LOS ANGELES — The Sunday, May 27 triple-header “greatest racing weekend of the year” lived up to the hype this year.
Formule One drivers drivers raced through the streets of Monte Carlo at 5 a.m. (PDT) on SPEED as they battled over the title of Monaco Grand Prix champion. Aussie Mark Webber won and became the sixth different winner in the first six F-1 races of the year (a series record).
Remarkably, five different teams — McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams – have won.
The Monaco finish had the first four drivers — Webber, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel — finishing virtually nose-to-tail during the closing laps of the 78 lap event. Lewis Hamilton was 4.1 seconds off the lead and Felipe Massa was 6.1 seconds behind the leader at the end.
The IZOD IndyCar Series 96th Indianapolis 500 on ABC ran from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (PDT). Indy 500 connoisseurs, including Robin Miller, called the 2012 race one of the most exciting races in Indy history. I agree.
It had 10 different race leaders and a record 34 lead changes, breaking the old record of 29. Passes usually took place on the track, not the pits.
The race start was the best full field, spacing-wise. Drivers stayed in 11 rows of three behind the Corvette pace car that exited to pit road as the green flag was about to fly.
The new DW12 Dallara chassis and the turbo-charged V6 engine battle between Chevy and Honda provided amazing action, especially those three to five cars wide front straight restart dashes to the first turn.
Late race lead changes among the lead pack drivers were exciting and the winner was in doubt all the way. Dario Franchitti took first, earning him his third Indy 500 victory after taking the lead on lap 199 from teammate Scott Dixon.
Takuma Sato followed Dario past Dixon. Sato tried to pass Franchitti for the lead on the inside entering turn one on the final lap and spun up the track into the wall.
He almost took Dario’s No. 50 (for sponsor Target’s 50th year) with him. The race finished under caution, depriving the large crowd of an exciting last lap pass to the waving checkered flag. Franchitti’s three Indy victories —2007 (rain), 2010 and 2012 — have all come under the yellow flag.
The crowd seemed to be more than last year, even without Danica Patrick, who raced NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup races Saturday and Sunday in Concord, N.C.
Her replacement in the Andretti No. 27 Go-Daddy green car was James Hinchcliffe. His comedic TV commercial skills and extrovert personality are reminiscent of the late Dan Wheldon. Wheldon was signed to drive the 27 GoDaddy Andretti car in 2012 a day before he lost his life in the 15-car crash last October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hinchcliffe’s driving skill marks the Canadian as an Indy Car star and possible 500 winner soon. He qualified second and would have been the polesitter if not for the relatively new “Fast Nine” re-qualifying procedure to set the final first three rows starting order.
Hinchcliffe, the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series rookie of the year, led a total of five laps and finished sixth in his second 500. Marco Andretti led three times and led the most laps (59) and appeared to be a likely winner at the midway point.
A remarkable 22 cars (16 on the lead lap) finished for a strong 67% despite all-new engines for the 2012 season. Exciting Tony Kanaan jumped from fifth to first on the outside between the starting line and turn one on lap 187 and led seven laps.
Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan were all close friends of Wheldon and fittingly finished 1-2-3 in the race that honored Wheldon’s memory in several ways. At the playing of “taps”, another of Wheldon’s close friends and his 2011 Indy 500 team owner, Bryan Herta, drove a slow pace lap in the 2011 No. 98 car Dan drove to victory.
Fans wore white rimmed sun glasses on laps 26 and 98 (his two Indy 500 winning numbers) and Franchitti donned a pair of the same glasses in victory circle. Wheldon’s widow Susie was present at the 500, and received his “baby” Borg-Warner trophy and winner’s ring. She congratulated Franchitti and his wife, actress Ashley Judd, in victory circle, and road around the track on the back of the pace car with them as Franchitti saluted fans.
The last lap crash by Sato dropped him from second to 17th and cost him $753,125 – the difference between second ($1,003,125) and 17th ($250,000). Winner Franchitti received $2,228,125 from the $12,677,500 total purse.
The Coca-Cola 600 was too long as usual, but it was mostly green flag. Kasey Kahne, a past USAC open-wheel star, took command from Greg Biffle late and won his 13th Sprint Cup race and first for Rick Hendrick. He became the ninth winner in 12 Cup point races this year.
Kahne was the weekend iron-man at Charlotte. On Friday night, Kahne raced one of his World of Outlaws winged 410 sprint cars at the Charlotte dirt track just beyond turn four of the 1.5-mile track.
With 29-cars present, Kahne started and finished in seventh in the 30-lap main. On Saturday afternoon he raced the Turner Motorsports No. 38 Great Clips Chevy in the History 300 and finished 17th after racing all 200 laps.
Sunday’s 600-mile marathon victory came in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy. He earned $355,675 for the victory, his third in the 600. Kasey has prior NASCAR Cup victories with Ray Evernham and for Red Bull last season.