INDY 500: A History Of British Racers in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (Part Three)

It is Indy 500 day today and to get you in the mood for the great race, Adrian Rickard (aka @IndycarUK on Twitter) has been profiling all of the British competitors in the race for us. Part one, which focused on those who participated up to 1941, can be found here. Part two looked at those who took part between 1946-1995 era. The final part below focuses on the recent years, which has seen winners (see Dan Wheldon, above) and heroic performances galore.

1996 to 2015

Jeff Ward – To listen to Jeff Ward you would not pick up at all his Scottish heritage. Born in Glasgow in 1961, he moved to California with his parents at a young age where he learnt his early motor sports trade on two wheels becoming a very accomplished Motocross biker over his career winning all the AMA championships (125, 250 and 500cc). After retiring from Motocross, made the move to the Indy Racing League. Jeff drove in seven 500’s. Failing to qualify in 1995, Jeff returned in 1997, qualifying in seventh, finishing in third.1999 saw his best finish as runner up to Kenny Bräck, leading three laps in the process. Followed up with a top five in 2000. In his final races, finishes of ninth, twenty-fourth and in 2005 a sole race with a twenty-seventh place race.

Mark Taylor – A successful career in junior formula in the United Kingdom led to a move state-side in 2003 competing in the Infiniti Pro Series. Taylor would go onto take the title for Panther Racing. A move full time to Indycar in 2004 with Panther. In his sole attempt at the speedway, Taylor qualified in in the middle of row five in 14th place. Come race day, came the rain, the race was delayed at the start and would be halted again after 28 laps. After a delay of nearly two hours the race restarted, but for Taylor, would not last much longer, a crash in turn three with fellow rookie Ed Carpenter whilst attempting to hold position, a case of two into one won’t fit. The crash ended Mark Taylor’s race and at the end of the season found himself out of a ride. Taylor moved back to England with his family ending his career behind the wheel.

James Jakes – In 2011, James Jakes was one of the latest ‘from left-field’ driver choices, one of many, made by Dale Coyne when arriving at the Barber test. Jakes record at Indianapolis got off to a bad start, failing to qualify in 2011, the final time with the old IR-05 chassis where 40 cars attempted to qualify. In 2012, James made his first race, starting in 17th, finishing 15th. In 2013, starting and finishing in 20th, one lap down. His most recent 500, in 2015, again started 20th finishing in 18th.Not having a deal in place for 2016, James Jakes signed for Manor WEC to race in their LMP2 programme, a return to his former Euro F3 and GP3 team.

Justin Wilson – Racing in Champ Car restricted any opportunity to compete at the Indy 500 throughout his earlier years in the US following his time in F1, until the series unified in 2008. That opportunity came with Newman-Haas- Lanigan with team mate Graham Rahal after replacing Formula one bound and four time champion Sebastian Bourdais. A first qualifying effort would see Justin start in 16th, but would end up with a crashing on his own on lap 132 resulting in a 27th place finish. Another DNF was recorded in 2009, this time spinning coming out of turn one, finishing in 23rd racing for Dale Coyne. Moving to Dreyer & Reinbold Justin finished his first 500, with a 7th place and leading 11 laps in 2010. 16th in 2011, with another top 10 in 2012 (7th) back with Dale Coyne. Justin had his best finish at the 500 in 2013, with a fifth place result, also finishing as the top Honda driver. A final run with DCR in 2014 and a 22nd place finish. Finally landing himself with a top team in 2015, Justin had his best qualifying performance in 6th place, the fastest Honda, but a late pit stop put Justin down the order by the end of the race in 21st, one lap down. This would be Justin’s last 500, he lost his life in August 2015, after being struck by debris from Sage Karam who crashed whilst leading in Pocono.

Mike Conway – A test with Panther at the end of 2008 saw Conway signing up full time with Dreyer & Reinbold achieving a podium at Sonoma in 2009. In 2010 Conway was in good shape in the closing laps of the race having lead 15 laps. On the final lap Conway would catch a slowing Ryan Hunter-Reay, colliding with his rear left tyre, flipping him into the catch fence and breaking the car up into many parts. The accident would leave Conway with fractures to his neck vertebra, lower back injuries and a broken leg. The crash ended his season. In 2011, Conway signed for Andretti, scoring a maiden Indycar win at Long Beach, but would fail in his attempt to qualify for the 500. New season, new team, 2012 and a move to AJ Foyt Racing. Again the highlight coming with a podium at Toronto, but another crash at indy, this time after qualifying in 29th, came in for a pit stop and damaged his front wing which was unnoticed at the time by the crew, a few ill handling laps later, Conway would spin in turn one, collecting Will Power and rode the outside wall before landing safely the right side up. A finish of 29th would see the end of his Indianapolis runs as he retired from running ovals prior to the end of season race at Fontana. A part time schedule would follow with race for RLL, Dale Coyne and Ed Carpenter with success as Conway won races at Detroit, Toronto and Long Beach. With no deal in place for 2015, Conway switched to the WEC racing for Toyota.

Katherine Legge – Despite racing in the US since 2005 in the Atlantic Series the ChampCar with a trip to DTM in between, Katherine Legge has competed in only two Indianapolis 500’s. 2012 was a tough year for the team as they abandoned the Lotus engine after São Paulo. Learning the new Chevrolet package resulted in a low starting position for the race, in 30th ahead of the remaining Lotus cars. Finishing in 22nd, one lap down. A very late entry followed just before the qualifying weekend in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey, powered by the un-favoured Honda engine. Legge qualified in 33rd, keeping Michel Jourdain Jr from the grid. The race performance was very solid but technical problems left her seven laps down by the end, finishing in 26th place.

Darren Manning – Only four starts for the Yorkshireman Manning, who had spent time in CART prior to his move to Indycar. The first two resulted in retirements, in 2004 with Ganassi replacing the late Tony Renna, after an accident in turn four and in 2005, retiring with a mechanical issue just under half way through the race. 2006 saw a switch to AJ Foyt, finishing in 20th, two laps down and a final run out the following year where Manning finished in 9th place. Darren now runs a sim/coaching facility in Indianapolis.

Dan Wheldon – Dan made his first start in 2003 starting in an impressive fifth before a solo crash in turn four, flipping his car in the process. 2004 started in the middle of the front row and claimed a podium finish in third. In 2005, he would enter Indy in a confident mood, he qualified down in 16th, after a battle with Danica Patrick late in the race would go on to take victory, and the first for a British driver since Graham Hill in 1968.

After winning the championship that year with Andretti, a switch of teams to Ganassi came in 2006 and the success continued with another high finish in fourth, followed by a retirement in 2007 after being involved in the crash that took out Marco Andretti and Buddy Rice on lap 162. Dan qualified well again in 2008 in the middle of the front row for a final run with Ganassi and a twelve place finish was the result. Wheldon moved teams to Panther which returned with a pair of eighteenth place qualifying efforts and a pair of runner up results missing out to Castroneves in 2009 and Franchitti in 2010, in a run of four runner up finishes in a row for the team, Panther. Out of a drive in 2011 Wheldon announced that he would be entering the Indy 500 as a one off entry with former team mate Bryan Herta (Autosport) who were at the time an established Indy Lights team with aspirations to move into Indycar full time. Starting the race in sixth, people were respectful of his efforts, but not expectant. The race was dominated for the most part by Dixon and Franchitti but a late yellow and a change to the fuel strategy left teams trying to eke out every last drop of fuel, various drivers led but had to give up the lead, Bertrand Baguette led, but pitted, the rest they say is history… Passing a streicken JR Hildebrand just a couple hundred yeards before the yard of bricks to take win number two

Dan Wheldon only led one lap, well, maybe the last hundred feet, but it gave him his second Indianapolis 500 victory, becoming the 18th driver to win two or more. Sadly, Dan would not return to the grounds that he loved, he passed away after a multiple car crash on the 16th October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The new Indycar introduced for the 2012 season, built by Dallara, and tested by Wheldon during 2011 would be named the DW-12 ensuring his legacy would live on.

Alex Lloyd – Alex Lloyd ran four times at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In his début year (2008) qualified in 19th finishing 25th with his race ending on lap 153, brushing the wall coming out of turn four and spinning down the pit-lane, thankfully coming to a stop without hitting any personnel or equipment. In 2009 achieved his best qualifying position of 11th, finishing in 13th place on the lead lap. 2010 saw Alex’s best year at Indianapolis, after qualifying in 11th, found himself running in the top three when he took the chequered flag, which would have been a British 1-2-3, with Dario Franchitti winning, Dan Wheldon runner up and Lloyd in third. The results were amended post-race to go back to the last lap when Mike Conway crashed, Marco Andretti was credited third, Lloyd down to fourth. 2011 was not so great, starting in 30th with a last minute bump into the field, finished in 19th place, two laps down.2011 was the end of on track competition for Alex Lloyd in the Indycar series, but did return to race in the Pirelli World Challenge, Rally and endurance races, Laterly turning his hand to writing.

Dario Franchitti – Dario competed at Indy in 2002 as part of an effort with Team Green, it was a tough debut, qualifying 28th, finishing three laps down in 19th. Sitting out 2003 due to injuries sustained in a motorbike accident. He returned in 2004 with Andretti-Green starting on the front row, finishing in 14th. Two top ten finishes would be scored in the next two years before he finally took home a victory, under tricky conditions.

In 2007, Dario took the lead for the first time on lap 74, giving up the lead on 89 when pitting. The race was red flagged due to rain on lap 113, the restart came just after 6pm. On lap 151, Marty Roth crashed, some pitted, some stayed out, including Franchitti. Two further incidents caused yellow flags, during the final caution, before all the cars could be cleared, a deluge from the sky fell and on lap 166 the chequered flag fell and Franchitti notched up number one. To date, this was the last Indy 500 to not reach the full 200 lap race distance.
Missing 2008 due to competing in NASCAR, Dario returned in 2009 with Ganassi, replacing Dan Wheldon in the #10. A front row start resulted in a seventh place finish despite leading 50 laps.

Victory number two came in 2010. Qualifying again on the front row, for the fourth time in third, taking the lead by the time the yellow flag came out for Davey Hamilton who crashed out on the back straight. Franchitti would be a dominant force throughout the race, with only pit stops and the odd over take allowing another driver to lead the race (he would lead 155 laps). After a spell in the mid pack after a late race caution and subsequent pit stop, Dario would take the lead back on lap 192 and lead all the way despite some serious fuel saving to the chequered flag ahead of a hard charging Dan Wheldon. The race ended under yellow due to a crash involving Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay on their penultimate lap.

2011 saw Franchitti in a prime position to claim a front row start, but he ran out of fuel on the final lap of his qualifying run and had to settle for ninth. The race itself would see Franchitti take the lead though various segments in the middle of the race, leading 51 laps in total. Dario was in contention for a win until late on when fuel conservation saw him drop back from the leaders and eventually pitting for fuel leaving him in twelfth place.

A new car for 2012 and a new number, 50, to celebrate the fiftieth year of main sponsor Target opening for business in the US. Qualifying in 16th place, Dario would work his way through the field, eventually taking the lead for the first time on lap 153, trading places with team mate Scott Dixon before Tony Kanaan entered the fray in the closing laps, as Sato who crashed on the final lap, attempting a pass for the win. A final run at Indianapolis came in 2013, again qualified in the mid pack, and was running in the top ten at the time of what would be the final restart on lap 197, Franchitti crashed in turn one.

Donald Davidson (Historian as IMS) tells the story of Dario sitting on the yard of bricks at Indianapolis in 2007 after the victory banquet, in the dark, to take in the atmosphere of the empty track, as it could have been his last time at the Indianapolis 500. It could well have been had the NASCAR switch worked out, thankfully though, he came back.

Jack Hawksworth – Three races at Indianapolis for the Yorkshire born driver, firstly in 2014 with Bryan Herta Autosport where he achieved his best finish of 7th. Followed up with a disappointing 24th place finish now driving for Foyt, after being involved with a multiple car crash along with Sebastian Saavedra and Stefano Coletti on lap 175. His finish race came in 2016 with Foyt when he completed all 200 laps in a struggling team, earning a 16th place finish. Hawksworth has since moved onto sports car racing in the US.

Martin Plowman – Just the one run in 2014 at the 500 for Plowey who was driving for AJ Foyt in their third car, qualifying in 29th place and brought the car home, four laps down in 23rd position. Plowman ran a handful of other Indycar races, had success in Indy Lights as well as a class victory at Le Mans in 2013. He now races in British GT.

Pippa Mann – In 2010, Pippa Mann created history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway becoming the first female driver to qualify their car on pole, this was for the Freedom 100, and although the race itself did not go to plan, history was made. Mann would make her first attempt to qualify in 2011, the final year of the IR-05 when nearly 39 cars created the last, to this date, meaningful bump day. In a session, dogged by cold weather and rain, she qualified in 31st place driving for Conquest racing. Her drinks bottle would stop flowing during the race leaving an exhausted Mann in 20th position. The following year, with the introduction of the DW12, saw many drivers fighting over a few spots to even attempt to qualify, as with many drivers, Pippa was left on the side-lines. 2013 and a deal with Dale Coyne saw Pippa qualify and finish in 30th. In 2013, a 22nd place start with a 24th place finish, pit stop problems putting her down the field. In 2015, starting in 25th, Pippa would take the chequered flag in 22nd place. 2016, Pippa Mann will be the only female driver in the field of 33. In 2017, a return of bumping to the qualifying procedure for the race saw Pippa unable to get her way into the field of 33, missing out along with James Hinchcliffe.

A fuller version of all the British drivers who competed at Indianapolis 500, with some interviews with the drivers themselves can be found on IndyCarUK here, where you can also find out about those who attempted, but never made the race.

Adrian can also be followed on Twitter @IndycarUK.

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