivers of any problems. It didn't help Briscoe. Roger stated, “You have to execute. It's a great place to win, but it's tough to win.”. Despite Team Penske 500 problems, Power left Indy with an IZOD Indy Car 16-point lead over Franchitti. .. Target Chip Ganassi drivers Dixon (from row 1) and Franchitti (from row 3) dominated the first half of the race by leading five times for 124 total laps (79 of the first 100 laps). Late fuel stops caused their disappointing for them finishes of P. 5 (Dixon) and P. 12 (Franchitti).

The old quip that nostalgia isn't what it used to be wasn't true at Indy this year. Parnelli Jones drove Ray Harroun's 1911 Indy 500 winning yellow No. 32 Marmon Wasp around the 2.5-mile track. Mario Andretti drove the 1930s Boyle Maserati Wilbur Shaw winning car. Franchitti drove his fellow Scot driver Jimmy Clark's green and yellow No. 82 Lotus 38, the 1965 Indy winning car. 500 winners Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser, Jr. all drove famous Indy 500 winning cars from the IMS Museum around the track as well. On race day, Mario Andretti drove the IZOD Indy Car two-seater with a lucky passenger along for the ride in front of the field during early pace laps. Of course, A. J. Foyt , the first of three four-time Indy 500 winners, drove the Camaro pace car that led the 33 car field to the starting line. There were 100th anniversary of the 500 special ceremonies for past pole sitters, winners and even all living participants who could attend. Indy Car traditions live on and current participants connect with and respect the past of the great race.

TOTAL PURSE: The 2011 awards ceremonies took place Tuesday, May 31 and distributed checks for $13,509,485. The 500 record remains $14,406,580 in 2008. The winning Wheldon team received $2,567,255 and P. 2 Hildebrand's team collected $1,064,895. P. 3 G. Rahal earned $646,945 and P. 4 Kanaan $438,745. The lowest payout was $251,305 for P. 22 (J. Andretti) and P. 24 (Hamilton)--the two 48-year old drivers. The captivating final 35 laps were all green flag racing and had seven different leaders and six lead changes. That much competition so late in the Indy 500 is rare. Fuel stop strategy proved to be compelling and drivers use of the 15 push-to-pass speed boost button came into play as did the need for full stops. The ability to prolong staying on the track and hoping for a caution flag kept the winner in doubt until the checkered flag. Eventually most drivers had to pit for fuel, but Hildebrand stretched his fuel the longest. If a caution flag had flown, some drivers (Danica included) could have avoided the pits. One report had her just three or four laps shy of having enough fuel to avoid pitting. As the race leader, she pitted on lap 189 and left the pits alongside teammate Marco Andretti. He finished ninth and Danica tenth.

Motor-sports writer Curt Cavin reported in the Indianapolis Star interesting data about Hildebrand's final lap crash. Track speed segments show he was traveling 94 mph faster than fellow 500 rookie Kimball in the short chute between the third and fourth turns. At turn four he was still 83 mph faster than Kimball as he tried to lap him on the outside. Timing reports show Kimball was going only 103.634 mph in the chute approaching turn four; Hildebrand's speed was 186.865 mph, including the area where the crash started after J.R got his right side tires into the gray part of the track with less traction. In the previous sector from turn three to the short chute J.R was clocked at 210.564 mph and Kimball at 116.440 mph. Kimball was still on the lead lap and had been slowing to conserve fuel and avoid pitting. His lap 198 speed was 192.934 mph and 166.930 mph on lap 199 when he received the white flag starting his final lap.

The Hildebrand-Kimball encounter was reminiscent of Mike Conway's car running over the LR tire of Ryan Hunter-Reay's fuel-starved car in turn four at the end of the 2010 Indy 500. Conway flipped into the catch fence and was hospitalized for months. It makes one want to see a rule or provision to prevent this type of fuel-economy run in the closing laps. Two years in a row of faster cars overtaking cars running out of fuel is unacceptable. Maybe slower cars should be directed by radio to use the pit entry or pit exit lanes in the corners to get them out of the way. It took about eight seconds from J.R's wall contact for the yellow light to flash. TV replays showed clearly that Wheldon passed Hildebrand''s disabled, wall-hugging car and Kimball's slowing car at the inside on the front straight before the yellow light. Hildebrand needed 11.1 seconds to get from turn four to the finish line and Wheldon got there in 7.3 seconds, a difference of 3.8 seconds. After crossing the finish line, J.R's car drifted from the outside wall across the track to the inside wall and stopped by the first turn infield grass. He climbed out unhurt and walked up pit row in a memorable piece of 500 history. J.R handled post-race media interviews with uncommon candor, honesty, grace and style. He has rare driving talent for one so young and deserves to be an Indy Car star and race winner for many years. There is a saying that no one remembers who finished second. They definitely will do so years from now when they recall and talk about the 2011 Indy 500.