Wheldon slips up as Rice negotiates rain

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The Independent Online

Another Indianapolis 500 of frustration for British drivers served only to reinforce their collective determination to conquer the American classic next year.

Another Indianapolis 500 of frustration for British drivers served only to reinforce their collective determination to conquer the American classic next year.

Dan Wheldon was closest to becoming Britain's first winner at the Brickyard for 38 years, but found himself coming in a powerless third when a spectacular, rain-affected race was concluded at an incongruously sedate speed behind the pace car after 180 of the scheduled 200 laps early yesterday.

The victory went to Arizona's Buddy Rice, given his chance by Bobby Rahal, the former Jaguar Formula One team principal, with Wheldon's Andretti Green Racing team-mate, Tony Kanaan, in second place.

Only one other Briton made it to the finish, Dario Franchitti coming in a distant 14th. Mark Taylor smashed into a wall after colliding with another car, then collapsed as he was attended to by the rescue crew. He was taken to hospital for observation.

Darren Manning, though palpably shaken and unhappy, was able to walk away after a terrifying three-car collision at the entrance to the pit lane. Debris showered team members as they scampered for cover.

Wheldon, who qualified second on the grid, managed to avoid the incidents, and was one of nine leaders in a race that was delayed for more than two hours by rain. Circuit staff were brought to their hands and knees, mopping up stubborn patches of damp tarmac.

Wheldon, from Emberton, Buckinghamshire, was at the head of the field when more showers forced the cars off the track after 27 racing laps and threatened to hold up the rest of proceedings until today. However, clear skies and a drying wind enabled them to resume an hour and three quarters later, and Wheldon lost the initiative to Rice, who dived down the inside.

That manoeuvre characterised the commitment and drama on the two-and-a-half-mile oval. As the storm clouds again closed in, all the drivers were conscious that more rain would bring out the chequered flag. Wheldon was always in the leading pack but tantalisingly short of the speed to reclaim first place.

Wheldon's team boss, Michael Andretti, said: "Dan did a good job but we didn't quite have enough pace. We'll just have to come back and do it all again next year.''

Manning will echo that defiant pledge. He started back in 15th place but progressed impressively, passing Franchitti on his way to the top six before he was caught in that extraordinary pile-up. This was the Yorkshireman's debut in the Indy 500 and he enhanced his growing reputation on the American racing scene.

Fortune inevitably plays its part in this race, but few would argue that Rice was not a worthy winner. Starting from pole, he was the strongest runner throughout and rewarded Rahal's faith in him. He had been dropped by Cheever Racing with three races of last season remaining and given his opportunity by Rahal as stand-in for the injured Kenny Brack.

Rice, 28, said: "I knew this was going to be one of my last opportunities if I didn't take full advantage of it. We knew we were strong, as we showed in qualifying, and we didn't panic through the rain and yellows [safety flags]. The whole team did a great job and got what they deserved.''

Wheldon, 25, will have ample consolation if he now goes on to win the Indy Racing League this season. He will endeavour to strengthen his challenge at the Bombardier 500, in Texas, on Saturday week.

Indianapolis 500: 1 Buddy Rice (G Force-Honda) 180 laps; 2 Tony Kanaan (Dallara-Honda) 180 laps; 3 Dan Wheldon (Dallara-Honda) 180 laps; 4 Bryan Herta (Dallara-Honda) 180 laps; 5 Bruno Junqueira (G Force-Honda) 180 laps; 6 Vitor Meira (G Force-Honda) 180 laps; 7 Adrian Fernandez (G Force-Honda) 180 laps; 8 Scott Dixon (G Force-Toyota) 180 laps; 9 Helio Castroneves (Dallara-Toyota) 180 laps; 10 Roger Yasukawa (G Force-Honda) 180 laps.