This is the first in a Series of looking back at some of the greatest moments in the history of the Indianapolis 500!
The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race has always been filled with storylines whether it be technical innovation, drivers participating, or close finishes, however, the 90th Running on May 28, 2006 may have taken the cake in terms of storytelling.
The 2006 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season began tragically as talented rookie Paul Dana was involved in a crash during the morning warm-up preparing for the season opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dana was airlifted to a local hospital where he succumbed to the injuries suffered in the accident. The race commenced as scheduled with Dan Wheldon capturing his first win with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. As a result of the crash, Rahal Letterman Racing withdrew the cars of Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick from the season opening race out of respect for their fallen teammate. A the 90th Running of the Indianapolis 500, almost all cars carried decals illustrating the letters “PD” to honor the Paul Dana at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Jeff Simmons was hired by Rahal Letterman Racing to drive Dana’s Ethanol sponsored Panoz/Honda for the race and the remainder of the 2006 season.
Up until 2006, powerhouse teams Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing were held down at the Brickyard because they were aligned with Toyota engines which were severely overmatched by rival Honda making Penske and Ganassi underdogs on almost every circuit on the schedule. Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing made the move from Toyota to Honda for 2006 and Ganassi also switched from Panoz to Dallara chassis with the hope that they would be more competitive. In addition to the engine change, Ganassi also bolstered their driver lineup by adding 2005 Indianapolis 500 and Series Champion Dan Wheldon to team with Scott Dixon. Marlboro Team Penske loaded into the Speedway with two-time Indianapolis 500 Winner Helio Castroneves and two-time IndyCar Series Champion Sam Hornish Jr. to run for the Borg Warner trophy. Castroneves’ Indianapolis 500 resume stood on its own while Hornish had never finished all 500 miles of the race and vowed to finish the race in 2006.
With the departure of Dan Wheldon, Andretti Green Racing turned to rookie Marco Andretti to fill the No. 26 Dallara vacated by the 2005 Champion. This forded the opportunity for Michael Andretti to return, and, on opening day, three generations of Andretti turned laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
These storylines were all ingredients for a great Month of May, however, for the bulk of the month, Mother Nature decided that she was going exude her dominance over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Much of the month looked like this when cars were supposed to be on the racetrack for practice and qualifications:
Instead of roaring by and 235 mph, the cars, instead, sat in the garage and pit lane covered by tarps and umbrellas!
Due to the weather, instead of two weeks of qualifications all cars were qualified on one weekend with Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, and Dan Wheldon taking the front row spots on the starting grid. Scott Dixon started 4th completing the statment made by their teams that they came loaded for bear with their new engine/chassis combinations with the Marlboro Team Penske drivers the only ones to top 228 mph for a four lap average.
On race day, Mother Nature showed her mercy with a sun splashed day with no rain in the forecast to inhibit the 500 miles to be run. The race began as predicted with Sam Hornish Jr. and Marlboro Team Penske snaking out to an early lead, but, during a late race pitstop under caution, Hornish’s crew made an error on pit lane causing Hornish to leave his pit box with the fuel probe still engaged breaking the hose and spilling fuel all over the asphalt of his box.
Such an infraction resultes in a mandatory green flag drive through penalty for the driver involved. Race strategist, Roger Penske, brought Hornish to pit lane at the tail end of the caution period to top the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara with fuel to attempt to make the race distance without having to make another pit stop. The challenge for Hornish was to save enough fuel to make the distance while not losing a lap. While all this drama with Hornish was going on, another storyline was unfolding. Rookie Marco Andretti was in position to win the first Indianapolis 500 for the Andretti family since Mario’s win in 1969. Coming to the final restart Michael Andretti was in the lead with Marco following close behind. A few cars back was none other than…Sam Hornish. In a brilliant drive by Hornish, the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske car zoomed past Marco Andretti on the front stretch for the win in one of the closest, most dramatic finishes in the history of this race.
The picture doesn’t tell the tale of the closing laps, so kick back and watch this amazing finish unfold! Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Rusty Wallace have the call for ABC!