Scott Dixon 14th as Kanaan wins Indy 500
It was a record-setting day of action at the Indianapolis 500 but New Zealand's Scott Dixon was largely a spectator to it all as he finished 14th in the 97th running of what is dubbed ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing''.
Incredibly, there were 68 lead changes, smashing the previous record of 34 set last year, before Brazilian Tony Kanaan emerged the victor, timing his run to perfection to lead the field when they crossed the start/finish line for the 200th and final time this morning (NZ time).
Dixon, starting from the sixth row of the grid at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, became the 14th driver to hold the lead in lap No 156 in the midst of a regular run of pit stops
, but he had to re-fuel himself a lap later and never got close to the lead again.
The 2008 champion crossed in 14th, capping a frustrating day for the Kiwi.
Despite being the 16th fastest qualifier, Dixon would have fancied his chances of winning because his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti did just that last year from the same grid position.
But the New Zealander didn't have the speed today. He fluctuated between 11th and 16th for the first half of the 200-lap race, making some gains in the penultimate quarter to climb as high as eighth.
With the field pitting about every 30 laps, Dixon moved briefly into the lead before his pit stop and the fell back and the result was his first finish outside the top-10 since 2005.
Kanaan's win was hugely popular. The Brazilian had led 221 laps coming into the race, more than any other non-winner besides Michael Andretti and Rex Mays, yet had never taken the checkered flag. He finished second in 2004 and twice finished third.
Kanaan, who was the 10th fastest qualifier, made the decisive move in the race with three laps to go.
He trailed American Ryan Hunter-Reay with the field on a caution, but at the restart he moved to the inside and scorched to the lead.
Less than five seconds later, the yellow flag reappeared when Franchitti spun out and Kanaan was able to cruise the final couple of laps knowing the win was his.
On the final lap, Kanaan lifted the visor on his helmet and appeared to dab at his eyes. When he pulled into Victory Lane, he planted a kiss on his wife, Lauren, and dunked an entire bottle of milk over his head.
The leaders came to the finish line all bunched up around Kanaan, saluting the longtime IndyCar stalwart who had longed to add the one missing piece to his resume. That was about as slow as anyone had driven all day. The average speed was 301.644kmh, another Indy record.
Rookie Carlos Munoz was second with Hunter-Reay third.
''As it came out, I couldn't believe it,'' Kanaan said of the final yellow flag after clinching his first Indy 500 title in 12 years of trying.
''They said there are two laps to go, and that was it, and I have to say that last lap was the longest of my life. I wanted that pace car to hurry up so badly, but I enjoyed it.
''I'm speechless. This is it, I made it. Finally I'm going to put my ugly face in that trophy. I can't believe it.''
"It's wonderful for him," said Mario Andretti, himself a victim to bad luck at Indy. "He's raced here long enough that he deserves it, no question. He was strong all day. Certainly he deserves this in every way."
The win for Kanaan and car owner Jimmy Vasser was celebrated throughout the paddock as the losers all enjoyed seeing the popular IndyCar duo celebrate. Alex Zanardi, who came from Italy to watch the Indianapolis 500 and gave Kanaan one of his 2012 London Paralympics medals as good luck, wept behind the pit wall as Kanaan took the checkered flag.
"I tell you I'm starting to think (the medal) really works," Zanardi said. "It's a dream come true to see Tony win, to see Jimmy Vasser win, my dear friend. I'm so happy, I'm so happy."
Fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves, shooting for a record-tying fourth Indy win, was happy for his long-time friend.
"Finally he's able to win this race. He's so close so many times, but the good news is the good old boys are still able to run fast," Castroneves said.
"He's certainly someone I'd want to see win it if I can't win it myself," Hunter-Reay said. "We were a sitting duck on the last restart, that's all I can say."
-Fairfax Media NZ and AP