Dario Franchitti joined an elite club on Sunday, becoming only the 10th driver in history to win the Indianapolis 500 three times. And only the second, along with Helio Castroneves, to do it with just nine starts at the Brickyard.
It was an impressive performance by the Scotsman, who is married to actress Ashley Judd. He qualified deep in the field, in 16th-place, and fell to the back of the pack early in the race, after being hit and spun around by another car during a pit-stop.
Still, it was no surprise to find Franchitti and his Target-Chip Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon fighting for the lead in the dying minutes of the race. In spite of their mid-field starting positions, they were the two fastest cars on the track on 'Carb Day', the last practice session for the Indy cars on the Friday before the race.
Dixon ultimately finished second, although not without a last-lap drama, reminiscent of last year's spectacular finish. This time it wasn't the leader who crashed on the last lap but the chaser,
Takuma Sato, the Japanese ex-Formula 1 driver, charged past Dixon into second place in the final laps and, failing to find a way past Franchiiti, tried a banzai pass on the Scot as the final lap began. Sato couldn't hold his low line and wound up on the wall.
Brazilian driver, Tony Kanaan finished third – a fitting finish to a race dedicated to the memory of Dan Wheldon, Kanaan observed.
Wheldon won last year's 500 but died in October in a multi-car crash in the final race of the season at Las Vegas Speedway. The three drivers on the podium, Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan were Wheldon's best friends among the driver community.
Franchitti paid tribute to his fallen friend during the post-race victory celebration.
Living up to the expectations of new cars and three-way engine competition, for the first time in more than a decade, the race was one of the most exciting in history, with a record 34 lead changes among 10 drivers. While there were several crashes, there were no injuries.
As the race began, the competition among engine manufacturers seemed to be tilted strongly in favour of Chevrolet, which claimed nine of the top ten qualifying spots. Chevrolet-powered cars dominated the early part of the IndyCar race season, winning the first four races leading up to the 500.
After the third race, however, Honda was granted permission to make a change to its turbocharger housing, which was expected to make its engine more competitive.
The two Lotus-engined entries to make it into the 500 dropped out in the early laps, when they were unable to maintain competitive speeds.
Canadian, James Hinchcliffe led the first lap in his Chevrolet-powered Andretti/GoDaddy machine, and he remained in the hunt for much of the race. But, after leading a total of five laps, he drifted back from the front-runners, ultimately finishing 6th – the highest position of the five Andretti Autosport entries.
Marco Andretti, son of Michael and grandson of Mario, led the race for 59 laps, the most of any driver. For much of the race he appeared to be unbeatable, before crashing out with 13 laps to go.
Meanwhile, several Honda-powered cars, including those of the Target/Chip Ganassi teammates, along with Sato, driving for past 500-winner, Bobby Rahal, gradually made their way into the leading pack.
Alex Tagliani, the other Canadian in the race, worked his way from his11th- place starting position up to 5th at quarter distance. Tagliani was driving the Barracuda-sponsored, number-98 car of the Brian Herta Autosport team – the same team and car number that won the 2011 race, with Wheldon at the wheel.
The Herta team began the year with the uncompetitive Lotus engine, switching to Honda just in time for Indy.
Their strong start went for naught, however, as Tagliani was assessed a drive-through penalty for a pit-speed violation, dropping him back to 24th place and, more importantly, putting him a lap down. A strong drive saw him gain his lap back by the end but he finished in 12th place.
The next race on the IndyCar schedule is next weekend on the road-course at Belle Isle, in Detroit. It will be interesting to see if the seeming parity between the Chevrolet and Honda engines, demonstrated on the big oval, carries through to the road courses where Chevrolet has dominated until now.