Strategic gamble wins Indy 500
It was unfortunate that this year’s 100th running of the Indy 500 turned into a fuel-saving race, denying us a shoot-out among the remaining front-runners Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe. Nor is there any denying that Alexander Rossi drove a steady, smart race on his way to winning the 500 at his first attempt. Rossi benefited from wise words of advice from co-team owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta. Both are very experienced racers and it was Herta’s sharp tactical thinking that put Rossi into fuel-saving mode and brought him his remarkable win at the Speedway.
Through the week of practice and qualifying leading up to the race Rossi was fast and smooth, as he was in all of this year’s opening IndyCar races. He qualified a very respectable 11th and ran well in the race in the forward part of the midfield. Andretti team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay was the man to beat until Townsend Bell messed up in the pits, crashing into Ryan and damaging both cars.
The final segment witnessed a great battle between Kanaan, Newgarden, Munoz and Hinchcliffe. Kanaan and Newgarden led most of the time but Munoz also got to the front as they ran hard, knowing they had to make quick fuel stops in the closing laps. Sure enough, Kanaan stopped with seven laps to go, Newgarden, Munoz and Hinchcliffe two laps later.
Rossi was running ninth when the final restart took place with just over 30 laps to go, but was able to nurse his car to the finish without stopping. He found himself with half a lap’s lead and to make the finish had to slow to a crawl. Coming out of Turn Four on the last lap with Hunter-Reay doing all he could to tow his team-mate to the line, Rossi ran dry of fuel but was able to coast under the chequered flag four seconds ahead of Munoz and Newgarden.
“I have no idea how we pulled that off,” Rossi said. “We struggled a bit on the pitstops but Bryan came up with an unbelievable strategy.
I can’t believe we’ve done this. Ryan was unbelievable in helping me get to the finish. I’ll cherish the fact that at one point we were 33rd and we rolled the dice and came through.
“We ran out of fuel in Turn Four on the last lap,” he added. “We were clutching it and coasting down the backstraight. We knew it was going to be tight, but Ryan helped give me a tow to the finish over the last couple of laps. It’s an amazing result for Andretti Autosport.”
Rossi was brought down to earth the following weekend in a pair of races on the contrastingly tight and rough Detroit street circuit. He finished 10th on Saturday and 12th on Sunday with Sébastien Bourdais winning the first race and Will Power taking second from Penske team-mate and championship leader Simon Pagenaud.
At mid-season IndyCar’s championship is shaping up as a Penske vs Ganassi battle with Pagenaud enjoying a seemingly insurmountable 80-point lead over defending champion Scott Dixon and team-mate Helio Castroneves. With four cars capable of winning any race, Team Penske will be hard to beat this year, although only a fool would count Dixon and Ganassi out.
“We’ve got to start eating into Pagenaud’s lead,” Dixon said. “He’s been doing a fantastic job and we’ve definitely got to start making some strides in the next few races. It’s definitely going to be a dogfight this year. I think the cool thing about the IndyCar series is you’ve got competition. In Formula 1, you’re pretty much racing your team-mate – you’re racing one other car. But in IndyCar, someone can maybe not have a good qualifying and still have the equipment to get up there and fight for the win. I think that’s very cool.”