Resta-ssured: 1916 Indianapolis 300
September 29, 2015 by Jeremy McMullen
The moment Dario Resta arrived in the United States from England he would be immediately successful in such races as the Vanderbilt Cup and other regional events. At the time, the sport of motor racing would be a fledgling proposition that would rely upon Resta's fame to help propel it forward into the consciousness of the public. He was one of the first great drivers, but there was one race that eluded him. That would change in 1916.
He had come oh so close the previous year. Starting the race from 3rd on the grid with an average speed of 98.47mph, Dario would take the lead of the race early on and would end up embroiled in a battle for the lead throughout. His chief rival in the race would be none other than Ralph DePalma in his Mercedes. These two would battle it out for more than 100 laps. It would be an enthralling battle.
Resta would be in a position to win. However, in the late stages his Peugeot would suffer a puncture and this would allow DePalma to escape into the distance. When the checkered flag flew, DePalma would be the victor by around three and a half minutes from Resta.
Although second place would be a great result for the Italian Briton. Still, victory had been within reach, and this fact would not make the second place all that comfortable. The race had gotten away from Dario. He would want it back.
Resta was fast becoming a household name. Although his career would not be anywhere near the length of DePalma, nor as successful, Dario was still one of those drivers that caused people to flock to the races. He had only just arrived from England in the early part of 1915 but it was plainly obvious he was one of the best in the world.
Dario's early successes in motor racing would actually come in land speed records. He would be a fellow speed record holder at Brooklands and would be known for his ability to extract the very best from his cars.
Arriving in the United States in February of 1915, Resta would turn a corner in grand prix races and would demonstrate his road racing prowess taking victory in the Vanderbilt Cup and in the inaugural 500 mile race at the Chicago board track. Still, Indianapolis would slip through his fingers.
In 1916, Resta would have further incentive to return to Indy to win. That year, AAA, the American Automobile Association, would determine to establish a championship. Prior to this there had been a AAA championship, but it had been a single event. This would be contested over the course of a season and would reward not only victories, but reliability as well.
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Coming into Indy, Resta was without points compared to Rickenbacker who had 600 points. Resta had shown an ability to raise his performances when it mattered, and this was one of those times when it really. Not only was he behind in the championship, but the return to Indy meant being reminded of the race that got away. He would be on a mission to rectify that situation.
Being 1916, the war that was embroiling Europe was beginning to really embroil much of the world. As a result, the field for the '16 edition of the race would prove to be the fewest in Indianapolis' history, even to this very day. Only a total of 21 entries would be put forward for the race. Furthermore, except for the years in which weather intervened, the 1916 edition would be the only time in which a distance of less than 500 miles would be the race's length. Instead of the Indianapolis 500, the race that year would be planned for 300 miles. Still, even this distance greatly tested the cars of the way.
Around the 2.5 mile brick-paved speedway, Resta would be quick in qualifying posting a speed of 94.4mph. This would result in a 4th place starting spot while John Aitken would take the pole with a speed of 96.69mph.
Some 83,000 people would come to witness the war-shortened race. What they would see was a content Resta sitting back while Rickenbacker led the way early on. Then, after about 10 laps, Rickenbacker would be passed by Aitken. This was not the result of Aitken's superior pace, though qualifying would have suggested this. Instead, a steering knuckle failure would cause Rickenbacker to retire from the race.
Aitken was a real threat given his pace in qualifying. However, after just 18 laps, Resta would make his move. Tracking down the pole-sitter, Dario would sweep by into the lead. Resta had become popular with the populous and they would respond with great cheers as he passed by in the lead.
From that moment on, Resta would put on a clinic in how to dominate a race. Amidst the gentle breeze and beautiful skies, Dario would flash by lap after lap putting more and more distance between himself and the second place runner.
But Resta had been here before. He had been within reach of victory only to have it slip through his grasp at the last moment. The race was far from over, at least as far as Resta was concerned.
Being just 300 miles instead of 500, many drivers would push their cars as hard as they could. Unfortunately, this meant a good deal of them would either retire with mechanical trouble, or, would fall out of the race due to accidents. Those still in the event, despite the lower than expected average speeds, just could not keep up with Dario's performance in his venerable Peugeot.
Enjoying a margin of nearly two minutes over Wilbur d'Alene in a Duesenberg, Dario would cruise to victory. Arms raised, Resta would celebrate his win at Indy. He had grabbed hold of the race and would never let it go until he saw that checkered flag. He was an Indy champion.
The crowd would demonstrate their appreciation for the dominant performance. Appreciating the clinic put on by Resta, the 83,000 would rise to a deafening roar to celebrate the champion.
Resta would be unable to contain his emotions. Yes, the 900 points scored in the race meant he now led the championship, but that would be lost in the fact he had just won at Indy. Amazingly, he would not stick around to revel in the celebrations. After some brief interviews, his wife would gather him into their car and would peel out of the Speedway grounds with well-wishers rushing forward to offer their congratulations.
The win at Indy would prove monumental to Resta, especially when it came to the championship that year. As a result of that victory, and a 16 inch win over Aitken at Chicago, Dario was in a strong position to win the inaugural championship.
However, it would not be until his back-to-back victory in the Vanderbilt Cup in Santa Monica that the championship could be conferred upon the Italian-Briton. He would go to Indy with the clear intent of winning a race he had let slip through his fingers. He was purposeful and, as a result, would emerge with a wreath about his neck, as well as, becoming the first AAA Champion.
Eddie Rickenbacker would be the first to win a race under the new championship format. Leading a portion of the Metropolitan Trophy race at Sheepshead Bay, Resta had been in a position to win, but engine failure would prevent that from happening.
'Resta Proves Skill, but Wastes No Surplus 'Gas'', (http://www.firstsuperspeedway.com/sites/default/files/Resta_wins_Indy500.pdf). The Indianapolis Star. http://www.firstsuperspeedway.com/sites/default/files/Resta_wins_Indy500.pdf. Retrieved 22 July, 2015.
Paolozzi, Remi. 'The First King of America', (http://8w.forix.com/resta.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://8w.forix.com/resta.html. Retrieved 22 July, 2015.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Dario Resta', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 July 2015, 19:11 UTC, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dario_Resta&oldid=670869752 accessed 23 July 2015