The Indianapolis 500
This Sunday is a very special day in motor sport: of the three most prestigious motor races, Monaco, LeMans and Indy-500, two have taken place today.
It would be thus unfair to close this racing weekend with no reference to the Indianapolis 500, which followed the F1 Monaco Grand Prix shortly, on the other side of the Atlantic.
The 2001 Indy-500 in fact surpassed the Monaco race in thrill, delivering excitement from the first lap till the final flag. And beyond it...as SpiderMan Castroneves once again jumped out of the car at the start/finish line, to climb the fence and celebrate victory with the spectators, repeatedly pumping his fist in the air to the delight of the fans – despite protests by IRL officials over that exuberant burst of emotion!
Differently from Castroneves's four CART victories that far, though, at the Indy-500 victory, the entire team--except team-owner Roger Penske--followed the Brazilian up the fences, in celebration of their 1-2 finish in the most prestigious racing event of the year.
After this effusive break of Indianapolis tradition, Castroneves then had to get back into his car and lap the track once, so as to come in with his car according to the Indy tradition reserved for the winner.
Well, it looks as if race officials need to reinforce the fences at the Indianapolis circuit: SpiderMan-Castroneves' elated fence-climbing, accompanied by the entire Team, was once more enjoyed by the crowd attending the Indy-500 2002 edition!
In contrast with the fairly uneventful 2001 Monaco GP – except obviously for the Principality's ever present charm and glamour – in 2002, both great racing events of the day, in Indianapolis and Monaco, offered plenty of excitement, bold maneuvers, spectacular crashes (and luckily all drivers walking out unhurt of totally wrecked cars – except for Laurent Redon, who crashed in the final Indy lap, and was admitted to Methodist Hospital with a concussion), many thrilling disputes, and a fight for the top honors till the very last split second before the checkered flag. For us, racing fans, this makes it a memorable day!
The celebrations were also special in 2002: if David Coulthard's elation in Monaco could be described as overly composed, as compared to Hélio Castroneves' in Indianapolis, this is the most effusive among the Scot's celebration that we have witnessed – at least in a very long time.
Castroneves, in turn, no longer an Indy-500 rookie this year, did not need that extra lap to comply with the Indy traditions. His joyful outburst of emotions at the victory, however, was comparable to that at his first victory, if not greater.
Here's a list of the top ten finishers of the 85th Indianapolis 500 (2001):
- Hélio Castroneves - Brazil - Penske
- Gil de Ferran - Brazil - Penske
- Michael Andretti - US - Green
- Jimmy Vasser - US - Ganassi
- Bruno Junqueira - Brazil - Ganassi
- Tony Stewart - US - Ganassi
- Eliseo Salazar - Chile - A J Foyt Racing
- Airton Daré - Brazil - Team X Treme
- Billy Boat - US - Hemelgarn
- Felipe Giaffone - Brazil - Hollywood Treadway
And here's an initial quick list (more later) of the top ten finishers of the 86th Indianapolis 500 (2002):
- Hélio Castroneves - Brazil
- Paul Tracy - Canada
- Felipe Giaffone - Brazil
- Alex Barron - US
- Eddie Cheever Jr. - US
- Richie Hearn - US
- Michael Andretti - US
- Robby Gordon - US
- Jeff Ward - US
- Gil de Ferran - Brazil
The American media, which has always dedicated wide coverage of this major US sporting event, gave special emphasis to a couple facts, following the 2001 race.
The first was that in 2001 it was again a rookie who took the Indy-500 victory. In 2000, it had been Montoya, driving for the Chip Ganassi Team. Both Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya and Brazilian Hélio Castroneves were competing for the first time in Indianapolis, as they took their victories. Before them, the last Indy rookie to take victory had been Graham Hill, in 1966.
The 2002 event adds another rare fact to the Indy-500 event: the last time a driver had conquered a second straight Indy-500 victory was over three decades ago: Al Unser Snr., in 1971!
Worth of reference within this context of rare occurences is that, right after the end of the 86th Indy-500 (2002), Robby Gordon (8th in Indy) went to North Carolina by chartered jet, to take place in the Stock Car Coca-Cola 600 race, where he finished 16th. Before Gordon, only John Andretti and Tony Stewart could boast the feat of competing in both races.
The second fact making big headlines after the 2001 Indianapolis 500 was that, in that year, the CART Teams clearly outclassed their IRL rivals, beating IRL on its home course! Both CART and IRL are, in principle, equivalent Series: the separated CART and IRL Series came into existence out of a split-up, such as the one that has been under debate making the Formula-1 headlines now and then since 2001.
Indeed, there are great drivers in both Leagues--names such as Al Unser Jr., Eddie Cheever, Scott Goodyear and Eliseo Salazar, just name a few among the great drivers competing in the IRL Series, rank very high in the motor racing scenario. Nevertheless, it was the Penske, Green and Ganassi Teams, all taking part in the CART Championship, that occupied the first 6 places in the 85th Indianapolis 500--uncontestably a sweeping dominance, which neither the Indy Racing League, nor the media, could overlook. In hindsight, it might now look as if the fact that pole sitter Scott Sharp, the IRL champion in its 1996 inaugural season, crashed out of the race right on the first lap was a bad omen regarding the success of IRL cars in this 85th Indy-500.
The 2002 Indy-500 told a somewhat different story, though it was the same Penske Team (with the same Castroneves) that won again the 86th Indy-500. But in 2002 Penske are competing in the IRL, and not the CART, Series, as they were in 2001. All in all, the scenario was surely more balanced out in 2002, despite the incontestable strong presence of CART drivers, also in the 86th Indy-500.
Interestingly, when F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve and driver Juan Pablo Montoya, both one-time Indy-500 winners, were interviewed in Monaco by a Luxemburg TV-station, previous to the memorable 2002 racing weekend, and asked to name their possible favorites for the 2002 Indy victory, the Colombian refrained from citing any driver in particular, and simply summed it up: it will be a CART driver.
Montoya was almost right: Castroneves has just switched from CART to IRL, following his winning Team's change of airs. The Penske Team had just won back-to-back CART titles, both times with Castroneves' Brazilian team-mate, Gil de Ferran, when they decided to move to the Indy Racing League Series.
Both these drivers, by the way, in addition to CART driver Cristiano da Matta, have now and then been rumored with a possible link to Formula One. Two of these three Brazilian drivers have been directly linked with an interest from the new F1 Toyota Team for the coming season. Certainly Castroneves' second straight Indy-500 victory won't have gone unnoticed in the Toyota camp. What this may mean, in concrete terms, the end of the F1-Silly Season will let us know.
Curiously, the same Roger Penske who now returned to the Indy scene in great style--an uncontestable 1-2 victory in 2001 and a repeated victory in 2002--had played a leading role in the feud that resulted in the CART defection from Indianapolis after Speedway president Tony George's announcement in 1994 of the rival Indy Racing League. But nothing better than time to play its cooling role. In 2001, the Penske Team had two cars in the field for the first time since 1994 (in 1995, Penske's incontestably first-class drivers Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi did not make the race). Currently, all seems to indicate that the strife between the Indy Racing League and Championship Auto Racing Teams is about to get even more peaceful. It had already began to cool last year (2000) when CART's Juan Pablo Montoya entered and won the Indianapolis 500 in dominating fashion, driving for CART's Chip Ganassi Team. Penske's 1-2 in 2001 added frosting to the cake. Penske's repeated victory, now counting merits in behalf of the IRL camp of the original feud, I foresee likely to have a yet greater cooling effect – after all, Roger Penske played a fundamental role when the two series split apart, the Penske Team, as mentioned, leaving the IRL for the CART Series. Let's once more wait and see.
The Penske Team, the 2001 and 2002 winner, holds the amazing record of a record 12 Indy 500 wins, plus 11 Indy pole positions and 29 front row starts at Indianapolis (the results includes the Penske Team's results before the split-up). In the 85th Indy-500 (2001), the Penske Team's dominating 1-2 finish was analogous to that of Ferrari's on the same day, on the other side of the Atlantic. Just it was evidently more exciting, for current CART Champion, Brazilian Gil de Ferran, challenged fellow Brazilian team-mate Hélio Castroneves till the final flag, to cross the line right behind his younger team-mate.
How much more exciting wouldn't the Formula One Championship be, if team-mates (special reference here to Ferrari) were allowed to battle each other in the same style as we have seen the two Brazilian team-mates do in the 2001 Indy-500?!!! Of course team-mates will always be a bit more careful, because their battle is never to be at the expense of the Team: if they would take each other out of the race, this would evidently hardly be in benefit of the Team. But battling fair and square would certainly add charm and interest to the F1 Championship, not to mention that this is actually the spirit that underlies the existence of sporting events and has gathered so many fans all over the world.
The 86th Indy-500 (2002) registered a near replay of the 2001: much like the battle he had had with his team-mate de Ferran in the previous year, in 2002, Castroneves had to withstand a fierce final chase. Just this time there were two drivers relentlessly after his first post: Canadian Paul Tracy and Brazilian fellow man Felipe Giaffone.
Giaffone actually took the lead in the last lap, only to fall back to third place, as Castroneves made his recovery, followed by an untiring Tracy in his pursuit of victory.
The 2002 ended in controversy, as Castroneves, beginning to run short on fuel, was actually overtaken by Tracy just seconds after the yellow flags had been put out. But officials ruled in favor of Castroneves, Tracy's maneuver having been verified illegal.
The Canadian and his Team, however, are appealing. (Needless to say, should there be an official change of results, this page will of course be updated accordingly.) On Monday, May 27, it was officially confirmed, after considerationg of Tracy's and the Team Green's appeal: Brian Barnhart, IRL Vice-President of Operations, confirmed the original ruling of IRL officials on the track, as he declared that Tracy and his Team did not present anytying conclusive to change our mind. Castroneves is the rightful winner of the 86th Indy-500 (2002).
Another detail that stood out in the eyes of the US media, in 2001, was that there were six South American drivers (one Chilean and five Brazilians) in the top ten. This advantage was reduced to half in 2002: among the top ten were three Brazilians (Castroneves, the winner, third-placed Giaffone, and tenth-placed Castroneves' Brazilian team-mate de Ferran, two-time CART Champion, in 2000 and 2001).
Analogously to what happened in 2001 and 2002, though, the 2000 the Indy-500 was also won by a South American--Colombian Montoya, then reigning CART Champion, and presently driving for the Williams-BMW Formula One Team. 2002 maintained this status quo, with Castroneves repeated victory.
De Ferran's 2002 race, it should be mentioned, was unfortunately spoiled by a mistake in the pits: they sent him off with a loose wheel, which of course fell off as he gained speed, forcing him to limp back to the pits on three wheels. Had it not been for this unfortunate slip, very likely the final battle for the lead would have been even more exciting in 2002, with the addition of de Ferran to the other two drivers, Tracy and Giaffone, who gave Castroneves no room to breathe till the very final flag!
Fifth placed in the 2001 Indy-500 – a very honorable finish in Indianapolis – was rookie Bruno Junqueira, the 2002 Indy pole-driver, and year 2000 F3000 champion with the F3000 Petrobrás Junior Team, which works in close cooperation with the F1 Williams Team. [ More on Junqueira's CART and F3000 success. | See on the close cooperation between the F3000 Petrobrás Junior Team and Williams-BMW Formula One Team success. ]
Junqueira, who started from pole in 2002, as mentioned, was leading when his car failed, his motor spilling oil all over, a fact responsible for crashing the Indy-2002 hopes of two of his Brazilian country-fellows, one of whom, Indy-rookie Tony Kanaan, was actually leading the race then, with a great performance. Both drivers saw their cars smashed against the wall, as their wheels made contact with the oil just leaked by Junqueira's car. No better luck had pole-starter Montoya, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the 2002 Monaco GP: his BMW motor blew up mid-way through the race, while he was right behind the leader and winner, David Coulthard.
The Indy-500 race adds to the points tally in the Indy Racing League Championship. To the CART Teams, which now exceptionally join their rival series on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway exclusively for this one racing event, the race is meaningful for the enormous prestige it brings, as well as, of course, for the generous prizes awarded. The fact that the two rival series have now been joining hands during the entire month of May, when all Indianapolis 500 racing and preparations take place, can only underline the importance and prestige of this competition in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a competition which gathers the record number of over 400 thousand spectators around a single sporting event. After all, it isn't a CART race or an IRL race--it is the Indianapolis 500! [ Check the Indianapolis 500 web site for more information on this legendary racing event and race track. ]
It looks like Castroneves's unorthodox way of celebrating his victories is beginning to catch up;)...
A bit after the 2001 Indy-500 race was over, NASCAR driver Jeff Burton climbed the fence at the Charlotte track, in Castroneves best SpiderMan's style, after winning the Coca Cola 600 GP taking place on that track. As it had just happened in Indianapolis, J.Burton's team likewise accompanied the driver up the fence, in celebration.
Of course in 2002 Castroneves' victory was celebrated with another enthusiastic fence-climbing – Castroneves and the whole Team, once again!
The SpiderMan nickname has been given Hélio Castroneves as a result of his original style of letting out his elation and sharing it with the fans, since he first won a CART/IRL race. [ Check on Castroneves's SpiderMan celebration style, above, used also at the Indianapolis 500. ]
Finally, it is worth observing some interesting coincidences regarding both the Indianapolis and the Monaco tracks, that is, beyond the obvious coincidental time of year in which these two prestigious events are held, and including the two F1 Grand Prix held on these famous circuits. You find these observations here.