After a worrying week and a half of practice and qualifying which saw James Hinchcliffe badly injured in one of five accidents, the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 turned out to be a great race free of flying cars or fearful injuries. This year’s 500 rebounded from a fitful start to develop quickly into an exciting, fiercely fought battle between pre-race favourites Penske and Ganassi.
In the end, Juan Pablo Montoya bounced back from an early incident with Simona de Silvestro to score one of the most impressive victories in the race’s long history as Penske’s four-car team recorded a rare one-two and took home Roger’s 16th victory in the big race.
After all the criticism IndyCar took in May about its new ‘aero kits’, Montoya said Chevrolet and Honda have done an excellent job. “I think the aero kits have been a huge plus,” Juan declared. “We were able to race hard together today, Chevy brought a really good motor, and our cars were fantastic. I think IndyCar is going in the right direction.”
Roger Penske observed: “At the end, over the last 15 laps, it could have been anybody’s race. They raced clean and they passed. The package worked well. I think the race was great for the fans and hopefully will correct some of the negative publicity we got earlier in the month. This kind of racing at 220mph-plus for lap after lap shows how good these drivers and cars are. To me, the fan noise is what it’s all about and it was great to see all the excitement from the fans at the finish.”
A few days before the race I talked with pole winner Scott Dixon about this year’s aero kit packages and the series of accidents we witnessed during practice. “Everybody’s talking about the accidents as if it’s a new thing, but I don’t think it is,” Scott said. “We’ve seen cars crash and get airborne and break backs in the past. We saw James get injured seriously this month, but it was fantastic to learn that he’s going to be OK because he’s a good friend.
“Maybe we saw [cars getting airborne] a little more than normal this month. I think everyone needs to work over the next few years on what happens when the cars go backwards. Safety is always evolving and after James’ accident I’m sure they will look at the front wishbones.
“I think an exciting part of having the manufacturers involved is they have the money and technology to work out the best ways to improve the cars and the technology.”
Ilmor co-founder Mario Illien, whose company builds Chevrolet’s IndyCar engines, provided another perspective: “I think the competition on the track is very good. IndyCar puts on a good show but the problem is the coverage is bad on television and in the newspapers. It’s been bad for many years and I haven’t seen any improvement. They may make incremental improvements but you don’t see any signs of a breakthrough.
“I think from this point of view the aero kits have been a failure. I don’t see any evidence of an increase in interest from the media and from what I’ve seen in the past I don’t think we’ll see any improvements as we go forward.
“I think if they had taken the money they’ve spent on the aero kits and used that to promote the series and try to attract more media coverage in the United States and around the world it would have been a much better way to spend that money. But that’s only my opinion.”
Meanwhile, Montoya’s hard-fought win at Indianapolis this year is the best thing that’s happened to IndyCar in some time because Juan is the category’s biggest superstar and he’s shown everyone once again that he remains one of the world’s greatest, most exciting racers.