INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Any time you can load two IZOD IndyCar Series cars onto the team transporter after a 500-mile-race with virtually no scratches, the day was successful, and that’s how Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) is measuring its effort in the 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Both SSM cars completed the 200-lap race in searing temperatures. The air temperature was 91 degrees when the green flag dropped at Noon and reached a record 93 degrees before the checkered flag was waved at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Making his third Indianapolis 500 start for SSM, Californian Townsend Bell led the two-car SSM effort with a solid top-10 finish. All of Bell’s starts for SSM have been in May-only programs. Each year, he makes the most of his annual IndyCar start.
After starting 20th in the No. 99 BraunAbility/Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports entry, Bell drove a consistent race proving once again he knows how to race at Indy. He steadily moved up through the field and into the top 10 by executing his pre-race plan.
“Smooth and steady was how I made it through the race this year,” said Bell. “We had a big start and I got out to the outside quickly. Then we just got settled in and began to work with the car. The guys made good changes on the stops. We didn’t make any mistakes, which was our theme today – no mistakes. And, we did that.”
The SSM team loaded the No. 99 BraunAbility on the transporter with a ninth-place finish.
While it was Bell’s sixth Indianapolis 500 start, it was his teammate’s first appearance in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Driving the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, rookie Simon Pagenaud rallied from two laps down to finish 16th and on the lead lap.
As a rookie, Pagenaud got the most out of his first oval race.
“It was a lot of learning for me today,” said Pagenaud. “It was pretty exciting in the first two stints. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but by the end I was being pretty aggressive on the restarts and picked up some positions. I’m pretty happy with that. I’m glad to bring my HP car home in one piece as well. It’s good because we’re testing in Milwaukee on Tuesday.”
Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti won his third Indianapolis 500 after surviving several duals over the last 25 laps with a host of drivers. The race produced a record 34 passes for the lead with several exciting exchanges in the closing laps.
The last challenge for Franchitti came from Japan’s Takuma Sato who made a charge to the front in the last 10 laps. He reached second place with three laps to go and quickly set his sight on Franchitti. As the pair passed the start/finish line with one lap to go, Sato pulled along side Franchitti as they charged into Turn 1. Unfortunately, the pair touched and Sato crashed hard into the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier. With the yellow flag out, Franchitti drove around to receive the yellow and checkered flags, ensuring him of his third Indy 500 victory.
It was a dominating day for Ganassi Racing as Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, finished in second place. The pair also led for a combined 76 laps.
Brazilian Tony Kanaan finished third while Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top five.
There were a record 34 lead changes among ten drivers.
Eight caution periods allowed the yellow flag to wave for 39 laps.
Despite crashing hard during the race, Penske Racing’s Will Power leaves Indy with the IZOD IndyCar Series championship points lead over teammate Castroneves (200-164). Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe is third with 164, while Scott Dixon is fourth with 153 and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has 143 to round out the top five.
Pagenaud sits in seventh with 136.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Detroit Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix on Sunday, June 3, 2012.