Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN — May 28, 2023
“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is just that, a celebration of Americana before the world’s most famous motorsports event. When “Back Home Again in Indiana” is performed, not only do we miss Jim Nabor’s rendition of the State anthem, but for a brief moment, we are all “Hoosiers.”
Racing drama for the 107th edition of the Indianapolis 500 began even before the green flag was waived over the three-wide, 11-row deep starting field. Graham Rahal failed to qualify for this year’s race. He resigned himself to missing the event for the first time after qualifying for 15 straight years.
Then during Monday’s practice, Stefan Wilson crashed in the first turn after being bumped from behind by Katherine Legge. Who does Katherine race for? Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. What kind of karma is that?
It took some serious negotiations involving teams, sponsors, and manufacturers, but when all was put together, Rahal would start his 16th consecutive Indy 500 in a backup car from the rear of the field.
Wilson’s injury, a fractured thoracic vertebrae, was not life-threatening. However, he was ruled out of the 500. That left Dennis Reinbold, Wilson’s owner of the #24, without a driver. Rahal was certainly an experienced candidate to fill in.
It is a remarkable sight to see the field of the Indy 500 sitting on the race track in the order in which they will start the race. When Roger Penske, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series, gave the command “Drivers, Start Your Engines,” 32 cars roared to life. The lone misfire came from the 24-car of Graham Rahal.
With crew members climbing all over the machine, they could not make it come to life. Pushing the race car behind the wall, they diagnosed the issue as a bad battery. Not an easy component to change on an Indy car. Removing body panels and unbolting equipment, Rahal’s crew hurriedly worked to swap the part that hardly ever fails on these sleek racers.
Repairs complete, Rahal joined the field two laps down.
When the green flag waved, it was interesting to note the front row fell into a single file line of three well before crossing the yard of bricks that serves as the start/finish marker on the speedway. It was as if the drivers discussed that in advance, removing the thrill of watching the front row jockey for positions entering turn one.
Alex Palou(10) and Rinus Veekay(21) swapped the lead early as drivers sorted out the character of their cars. Palou pitted on lap 30, and when the field cycled through stops, he and Veekay were back out front.
Attrition is always a factor at Indy. The first driver out of the race? Katherine Legge(44), after an incident leaving the pits. The first accident of the day? Sting Ray Robb(51), racing next to Graham Rahal, loses control and hits the outside wall.
Pit Road Controversy
Everyone pitted under the yellow flag from the Robb crash. Veekay, pitting right behind Palou, left his stall first and appeared to spin the rear tires. The car veered left and made contact with Palou as he was exiting the pit road. Veekay’s left front wheel slammed Palou’s car into the inside wall.
Veekay continued, seemingly undamaged. Palou’s crew pulled his car back to their pit stall and began the repair process. When racing resumed, Veekay was punished for the contact with Palou and had to serve a pit road drive-thru penalty.
Through all the action and pit stops, Rahal gained a lap back and is now just one down to the field. He was joined by Veekay as the penalty forced Rinus to lose a lap.
Palou’s crew was able to complete repairs on his machine without losing a lap, keeping the #10 car still in contention.
Action Picks Up
With the mid-point of the race coming after the restart, the intensity level ramped up considerably. Four wide racing into turn three somehow avoided disaster, and the quartet of drivers sorted things out by the time they exited turn four.
Veteran driver Tony Kanaan(66) drove into the grass without lifting off the throttle to make a pass for position.
The second half of the race featured Pato O’Ward(5) and Felix Rosenqvist(6) at the point. Until O’Ward started green flag pit stops at lap 130. Palou worked his way back into the top ten at lap 140.
As 150 of the 200 laps went into the books, Marcus Ericsson(8) and Josef Newgarden(2) were the leaders as Romain Grosjean(28) hit the wall in turn two. The timing of the caution was not ideal as the field split between teams choosing to pit while others stayed on track. One more stop will be required by all teams to complete the 500 miles. It will be interesting to see which strategy pays off.
Ericsson, Newgarden, and Rosenqvist stay out. O’Ward is the first of the lead pack that commits to pit road, and he will restart in the 12 position when they return to green flag racing.
The leader’s green flag pit stops occurred with 29 laps to go. Without a caution, the drivers that pitted after the Grosjean crash will be at a severe disadvantage. O’Ward now holds the lead, but his 35-second advantage over Ericcson will disappear with a green flag stop.
With a super-fast pit stop, O’Ward returns to the lead pack just behind Ericcson and Rosenqvist. With fresher tires, he quickly passes the pair to become the leader in waiting as other drivers still have to pit.
Rosenqvist gets high out of turn one and bounces off the outside wall. The hit causes damage to his front suspension, and he is unable to steer the car. Spinning down to the inside of the track, Kyle Kirkwood(27) comes by at full race speed, and his left rear wheel makes contact.
The impact severs the wheel restraint, and once loose, the tire bounces over the catch fence, barely missing the grandstand and falling into an area used for trackside parking. Fortunately, no one was injured. However, one of the vehicles parked in the area now has five wheels.
After the impact, Kirkwood’s car flipped over and slid along the track upside down. In-car camera views were spectacular. Safety crews were quick to the scene and were able to extract Kyle from his car without serious injury.
The race was red-flagged for 15 minutes.
Once the red flag was lifted and cars circled the track under caution, four cars at the front of the field pitted as they lacked enough fuel to finish.
The race restarted with nine laps to go. O’Ward led with Ericcson and Newgarden chasing him. O’Ward slowed the field way down and then accelerated quickly prior to the green. Indy Car officials waived off the start and warned O’Ward to pick up the pace.
On the next lap around, the green waved, and the leaders went three-wide toward turn one. Ericcson emerged with the lead, Newgarden second, and O’Ward dropped to third.
Newgarden passed Ericcson down the backstretch. Heading into turn three, O’Ward dropped low to attempt a pass on Ericcson. They touched wheels slightly. O’Ward caught the grass and spun, hitting the outside wall. Ericcson was able to maintain control, and the wreck brought out the second red flag of the afternoon with six laps to go. Several other cars became involved in the aftermath of the crash.
The green flag was displayed with four laps to go. Cars began wrecking before the leaders reached the flag stand. Erricson took the lead prior to the yellow being displayed, freezing the field. They came around with three laps to go and crossed the line. The red flag was brought out for the third time in 10 laps.
To go back to green flag racing, they will have to leave the pits, come around to the front stretch, and take the green and white at the same time.
Ericcson got a huge jump, and they snaked their way down the front stretch. But Newgarden was able to catch the leader and made the pass out of turn one. Somehow he was able to hold off his rival and took the checkered flag for his first Indy 500 win.
Another triumph for Team Penske.
Results of the 107th Indianapolis 500
|31||Sting Ray Robb||51||31|