IndyCar — Reviewing the 100th Indianapolis 500

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Now that the stands have emptied, the ceremonial photos have been taken and Indianapolis Motor Speedway starts preparation for next year’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, it is time to reflect on Sunday’s 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Reflective thoughts

Wow! What a race the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was, and how great it was to see it tie back not only to the wider world of motorsport, with Alexander Rossi been an F1 reserve driver, as well as his full time ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but also the connections to the past.

The race from my perspective was probably different from Doug’s given I watched the ABC broadcast (Without ads, thanks BT!) from home and Doug watched the race from the stands at IMS. I think we are both very pleased to have got our prediction of rookie of the year correct, but it is safe to say that neither of us quite expected the show from Alexander Rossi we did get in the race.

[singlepic id=1150 w=300 h=200 float=right]The No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Bryan Herta Autosport car claimed victory with Alex Rossi sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts who only joined the team earlier this month, hopefully with this win, they might decide to continue to support IndyCar. The No. 98 car winning the 100th running just seems so fitting when you consider that it was Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon who claimed victory in the No. 98 car back on the centennial year of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 2011. It feels so ‘right’ that the car number was back in victory lane yesterday.

The race itself was spectacular. It was more enjoyable to me than most of the previous 500’s in the DW12 era, both in the non-aero kit era and the current one. I think some of that was perhaps down to the coverage I saw here, and the anticipation building up to the race. I know Twitter isn’t a good or accurate metric of interest in an event but the Indy 500 was ‘trending’ on Sunday evening in the UK. The UK broadcaster of the series stepped up this year and we got virtually ad-free coverage of the race, and I think that perhaps allowed me to see more of the story of the race unfolding than I’ve had access to in previous 500’s. That, combined with the excitement of the 100th running, gave this race that extra special feeling of excitement.

I have to admit, in those early laps, I was so nervous, almost shaking, because oval races with such close cars on restarts scare me. Once the first few laps are over though, I settle into the race and enjoy. The flow of the race was better than in previous years, you couldn’t stay up front for long, but fewer cautions allowed me to really enjoy this race.

I think also for many, as Todd alluded to, the race will be one that will allow us to see the position for real of where the Indianapolis 500 sits in the motorsport world today. We still see it as a Triple Crown event, on level with Monaco and Le Mans. As I said to someone yesterday in terms of the triple crown of motorsport, this is motorsports Christmas day, with Monaco and Indy. That means Le Mans is New Year’s Day, right?

Rossi’s winning will confirm whether the rest of the racing world is quite as switched-on to events at the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the USA because of his links back to Formula 1, and whether his win here gives him the chance to then move and race in F1. I’m mixed on that, and I know Todd has a full article on what Rossi’s future may be, so I’ll let you comment on that over with him, but my view is that I’d like him to stay in IndyCar.

It will be tricky for IndyCar to promote if he switches to Formula 1 in six months’ time, and I’m someone very much of the belief that is much more to motorsport than just F1 success but of course it is down to Rossi’s sponsors and himself which path he takes.

Overall, I loved the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, it is fitting that a rookie won, as one won on the 50th anniversary as well. It is also just the perfect storyline to take away from the race, with no political controversy clouding a perfect day in Indiana, and very few points of contention with the race itself. It was just a purely brilliant motor race and I can’t wait for the 101st.

Pit stops

The first real talking point, however, is the pit stops at Indianapolis. Now I enjoy American motorsport and I know I’m writing this from the perspective of a Brit, but pit stops in the US on ovals are crazy to me, enjoyable but pure madness how everyone dives in the pits at once. Unfortunately at Indianapolis, it got a too close a few times, which is something we don’t tend to see that much on other ovals on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule as the pit lanes are more designed for NASCAR and therefore wider.

In fairness, IndyCar reacted well to the pit stop violations, Power was given a drive through after his incident in the pits on Lap 54. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of the close incidents on pit road, and eventually it boiled over with the incident between Helio Castroneves, Townsend Bell, and Ryan Hunter-Reay which saw Hunter-Reay and Bell collect one another and slide across the lane. Thankfully, no one was caught in the way of the two, but it damaged both cars and ultimately was disappointing because both had spent the whole race in contention to win and this put them both a lap down, with RHR dropping further back later. So if anything from Sunday’s 100th needs looking at, and I’m not really sure what IndyCar could do differently, but a look at pit road would be a good area at which to look.

Close but clean racing

On track, the action was remarkably close with 54 changes for the lead overall and according to IndyCar and 13 cars leading the race overall. It was such good racing, that we saw the first 47 laps run caution free, which is pretty rare at any IndyCar race, never mind when vying to win the Indianapolis 500, even then it was only for a piece of debris on the side of the track, which didn’t at least from my viewpoint look to be from a car.

The start of the race saw pole sitter James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay switch positions for the lead many times. It was almost as if the two had never really stopped been teammates, something that was mentioned on the broadcast several times, it almost seemed like there was a pact between the two to keep at switch at the front of the field. Townsend Bell also ran up front with the pair and at times interfered in the tag team game between them.

Townsend Bell did also upset a few drivers in those early stages, Newgarden and Castroneves for certain got blocked as the NBC Sports Network presenter was rather more aggressive on track than many of his nearest rivals. It kind of paid off though as he ran up front for most of the early running, so fair play.

After the restarts, we saw just a little clear running before race favourite Juan Pablo Montoya was involved in a single car incident on Lap 54.

[singlepic id=1368 w=300 h=200 float=right]It wasn’t a great day for Penske overall, in all honesty. In the organisation’s 50th year, Pagenaud had throttle issues and the car sounded horrible from the onboard video. Will Power received a pit lane penalty for a collision on pit road. Helio had a good run and at one point looked in contention for the win, but the other incident in pit row with Townsend Bell and RHR, then Hildebrand hitting the rear of his car and damaging the rear wheel pod, forcing him to pit as it was hanging off ending his chance at securing his fourth 500 victory.

Sage Karam hit the wall and brought out the third caution on Lap 94, before Daly spun and hit the wall in avoidance of Mikhail Aleshin’s accident on Lap 115. Poor Buddy Lazier, who had problems on the formation lap, which meant he had to pull into pit lane before the start, started 45 laps down, and then ended the race with three wheels on his cars, as a tyre came loose on Lap 157. Takuma Sato caused the fifth and final race caution with another single car incident on Lap 166.

Strategy calls decided the winner

The race ultimately came down to fuel mileage, strategy by Bryan Herta, and huge gambles. Munoz, Hinchcliffe and others did the splash-and-dash approach in the closing laps, which ultimately cost Munoz the race, or at least a chance of challenging for the win and he was visibly distraught after the race. His teammate, Alexander Rossi, gambled and they made the fuel last, albeit doing the last lap at average of 177 mph and literally running on fumes before running out of fuel just after the line. It was one of those great moments in motorsport when you just don’t know what is going to happen. He had a good gap, but the fuel could have run out 100 yards sooner, as it did for Robbie Gordon back in 1999. It didn’t, and they won so fair play to them for that.

Honda vs Chevrolet

In the Honda/Chevrolet battle for supremacy at IMS, it was Honda which ultimately won. I do wonder what would of happened if Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay hadn’t collected each other on pit lane because Andretti Autosport looked to be the strongest team out there in the race by far.

The powerhouse Chevrolet teams just didn’t factor in the way I had expected them to. Sure, Tony Kanaan led for 19 laps and Helio for 24, but I expected Penske and Ganassi to be in the fight all day and just like in qualifying. They weren’t, so IndyCar’s third power house team regained its form which has been missing all season and swept a 1-2 finish, but it could so easily have been a top four for them.

Andretti Autosport sweeping the top four positions would have pushed Chevrolet down to 5th. As it was, the top Chevrolet was Josef Newgarden in 3rd who had been in close contention for the race win all afternoon long. It seems pretty likely that a Chevrolet will win the VICS Championship in Sonoma, but Honda just sent a huge message to Chevrolet that Indy is theirs and that as far as ovals are concerned, just perhaps Andretti Autosport is back, which is a nice prospect for the season going forward.

Congratulations

[singlepic id=1425 w=640 float=center]
A huge congratulations to Alex Rossi, Andretti Autosport, Bryan Herta Autosport, Bryan Herta, Michael Andretti and Doug Boles of IMS and the Verizon IndyCar Series for putting on a wonderful 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in front of a sell-out crowd. My only wish is I’d been there to see it in person – Which I’m sure Doug is about to remind me about :-)  (Editor’s note: Yes he will. …repeatedly!)

Honorable mentions

Josef Newgarden:
Newgarden was the star of Ed Carpenter Racing this May, outperforming his boss all month long at IMS and putting in a stellar performance on race day. As with Munoz, it basically came down to fuel levels been the difference between winning and not. The young IndyCar star continues to shine and will surely be picked up by one of the powerhouse teams in the next couple of seasons.

Pippa Mann:
It didn’t quite work out for Pippa in the end, she came home 18th, but she ran well all day in the Dale Coyne entry, and was at one point in the closing stages up to 8th, but like many in the field had to come for fuel. Given how Carb Day went, though, a huge congratulations to DCR and Pippa on that race run.

Bryan Clauson:
[singlepic id=1121 w=300 h=200 float=left]The IndyCar Faithful who still are also USAC national supporters will be really pleased that albeit through strategy, Clauson led a lap at the Indianapolis 500. The multiple USAC sprint car champion seems to improve each year he runs at Indy, eventually coming home in 23rd.  The 500 wasn’t Bryan’s only race on Sunday.  After the checkered flag at Indianapolis, Bryan hustled 64 miles north to the Kokomo Speedway to race his sprint car at the Kokomo Klassic, a race he won!

Carlos Munoz:
Once again proving his talent at Indianapolis, strategy didn’t fall his way but three top five finishes in four years and two of those in the top two at the Indianapolis 500 proves why Munoz is a star for the future.

JR Hildebrand:
Sure the incident with Castroneves took some shine out of his run late in the race, but Hildebrand proving again why he should have a full time seat in the IndyCar season, or at least an oval racing seat, coming home in sixth.

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Member

I hope the whole series can take this renewed interest forward through the season but I fear seeing half-full grandstands for the coming Detroit double-header

J. Doug Patterson
Editor

I wouldn’t rely on Detroit as a marker of renewed interest. The Texas and Road America attendance will be better measures of the durable interest. I am interested in seeing how this will affect the Detroit TV numbers. The overnights for the 500 were huge, 33.6!

The Late Idi Amin
Member
The Late Idi Amin

its because it was the 100th only.

Tom Firth
Guest
Tom Firth

Actually on a whole the second half of last year and the first part of this year have shown some gains for Indycar across the season. Not monumental gains but gains all the same.

St pete – Up on 2015
Phoenix – Up on 2015 (compared to NOLA)
Long Beach – Up on 2015
Barber – Down on 2015
IndyGP – Up on 2015
Indy 500 qualifying – Up on 2015
Indy 500 – Down on 2015. (Overnights)

Tom Firth
Guest
Tom Firth

Only in the Indianapolis market though, across the country TV ratings down a little on last year, its around the same mark as usual though, since 2010, so least aren’t losing audience for the 500 en mass, just not gaining it. Stability is at least positive.

Max Johnson
Guest
Max Johnson

So Rossi earned 2.5mil from the race. Aside from team contracts, with the money left he can probably afford to drive for Manor or Sauber for a few races and fighting for the last four places of the grid.