January 9, 2020 | 3:10 PM
Welcome to the first IndyCar Flashback of 2020. To begin the new decade, we’ll profile the 2012 Firestone 550. For the 15th anniversary of its IndyCar debut, Texas Motor Speedway would see a shift in the on-track product for the series.
Following a race filled with attrition, controversy and excitement, a longtime driver earned his first oval win.
Wilson takes victory after Rahal stumbles
Two weeks after the first oval of 2012, the new Dallara DW12 chassis faced another crucial test.
Less than eight months after the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to a high-banked oval.
Following the accident that took Wheldon’s life, drivers advocated for changes to the cars. In doing so, hopes were the adjustments would eliminate the “pack” racing style common at Texas and similar tracks.
By removing several hundred pounds of downforce, their goal had been achieved. Following a twin-bill of 114-lap races in 2011, the 228-lap single-race format returned.
As was the case in 2011, Alex Tagliani led the field to green after posting a two-lap average speed of 215.691 mph in his BHA/Curb-Agajanian entry.
Despite winning Rookie of the Year two weeks earlier at the Indianapolis 500, KV Racing’s Rubens Barrichello would not be able to start the race due to an electrical issue. For HVM’s Simona de Silvestro, a frustrating season continued as she was also unable to start.
Up front, Tagliani held the top spot for the opening 20 laps before Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon took command of the race. Looking to repeat his 2008 triumph at the 1.455-mile oval in Fort Worth, Dixon would lead the next 96 laps.
On Lap 30, Dixon’s teammate Charlie Kimball crashed in Turn 4 for the first caution of the day. With teammate Dario Franchitti among several drivers with issues during the ensuing pit stops, Dixon and Graham Rahal continued a Ganassi 1-2.
At Lap 65, Takuma Sato’s tough run on ovals continued with a crash on the backstretch. Less than two weeks earlier, Sato had crashed on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500 while battling for the lead.
Following a six-lap yellow for Sato’s crash, the race stayed green during the next 60 circuits. During the 228-lap event, this was the longest green-flag stretch. With tire wear becoming a pivotal concern throughout the night, the stint necessitated green flag stops.
During the stops, Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson and Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe also found their way to the front. While the field made their stops, EJ Viso stalled in Turn 1 as an ignition issue sidelined the KV Racing driver for the night.
Following this yellow, speeds picked up as dusk turned into night. As the track cooled off, the race stayed green for a 36-lap stretch. Five laps into the run, Dixon usurped the lead from Hinchcliffe.
With the leaders making their final schedule stop of the day, another yellow shook things up. On Lap 173, Dixon spun and crashed in Turn 4. After leading 133 laps, the winner six days earlier at Belle Isle would not repeat.
Since the field had made their final scheduled stops, the action picked up. During the ensuing restart the Team Penske duo of Will Power and Ryan Briscoe battled with 2004 winner Tony Kanaan for the race lead in the final 45 laps.
During the Lap 184 restart, Kanaan got a massive run down the back straightaway. After cutting in front of the KV Racing driver, Will Power was assessed a drive-through penalty for blocking and was forced to give up the lead.
Meanwhile, Kanaan was forced to pit and replace a damaged front wing. Up front, the incident provided 2010 Texas winner Ryan Briscoe a chance to lead ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves. Five laps later, the Ganassi car of Rahal charged past Briscoe for the lead.
Looking to snap a winless streak dating back to his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg in 2008, Rahal stayed out front for the next 27 laps. With three circuits remaining, things slipped from his grasp. After drifting up high, Rahal brushed the wall on the exit of Turn 4.
While he continued on, Rahal was slowed enough to allow Justin Wilson to overtake him for the lead. After taking the lead, Wilson led the final two laps and beat Rahal by 3.9202 seconds for his first win since Watkins Glen in 2009 (44 races ago) and his first win on an oval.
Behind Wilson and Rahal, Briscoe And Hinchcliffe ended the night third and fourth while Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand made an impressive drive from 23rd to 5th.
For Wilson, his 17th-place starting spot was the furthest back a winner had started in a race at the track. After their struggles, Power’s lead over Dixon stretched to 36 points.
Despite their struggles, Dixon (2015 and 2018), Rahal (2016) and Power (2017) were able to find redemption at TMS.
Although Texas has gone away from the “pack”-style racing fans had become accustomed to, it remains one of the most exciting races in the series.
For Wilson, his seventh IndyCar victory would be his last. After continuing with Coyne for two more seasons, Wilson found a part-time ride with Andretti Autosport for 2015.
At the Indianapolis 500, Wilson started a career-best sixth. In August, he earned a second-place finish to Graham Rahal at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Three weeks later, tragedy struck at Pocono Raceway. Unable to avoid debris from a wreck ahead, Wilson was struck by a nose cone during the August 23 event at Pocono Raceway.
A day later, Wilson passed away at age 37. Following his death, Wilson’s organs helped save the lives of six others.
Since then, Wilson’s organ donation upon his death has inspired many in the racing community to advocate for the cause.
Header Image By LAT Photo USA