INDIANAPOLIS, IN (US Presswire) - Dario Franchitti prevailed in a wild duel as Takuma Sato crashed while attempting to pass Franchitti on the final lap of the 96th Indianapolis 500.It was Franchitti's third Indy 500 victory, one that set records for heat and lead changes.
Sato was attempting to pass Franchitti by going low into Turn 1 on the final lap when Sato's car spun. Franchitti's car missed Sato's car and, as the caution light came on, was in first place.
"I moved over and saw him coming," Frranchitti said. "I moved over again and he got loose underneath me. It was like Emerson (Fittipaldi) and Little Al (Al Unser Jr.) there at the end. My spotter was like, 'Keep going, keep going, keep going.'"
Franchitti's teammate, Scott Dixon, finished second, while Tony Kanaan finished third.
Sato, attempting to become the first Japanese racer to win the Indy 500, finished 17th.
Instead, he was left to complain that Franchitti forced him too low and made his car lose grip.
"It looks like he didn't give me enough room to go there," Sato said. "I was well below the white line. I'm very disappointed."
With bagpipes blaring in the background in reference to Franchitti's Scottish heritage, Franchitti stood up in victory circle and raised his arms in triumph before donning a pair of white sunglasses to honor Dan Wheldon, who won this race a year ago but was killed in an Oct. 16 crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"(After Sato crashed), I was looking up at the pole," Franchitti said. "I didn't know who was going to win it, but everybody up there was a friend of Dan.
"To be on the trophy beside Dan, on either side, is more important than anything."
Franchitti embraced Susie Wheldon, Dan's widow, and wife Ashley Judd in an emotional scene after the win.
Said Kanaan, a close friend of Wheldon's who just fell short again in his bid for a first Indy 500 win in his 11th attempt: "Danny, wherever he is, is extremely happy ... his three best friends in the top three."
After a relatively poor qualifying performance last week - Franchitti started 16th, Dixon 15th - Ganassi's team took advantage of the return to lower turbocharger boost levels used before qualifying. Both cars were fast Friday in the final practice session and quickly went to the front of the field in Sunday's race.
Franchitti had to recover from a spin in the pits early in the race that sent the No. 50 Target Honda/Dallara to 29th place. Replays showed that E.J. Viso struck Franchitti's car in the rear.
"Oh my gosh, three, that is such an extraordinary achievement," Judd said. "What he did today was just awesome.
"When he got in the car today, I told him, 'I will see you in the winner's circle.' I knew it; I knew it."
Oriol Servia (fourth) and pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe rounded out Sunday's top five.
James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball, Townsend Bell and Helio Castroneves completed the top 10.
Weather weighed heavily on cars and drivers throughout the race.
Marco Andretti, who led a portion of the first half of the race, reported by radio that his boot was melting onto the car's throttle pedal. Later, he reported a major vibration and pitted to change tires, and indication that the 130-degree track temperatures were taking a toll on tires. Andretti was knocked out in a single-car crash with 12 laps remaining.
In the most damaging blow to the Izod IndyCar Series standings, points leader Will Power was taken out of the race when Mike Conway's car spun in front of his on lap 80.
Conway's No. 14 Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda slid into the wall on the exit in front of Power's No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Conway had been struggling after exiting from a bad pit stop.
"That's what started it," said A.J. Foyt, Conway's team owner. "He slid in and hit my fuel man and knocked him over, and that's what broke the front wing.
"To win this Indy 500, everything's got to fall your way. One little thing goes wrong like that, it's bad."
Both drivers emerged from their cars safely, though both were knocked out of the race. Power entered with a 45-point lead over teammate Castroneves, who was nearly taken out by the crash.
A wayward wheel from Conway's car bounced off the top of the right front tire on Castroneves' car. But the three-time Indy 500 winner was able to continue.
Not as lucky was Ryan Hunter-Reay.
On lap 123 of a scheduled 200, Hunter-Reay's car slowed, eventually sending him to the pits and out of the race with a suspension failure in the rear of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.
"Something broke," Hunter-Reay said over the radio. "It felt like something went bad in the suspension in the back."
Both Lotus-powered entries were black-flagged early in the race for being too off the pace. Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi parked their HVM Racing cars on the 11th lap after top speeds of 205 mph and 203 mph, respectively.
The leaders were posting top laps of better than 220 mph.