Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN — August 23, 2020
When Roger Penske bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the biggest beneficiary was the fans. Everything Penske does is top-notch and bringing his expertise to the management of the world’s most famous race track was guaranteed to elevate the spectator experience at The Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 events.
Improvements to the facility began immediately after the sale closed. Then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, Penske Corporation is well insulated from the economic difficulties so many businesses faced during the shutdown.
It is not the Memorial Day weekend, running the race on its time-honored date would have meant racing with no fans present. Despite breaking tradition, Penske wanted the fans to be able to enjoy the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The Indianapolis 500 was rescheduled for August 23rd, surely the COVID-19 would be a memory as summer drew to a close.
As the virus made a comeback, the race yielded to the conventional wisdom that packing 300,000 people into the grandstands would only further exasperate the health crisis. So there are no fans in attendance.
Still, so much of the fanfare that accompanies this race, driver introductions, the invocation, the 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, the National Anthem, the flyover (USAF Thunderbird’s), Back Home Again in Indiana, and the command “Gentlemen Start Your Engines,” delivered by none other than Roger Penske, was on full display to the television audience.
There is no shortage of storylines to accompany this year’s race. For the first time in 33 years, there is an Andretti on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. Marco Andretti captured the first starting position with a speed of 231.068 mph. Just edging out Scott Dixon (231.051) by the slightest of margins. Takuma Sato will be the third driver to line up on the front row.
A two-seater Indy Car led the field during warmup laps. With Marco’s grandfather, Mario Andretti driving, and father Michael Andretti sitting directly behind.
Team Penske qualified poorly, Josef Newgarden starts in 13th, Will Power in 22nd, Simon Pagenaud goes off 25th, and Helio Castroneves will start from the 28th position in row 10. Not what you would expect from the most successful team in Indy history.
Whether you are a race fan or not, the three-wide start at Indy is sure to get your heart beating a bit faster. When the green waved Dixon dropped in behind Andretti across the yard of bricks at the start/finish line. Into the first turn, Dixon drove around the 3rd generation racer and into the lead. Sato followed into 2nd before the conclusion of Lap 1.
Ed Carpenter hit the outside wall in tight racing on Lap 4 and became the first causality of the race. Carpenter sat lonely on the pit road as his crew attempted to repair suspension damage caused by the incident. Carpenter eventually rejoined the competition, 14 laps down.
James Davison had a right front brake rotor explode and the leaking brake fluid caught fire, melting down the tire and wheel. Davison’s race was over just 7 laps in.
On Lap 25, Marcus Ericsson lost control and slammed into the Turn 1 wall. He slid through the short shoot coming to rest in Turn 2, just below the enclosed suites at the head of the backstretch. Most of the field used the resulting caution to come to pit road for service.
Pit Stop Strategies
Simon Pagenaud moved to the lead on the restart as the Team Penske drivers began to show their strength. Power ran in 3rd and Castroneves was up to 5th. Those drivers pitted during the Davison early caution and stayed out on the Lap 25 yellow. It will be interesting to see how the differing pit stop strategies play out.
As the off sequence drivers pitted, Scott Dixon returned to the lead with Alexander Rossi chasing him in 2nd place.
With 85 laps in the books, Dalton Kellett could not negotiate Turn 3, he drifted up the track and hit the wall. Coming to rest in Turn 4, the caution waved again costing Dixon the 10-second advantage he had built on the field. It also may have scrambled pit strategies as all the leaders came to pit road for tires and fuel.
On the restart, two cars in the back of the pack, Conor Daly and rookie Oliver Askew were involved in an incident. Daly got too low on in Turn 4 and his tires hit the concrete around the bottom of the track, the loss of control caused his car to spin. Askew saw the smoke and hit the brakes, he spun and crashed hard into the safer barrier on the inside of the track before the entrance to pit road.
Crews scrambled to figure out the possibilities to see if the race could be completed in two more stops. But more trouble sent the possibility out the window.
Crashes Slow the Field
Alex Palou crashed with 79 laps to go. Alexander Rossi, sent to the rear of the field for a pit road penalty, drove like a man possessed trying to get back into contention. Until he missed a corner on Lap 144 and crashed hard into the outside wall.
Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato swapped the lead until final pit stops began on Lap 169. When the pit service cycled through it was Sato, Dixon, and Rahal in the mix for the win with 15 laps to go. All three cars within a second of the top spot.
With 9 laps to go Sato had stretched the lead slightly. However, he faced lapped traffic. A trio of cars fighting for position allowed Dixon to close to less than a half-second back.
With 5 laps to go Spencer Pigot hit the barrier at the end of pit road in a horrible crash that covered the track with debris.
The Indy Car series has no provision for overtime like NASCAR. Inexplicably the race was not placed under the red flag to clean up the mess and give those fans viewing at home the potential for a fabulous finish.
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing delivered the most disappointing finish in racing as the 104th Indianapolis 500 ended under caution and Takuma Sato was gifted his 2nd win in the classic race.
Results of the 104th Indianapolis 500