Dan Wheldon was in the middle of an amazing start to the 2005 IndyCar Series, winning three of the first four races to lead the championship ahead of Round 5, the Indianapolis 500.
Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish Jr, Scott Sharp, Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti qualified in the top six with the odds-on favourite Wheldon back in 16th.
Sam Hornish Jr gained the initial lead; he and Tony Kanaan had four lead changes between them in the opening laps before Kanaan took the lead on Lap 8 of 200 and kept it until Lap 25. Behind the leading two, Danica Patrick – aiming to become the first female driver to win an IndyCar race – passed Helio Castroneves for 3rd.
Larry Foyt bought out the first caution of the race on Lap 18 which saw a mad rush to the pits for tyres and fuel. The subsequent restart came on Lap 25 with Dario Franchitti taking the lead after making a move stick going into Turn 1.
10 laps after losing the race lead, Kanaan regained it on Lap 35 but Hornish Jr was soon past him again three laps later to lead the race. Meanwhile, Wheldon was moving up the field and was in a battle with Castroneves and Scott Sharp for 10th place.
Lap 56 saw Hornish Jr make his second stop of the race and Patrick lead for the first time, albeit for only a lap before pitting. After the second round of stops, Hornish Jr regained the lead and he had stretched his lead over Tony Kanaan to 3 seconds by the end of lap 70.
Junqueira’s race came to an abrupt end after a coming together with A. J. Foyt IV at Turn 2 on Lap 78. Foyt was relatively unhurt although Junqueira was taken to hospital. The lengthy clearing up process meant another mad rush to the pits for fuel. Patrick unfortunately stalled after her stop and Wheldon moved up to 6th following this pit sequence.
When the race restarted on Lap 96, Ryan Briscoe found himself at the head of the field, albeit as a lapped car. Hornish Jr found it hard to get past the backmarker and a couple of laps later after Briscoe had been cleared by the front runners, Kanaan got the better of Hornish Jr to take the lead once again.
At the halfway stage, Kanaan led the race from Hornish Jr with Sharp and Franchitti in third and fourth respectively. Hornish Jr took the lead at the end of Lap 100 and led to the next caution on Lap 114 when Richie Hearn and Dixon crashed.
After six laps under yellow, Hornish Jr and Kanaan were side by side on the restart with Kanaan once again getting the better of the Penske driver.
With 80 laps to go, Hornish Jr was pushed back to third by Franchitti. Wheldon was still making his way up to the front passing Sharp and Vitor Meira to sit in 4th place. The Brits were on the march when Franchitti took the lead from Kanaan and Wheldon closed on Hornish Jr on Lap 136.
Sebastian Bourdais and Hornish Jr were battling side by side on Lap 147 before Hornish Jr slammed his car into the Turn 1 wall, ending his race and bringing out yet another caution. At this stage of the race, all six rookies including Patrick, Bourdais and Briscoe were still running.
Accelerating to the restart, Patrick was involved in a tangle with Tomas Enge, Tomas Scheckter and Jeff Bucknum but got away with minor damage to her front wing and was straight in the pits. Wheldon had taken the lead and remained out front when the race went to green ahead of Meira, Franchitti and Bourdais.
One lap after the eventual restart, Meira got past Wheldon into Turn 1 but Wheldon got straight back past him on the next lap. Behind the leading two, Bourdais was up to third place after getting the better of Franchitti.
Roger Yasukawa suffered a mechanical problem bringing out the penultimate caution of the day which meant one last dash to the pits for the entire field apart from Patrick and a couple of other drivers who gambled on fuel mileage.
With 27 laps to go, Patrick led the race thanks to her strategy gamble from a battling Wheldon and Herta. Wheldon took the lead from Patrick with 14 laps to go but then Kosuke Matsuura crashed into the wall and his accident led to the final caution of the day.
Only 10 laps remained and Patrick soon got the better of Wheldon into Turn 1 after the restart but Wheldon’s richer fuel mixture ensured he took the lead with seven laps to go.
Wheldon stretched his lead in the closing laps before Bourdais hit the wall two laps from the end and Wheldon claimed his first Indy 500 win under yellow flag conditions. It was Wheldon’s fourth win in five races in the 2005 season and the British racer looked well on course for the Championship.
Patrick finished an honourable 4th behind Meira and Herta but ahead of Lazier, Franchitti, Sharp, Kanaan, Castroneves and the last man to be lapped by the leaders, Briscoe, completed the top 10. On the team radio on the way back to the pits Wheldon said “Guys, I’m not normally emotional, but I’m crying in here!”