Weird, Wild, Wonderful- The 101st Indianapolis 500

I have seen a lot of 500’s, but never one as strange as this one.  There were really three parts to this one, each with its own subplot. There was great racing, there were horrific accidents, and there was  a great finish.  If you were in a pool where you had to pick the top ten, you probably didn’t fare well.  No one else in the pool did either.

The first 50 laps had some of the best, cleanest racing I’ve ever seen at Indy. There was passing galore and blinding speed. I knew it wouldn’t last, but it was sure fun. After the first yellow and the ensuing red flag, there was no flow to the race. Cautions came with regularity, interrupting any chance at a rhythm.  Many of the accidents seemed more severe than usual this year.

My seat was right in front of the Howard/Dixon accident.  It was one of the most horrific accidents I have seen at the Speedway. I would rank it second behind the 1964 lap 2 accident. I’m  talking about accidents that were in my view from my seat. The flying car and and flying debris were frightening. Fortunately all the safety features of the track and the car did their job. It was a relief when Dixon got out of what was left of the car. More on this in the notes.

Eleven cautions will chop up any race.  Several yellows were just a few laps apart. While this changes race strategies, it does not help the racing.  What it did, however, was set up a terrific finish.  In the end , Takuma Sato erased the disappointment of his failed attempt to win the 2012 race.

The last twelve laps were great. After the cleanup from a wild five car melee, Max Chilton gamely tried to hold his lead,  but he had more fuel than he needed and his tires probably cooled too much during the yellow. Chilton had pitted before everyone else so his tires had less life in them. It came down to a shootout between Sato and Helio Castroneves. When Sato took the lead with 5 to go, he was able to hold off Castroneves for a popular win. Sato’s unbridled screaming on the radio was a joy to listen to. Quite a contrast from Rossi’s stunned shock last year. Rossi, however, grew into a great champion, and Sato will also be a very good one.

Overall, it was a good race, not a great one.  With fewer cautions this race had the makings of a classic. There was the drama of contenders dropping out, unexpected drivers surging to the front, amazing rookie performances, and a furious duel to the finish.  The 500 continues continues to be the best race of the year.

Notes:

The Howard/Dixon accident emphasized the need for some form of cockpit protection. A piece of Dixon’s car nearly landed on Howard’s head, and Dixon’s car almost landed on Castroneves. I am not in favor of completely closed canopies, but something over the driver’s head should be developed. The outcome may have been worse had Dixon hit a fence post. He broke the fence above the tunnel entrance. Fortunately it didn’t appear anyone was walking or driving in the open area at the time.  A net over the tunnel might be a good safety addition.

What was the deal with Tony George and, “Drivers Start Your Engines?” That is NOT how you start the 500. Other races, yes. Not this one. IMS needs a rethink on this issue.

Jim Cornelison did a fantastic job singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” and arrangements should be made to have him sing it every year.

Fernando Alonso proved what a talented driver he is. He adapted and learned quickly all month.  He figured out how to race here quickly and looked very smooth all day.  He had a most impressive rookie month. Alonso adapted to the hectic schedule of Indy and enjoyed it all. His return is not a sure thing yet, but I hope we see him here again.  Alonso brought an electricity to the Speedway I haven’t felt from a driver in a long time.

Ed Jones also deserves a shout out as a rookie. Jones has had a great season so far and did very well all month, finishing third in the race.  I was skeptical of how he would do in Indycar as I had attributed his Indy Lights success to being with Carlin. But he has talent. Watch out for him the rest of the year.

Honda engines continued their unreliability. Ten engines were lost in May, including those in the Grand Prix. The three blown engines Sunday belonged to contenders. Andretti seems to have had more than their share of lost engines this year.  They were going for power over reliability. This decision could have championship implications. It is a trend to keep an eye on as the series moves to Detroit.

I do not enjoy the breaks in the opening ceremonies. They take away from what used to be a dramatic buildup to the start.  The ceremonies need to be shortened and put in one block culminating with the start.

The points battle has really tightened up. Castroneves leads with three drivers just eleven points behind.  Look for another new leader after Belle Isle. The six Indycar races to date have had six different winners.  It is hard to believe Scott Dixon is not one of them. There may not be a definitive leader until after Iowa.

Michael Andretti couldn’t win the 500 as a driver, but he now has tied Lou Moore for second place with five wins as an owner. Andretti cars has won five times in thirteen years, and three of the last four.   Sato’s only two career wins have come in Indycar’s most prestigious events, Long Beach and Indianapolis.

 

 

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