tampabay.com

Several fortunes change with one weather blob

The heavy-duty plastic zippers designed to make Tony Kanaan's war wagon a water-tight cube had been loosed during the rain delay. There was no other way a dozen or more people could fit inside the humid little tent protecting his human, technological and capital braintrust.

By BRANT JAMES
Published May 29, 2007


INDIANAPOLIS - The heavy-duty plastic zippers designed to make Tony Kanaan's war wagon a water-tight cube had been loosed during the rain delay. There was no other way a dozen or more people could fit inside the humid little tent protecting his human, technological and capital braintrust.

But for all the enthusiasm from executives representing his sponsors, for all the telemetry showing that his race-leading car was dominant before a downpour during Sunday's Indianapolis 500, for all the encouragement his engineers offered, all was out of their control.

It all depended on a pulsating little red blob beyond the grandstands in nearby Crawfordsville, Ind. If it continued east, perhaps the track would be so deluged by 2 p.m. Central time that the race, already delayed 35 minutes, would be stopped for good after 112 laps. Perhaps the Indy Racing League's 6:30 p.m. deadline for resumption would become unattainable.

Kanaan allowed himself a smile, a laugh with Andretti Green Racing teammate Danica Patrick, who sat on a chair beside him. Weather was about to secure the first one-team podium sweep in race history.

But five minutes later, it became evident that menacing little rain blob had moved northeast toward Fort Wayne. Moments after Kanaan walked with a triathlete's cadence to his garage, heavy drops slowed to mist, then humidity as a hazy sun broke through.

Three hours after it stopped, the race resumed. Kanaan went on to finish 12th after a bizarre self-induced crash, and a penalty for doing unapproved repairs while the pits were closed, in the last laps.

"My big disappointment will be, if we knew we weren't going to finish 200 laps, why would we continue?" he pondered.

Teammate Marco Andretti, whom Kanaan passed on a restart just before the red flag for rain, survived a violent tumbling crash after clipping wheels with Dan Wheldon in the final laps. Andretti, who finished 24th, never saw Wheldon because he had a broken mirror.

"For whatever reason, I lost the balance, " he said. "It rained, we went out, and I was nowhere."

Patrick ran well with Kanaan when the race resumed. After falling back following a pit sequence, she passed and so surprised former Indy 500 winner Wheldon - or so affected his car that he downshifted and lost several more positions. But she finished eighth after getting caught in poor position on another pit sequence.

"Another year of frustration where I really thought I had a chance to win, " said Patrick, winless in her third IRL season.

But what if that little red blob had continued east? The IRL, the life of eventual winner and another AGR driver, Dario Franchitti, and motorsports in general would have been a lot different on Monday morning.

Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, would have collected the defining win missing from a stellar, yet nationally anonymous career. He was gracious afterward, though, calling it "Dario's day, " then kissing him.

The Andretti legacy would have added another unfortunate chapter, with Marco being passed at the finish for a second year in a row.

Patrick would have beaten her own mark for best finish by a woman in the Indianapolis 500. She likely would have been dispatched to whatever major media market Kanaan was not inhabiting for the next week.

Franchitti did what he needed to win, and will be a gracious champion and worthy spokesman for the IRL. But if that blob had had its way, things would have been a lot different.

ANDRETTI RE-RETIRES: Michael Andretti will leave the driver's seat again to focus on running Andretti Green Racing after finishing 13th Sunday. His second retirement comes after his 16th race at Indy. "I'm glad I did what I did, " he said Monday of his last two races at Indy. "It was all good, but I was going crazy this month. ... It's just too stressful and too much."

INDY PURSE: Franchitti's victory, in a race shortened to 415 miles, was worth $1, 645, 233 from a record purse of nearly $10.7-million. That broke the record of $10.5-million Sam Hornish won last year. Phil Giebler, one of just two first-time drivers in Sunday's race, was named rookie of the year

F1 PROBE: Formula One team McLaren is being investigated for a possible rule breach at Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, which Fernando Alonso won ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. World governing body FIA said it was reviewing evidence. Hamilton was told by McLaren to slow down. Team orders were banned in 2002.