Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Honda's Success Continues During 2005 IndyCar Season
Following 2004's major successes in Indy Car racing, it was hard to imagine Honda's IRL teams repeating the kind of domination that saw them win all but two races, the Indy 500 and both championships.
But, led by Dan Wheldon and his Andretti Green Racing teammates, Honda-powered drivers had another one of those spectacular seasons in 2005.
Wheldon won a record six times, including Honda's second in a row at Indianapolis, on his way to the drivers' title, while Honda captured its second consecutive manufacturers' crown on the strength of 12 wins in 17 starts.
The statistics illustrate Honda Performance Development's muscle as Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta led 1,823 of the 3,140 laps turned in '05 and claimed first, second, fourth and eighth in the point standings. Led by rookie Danica Patrick and Herta, Honda power also earned eight pole positions.
"It was another dream season for Honda," said Honda Performance Development President Robert Clarke. "We successfully retained the Manufacturers' Championship, the Drivers' Championship and Rookie of the Year Award, with 12 race wins and eight poles. We met all of the objectives we set out for ourselves at the start of the year, including winning the 'key' events of St. Petersburg, Twin Ring Motegi and the Indianapolis 500. Personally, I am extremely proud and thankful for the work that all of our associates at HPD put into the IndyCar program, and of course I have to thank all of our drivers and teams for their fine efforts as well."
On six occasions Honda drivers swept the race's top three spots - including a first-through-fourth performance at Indianapolis, where Patrick nearly stole the show.
But, from the season opener at Homestead to the finale at Fontana, Wheldon was in control as the 27-year-old Brit beat his competition with a combination of speed and savvy -- leading 752 laps and only twice finishing outside the top six.
"It was one of those dream seasons," said Wheldon, who eclipsed Sam Hornish's IRL mark by winning at Homestead, St. Petersburg, Motegi, Indy, Pikes Peak and Chicago. "My team and Honda always gave me a good race car, our pit stops were spot-on and our reliability was excellent.
"To win the championship or the Indy 500 were my two main goals and to do both in the same year is pretty special."
Wheldon took the point with a victory in the season opener at Homestead and came back the next month to complete his sweep of the Florida races by winning the IRL's inaugural road race on the streets of St. Pete.
He returned to Japan as the conquering hero after delivering Honda's first win at Motegi in 2004 and he backed it up with another 'W' on a day that saw Honda drivers finish first through sixth.
Indianapolis held as much intrigue as it did paying customers, as 250,000 fans watched history and a dramatic finish that catapulted one of the stars onto the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Wheldon, who had been battling with Kanaan in the latter stages of the 89th May classic, found himself back in front on a Lap 189 restart when Ms. Patrick swooped around him and into first place to bring out one of the most deafening roars from the grandstands in the IMS history.
In only her fourth IRL start for Rahal/Letterman Racing, Danica had dodged one accident and gained track position on a gamble from her crew. When she stormed past Wheldon, it was the first time a woman had ever led a lap at the famed oval.
But Wheldon maintained his pace and composure and reclaimed the top spot from the fuel-saving Patrick on Lap 194 to beat Vitor Meira, Herta and Patrick to the checkered flag. He got the lion's share of the $10 million purse but Patrick got the cover of SI and more national media attention than any Indy Car driver in decades.
Honda went through a rare two-race drought before Kanaan nipped Wheldon and Meira by 0.0120 of a second to score his first triumph of '05 at Kansas.
Franchitti followed with a close win over Hornish at Nashville before the tables were turned the following week at Milwaukee.
Herta handled the field at Michigan, barely holding off Wheldon, for his initial win of the season and veteran Scott Sharp, in his first year with Honda power, returned to victory lane for the first time in two years at Kentucky.
Wheldon won by 12 seconds over Hornish at Pikes Peak to tie Hornish's IndyCar single-season victory record, then eclipsed it at Chicago by beating Team Penske's drivers for his sixth victory of 2005, all but clinching the drivers' crown.
The Fontana finale was another Honda benefit as Franchitti edged Kanaan, Meira and Sharp.
Patrick, who captured three pole positions, led 63 laps and had some strong showings at Milwaukee and Chicago, earned Rookie-ofthe- Year honors.
"We had a pretty good season but Dan had a great season," said Kanaan, the 2004 IRL titlist who wound up second to his teammate this time around. "And Honda just keeps giving us the tools to make it work."