Dixon pipped into second place at Indy 500
New Zealand's Scott Dixon has finished second to teammate Dario Franchitti at an action-packed Indy 500 in Indianapolis.
Dixon started the great race this morning (NZT) from 15th on the grid but worked his way through the field and held the lead on several occasions from lap 75 of 200 through till five from the finish.
A frantic final stanza saw the Kiwi and Scotsman Franchitti exchange the lead multiple times and it looked as though the Target Chip Ganassi cars would fight it out for the title.
But Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan also got right into the mix and it was difficult to keep up with all the lead changes and cautions, with race records set for both.
When a seventh caution was lifted with five laps remaining, Dixon bolted into the lead but he couldn't hang on and Franchitti crossed the line in first place after yet another caution when Sato challenged his lead in the final stages and crashed out, leaving Dixon to cross in second place. Kanaan was third.
Franchitti came from 16th on the grid and was 28th at one point early in the race, after he was hit in pit lane and spun, but an incredible drive was rewarded with his third Indy500 title.
A victory in 2008 remains Dixon's only one at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Franchitti paid tribute to his late mate Dan Wheldon, who died following a crash in last year's season-ending Las Vegas race, as well as Dixon, and the Target teammates shared a long embrace at the end of the race.
"To be on either side of Dan, that means more to me than anything," Franchitti said.
The Scotsman indulged in all the traditional winner's celebrations. He got his knees and kissed the bricks and guzzled some milk before tipping the bottle on his head.
"Vegas last year was the lowest of the low but the reason we all got back in the cars, the reason the mechanics got back in pit lane, the reason why the fans came back to the races, is the emotion of days like today," he said.
"That's certainly why I got back in the car and there's not a feeling like standing in Victory Lane."
Dixon started from the fifth row on the grid after a head-scratching qualifying session a week ago but his performance in other practice sessions pointed to yet another good showing at the great race, and so it was.
His fuel mileage was excellent and his tyres performed well as he consistently posted quick lap times.
There was plenty of action in the first third of the race - 13 lead changes, in all - and through it all Dixon made good ground, gaining 13 spots to position himself nicely in second spot.
The 2008 Indy500 champion briefly took the lead when Marco Andretti pitted on lap 75 but Dixon made his second stop three laps later, before regaining the lead on lap 91 and holding it until another pit on lap 120.
The Kiwi had to bide his time behind firstly Japan's Sato and then Franchitti, but he regained the lead on lap 160 and a yellow flag with 35 laps remaining played nicely into Dixon's hands as most of the field took the opportunity to have their final pit stop.
Another sharp showing from his pit crew ensured the Kiwi emerged from pit lane where he had entered it.
Dixon and Franchitti exchanged the lead several times and when Dixon reclaimed it again with 22 laps to go, it set a record for the number of lead changes at an Indy500 race - 30 - and there were more to come as the frenetic final fling that many predicted transpired.
"I'm super gutted," Dixon said. "It's tough when you get so close to have it ripped away from you. We were so close, we definitely had the car.
"But credit to Dario, he had a bad start to the day and came through the field."
The other New Zealander in the field, Wade Cunningham, had a miserable Indy500 debut, suffering electrical problems and retiring early in the race. He was credited with 31st place in the 33-strong field.
Earlier, the start of the 96th running of the race was preceded by an emotional tribute to last year's winner Wheldon.
The crowd, estimated at almost a quarter of million, paused in silence to remember the popular British driver, whose death in the season-ending race at Las Vegas continues to cast a pall over the sport.
The car he drive to victory in last year's race was taken on a lap of the sprawling 4km track by team owner Bryan Herta.
Wheldon's smiling face was featured on the official race day tickets and spectators were given white cardboard sunglasses, in memory of the loony white-framed glasses the Englishman often wore, to wear on laps 26 and 98 - representing the numbers of his winning cars at the race in 2005 and 2011.
Wheldon's wife Susie and their two sons attended the race week. On Thursday, the drivers presented Susie with her husband's championship ring from last year.
On Saturday, race officials gave her a replica of the winner's trophy.
Wheldon won his first Indianapolis 500 in 2005 but it was his victory last year for which he will be best remembered.
- © Fairfax NZ News