We’ve suspected this for many years and now it’s official. The Indianapolis 500 is no longer a reasonable aspiration for most racing drivers, blogs Stephen Cox.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) president Doug Boles was kind enough to talk with me briefly at the annual PRI trade show in Indy. I asked him what his plan was to increase the number of entries at the Indianapolis 500. His answer took me by surprise.
“We grew up falling in love with the sport when you had that number of entries,” Boles said. “A lot of those entries were guys who sat around in December and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to build a car in our garage and we’re going to enter it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.’”
“But first and foremost in my mind is just really safety. I don’t think it makes sense for us to get back to fifty or sixty cars just from a safety standpoint,” Boles continued. “I’d love to see fifty or sixty or seventy cars entering and guys just being able to decide that they have a driver who’s running at Putnamville and we’re going to give him a shot to run at the Speedway. I just don’t think it’s practical anymore.”
Let that statement sink in. American short track drivers – who routinely filled the field until the 1980s – are now considered unsafe and incapable of running the Indy 500.
Don’t ever go back to the speedway and expect to find the next A. J. Foyt or Parnelli Jones. There won’t be one. Nor will you ever see another Stan Fox or Rich Vogler claw their way up through the ranks and make it to Indy. For that matter, we’re also unlikely to ever see another Rick Mears or Robby Gordon. Those guys got to Indy through off-road desert racing, not Indycar’s current ladder system. They would likely be considered unsafe at the speedway today.
Boles countered by saying, “We have the best on-track product that we’ve ever had in the history of the speedway with the last five years. The number of lead changes we have, the number of cars in the field that have a chance of winning it.”
True, recent events have had a certain NASCAR-green-white-checkered-overtime excitement to them. However, this was not achieved by eliminating drivers of sprint cars, off-road trucks, midgets, late-models or amateur sports cars from the speedway. It was achieved – if indeed, this can be called an “achievement” at all – through regulation.
More teams are in contention because everyone is forced to use the same spec car. The additional lead changes were artificially created through “push to pass” legislation and turbo boost mandates. Using this logic, even better races could be manufactured by enacting a rule disqualifying anyone who leads two consecutive laps, thus assuring 249 lead changes in every 500!
The bottom line is this – SCCA drivers are welcome to compete at IMS in the Run Offs. SVRA drivers are welcome to Indy’s vintage event. Short track drivers are welcome to buy tickets and sit in Turn Three.
But the speedway has no intention of enlarging the field past forty cars and creating space that could be filled by new drivers from other disciplines. That is bad news for thousands of very good racing drivers worldwide. And it is even worse news for the Indianapolis 500 itself, whose relevancy continues to fade.
Juan Pablo Montoya returned to Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2014, and today he took home the biggest prize of them all, a victory at the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the victory. It was his second Indianapolis 500 win, and his first with Team Penske, handing car owner Roger Penske his sixtieth victory at the Indianapolis 500.
Montoya previously won the race in 2000, racing for Chip Ganassi Racing on that occasion, though the F1, CART and NASCAR veteran appears to have taken far more satisfaction from this victory, compared to his previous Indianapolis 500 victory.
The race started on a frustrating note. Alex Tagliani failed to start the car immediately at the commencement of the race, although was eventually able to get underway. Meanwhile, Conor Daly sadly didn’t even make it through the parade laps. His Honda powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry suffered an exhaust fire, effectively forcing a DNS for Daly.
Just as the race was going green, Takuma Sato attempted to make it three-wide with Sage Karam and Ryan-Hunter Reay into Turn 1, resulting in a non-repairable level of damage for Sage Karam, rendering his race over.
Ryan Briscoe and James Davidson also got tripped up by this incident and whilst Sato, Davidson and Briscoe made it back onto the track after repairs, it made for a tough start to the race. Under this caution, Simona De Silvestro and Juan Pablo Montoya made relatively light contact, with the rear bumper-pod of Juan Pablo Montoya effectively hanging on by a thread, having to make a trip to pit road, dropping him to the rear of the field.
Due to the rules in IndyCar, the pit-road was closed, which meant that Montoya had to take effectively a pit-road drive through, returning to the track with the piece still hanging off the rear of the car. The part eventually disconnected from the car, requiring a slightly longer period before the race returned to green. Perhaps IndyCar should make an exception when bodywork is dangerously loose on the rear of the car on it’s pit closure rules?
The race finally got into a flow on Lap 17, the two Ganassi teammates of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan jousting for the lead throughout the first stint, with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud playing a slightly more tactful game, sitting in second or third. Dependent on the stage of the stint.
At the first pitstop round on lap 36, Dixon was the first of the leaders on pit road, under a green flag stop. The pit cycle briefly handed the lead to Simon Pagenaud. Juan Pablo Montoya’s first stop however wasn’t smooth, JPM over-running his pit box, and running over the hose. The incident resulted in him receiving a warning, and effectively with the team having to push his car back into the box, five seconds on the road.
On Lap 64, Bryan Clauson hit the wall hard in Turn 4, bringing out a caution. It appeared from the replay that Clauson was attempting to give room to passing traffic, given he was running off the pace when he got high in the grey area. Hitting the wall and ending his race. Clauson was uninjured in the incident.
The incident, did allow for a round of pistops under yellow, with Penske taking the advantage over Ganassi, Promoting Simon Pagenaud to the lead ahead of Scott Dixon. The restart order therefore was Pagenaud, Dixon, and Kanaan, with Power and Castroneves in forth and fifth respectively.
An incredible move on the restart, which is my personal move of the race, came from Tony Kanaan. The Indycar veteran passing both Dixon and Pagenaud in Turn one, an absolutely fantastic move, which personally really reminded me why it is I love IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500. Was it your move of the race?
By the half way point, Montoya had made his way into the top 3 from the back positioned behind Pagenaud, and Kanaan whilst Power retained fourth, and Scott Dixon had been shuffled back to fifth following the completion of the set of pitstops.
Lap 113, brought out another caution, with Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia having contact. Brought about by a misjudged overtaking attempt by Carpenter, ending the race for both drivers with some pretty major contact. Both drivers went to the medical center however neither sustained injury.
The Caution allowed for another series of pitstops, with Pagenaud continuing his lead through yellow stops, ahead of Dixon, Montoya and Castroneves. On the restart, it was a duel between the Penske teammates of Pagenaud and Power, before Dixon produced another spectacular move, passing the two for the lead.
On Lap 148, we saw Charlie Kimball take the lead through the series of pitstops. The third Ganassi driver, had been up in the top pack for much of the day, and finally the domino’s fell his way to take the lead of the Indianapolis 500.
On Lap 152, Tony Kanaan’s strong run in the 99th Indianapolis 500, came to a grinding halt, when the veteran driver went into the wall at turn 2, the car appeared to jolt slightly before he lost control. Kanaan was fine however after such a strong run, and a clear contender for victory, it was a sad end for Tony Kanaan’s challenge today. It also left Scott Dixon without a second Ganassi car to rival against the Penske trio later in the race.
A debris caution brought about by contact to the rear of Sato’s Foyt entry, signalled a caution on lap 155. For the restart, Justin Wilson led from Carlos Munoz, both of which who didn’t pit under caution, allowing for a Honda entrant to lead. Unfortunately on the restart, effectively both where sitting ducks to the pursuing Power, Dixon and Montoya who where on fresh tires.
On the restart, Pagenaud suffered some front wing damage, dropping speed quickly, with the pursuing cars having to take avoiding action. Sadly a few laps later Rookie Stefano Coletti, Jack Hawksworth and Sebastian Saavedra got together, which was a Violent incident, and one I’m glad all three drivers are relatively ok as a result of. Coletti and Hawksworth immediately got released from the medical center whilst Saavedra required some assistance for extraction from the car and some further support, the columbian seemingly acquiring a leg injury.
Saavedra recently tweeted:
“Thanks everyone for the good wishes. I’ll be up and running in no time. Just a passenger of a gnarly reck. #Lucky”
The restart would be the last of the race on lap 185, Montoya passing Dixon for second. Followed by Dixon, Power and Montoya engaging in a long battle on track, Dixon eventually losing out after an attempt on Power, resulted in him losing momentum finishing behind Kimball in Fourth.
Therefore, the last few laps was a pure race between the Penske teammates of Power and Montoya, with Montoya taking the lead with three to go in a strong, in a rather risky if brilliantly executed move, it appeared even Montoya’s spotters thought so, allowing him to come home to victory 0.1046 seconds ahead of Will Power.
The final top six being Montoya, Power, Kimball, Dixon, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti.
“It was awesome,” Montoya said. “This is what racing in INDYCAR is all about, racing down to the wire. These guys, Team Penske, did an amazing job. I had the feeling that I had a really good car, but that fight at the end was really, really hard. All the way down to the wire. This is pretty awesome.”
Unfortunately during the race, a pit-lane incident resulted in two crew members sustaining injuries when James Davidson left his pit box and unavoidable contact occurred with Pippa Mann. This resulted in Davidson losing control and making contact with two members of the DCR pit crew. No official updates have yet been released on the pit-crew members conditions although one is said to be having an operation on his ankle by various IndyCar media. I wish the pit crew members injured a complete recovery.
The race saw 37 lead changes from 10 leaders. six caution periods for a total of 47 laps, the highest Honda finisher was Graham Rahal in fifth, in what was a very tough race for the Honda teams. The race additionally saw 11 retirements of the field of 33, a Penske 1-2 and allowed Team Penske the honour of winning the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 in the same year, finally Gabby Chaves, was the top rookie, of the two which started the race, finishing 16th overall.
The next round of the Verizon Indycar Series is the Chevrolet Duel in Detroit coming next weekend on ABC.
Wow, the 98th Indianapolis 500 brought us a different race, a very clean race through the first 150 laps with a battle up front primarily between Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon and a quick Will Power early on. Retirements came from Graham Rahal and Buddy Lazier, whilst Tony Kanaan had mechanical issues, although he did return the target #10 car to the racetrack later on.
Then the cautions came and the complexion of the race changed. The first caution came out for Charlie Kimball spinning off track. Following this the fun really began up front with fuel mileage no longer an issue. Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon had a tough race, with a huge off into the wall after getting the car loose.
The restart saw even more craziness with an ambitious three-wide manoeuvre between James Hinchcliffe, Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell, resulting in the hometown pole sitter and James Hinchcliffe retiring from the race, after running up front all day, creating some tension between the two in TV interviews afterwards.
The race returned to green with 20 to go, Townsend Bell managed to escape the carnage, continuing his charge through the field; sadly Townsend had a huge off into the wall himself, eliminating him from the race with eight laps to go. All of those involved in on track incidents thankfully escaped injury.
Indycar therefore made the decision that instead of finishing the race under Yellow—which would have been inevitable for the debris clean up period—to red flag the race for the duration of the clean-up. A precedent set by the series at the end of the 2013 season finale at California Auto Club Speedway and in my opinion a great move by the series…especially after the previous two DW12 era Indianapolis 500 races finsihed under yellow flags after thrilling battles throughout, leaving some fans a little disappointed. I “aren’t” a fan of NASCAR’s Green-White Checker and to me, a red flag is a far better solution.
The race resumed on lap 195 of 200 for an epic sprint for the finish between the three remaining true contenders for the victory. Ryan Hunter-Reay in the lead, Helio Castroneves, trying for his forth 500 victory in second and Ryan’s teammate Marco Andretti in third.
The duel for the victory was immense—with myself screaming at the television admittedly—Helio and Ryan were trading places with the latter coming close to the hitting the outside grass through one move. It came down to the final corner when Helio gave it one more shot crossing the line just 0.06 seconds behind Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco maintaining third position.
It was an incredible 98th running of the Memorial Day classic Indianapolis 500. It really is one of my favourite races of the year and this year’s race didn’t disappoint. Congratulations to Ryan Hunter-Reay and the Andretti Autosport squad.
Other notable performances within the race was NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, on double duty today finishing 8th, Seriously changing my perception of his driving after today, meanwhile Rookie Sage Karam drove a brilliant race from 31st to finish 9th.
Rookie sensation of 2013’s running Carlos Munoz was 4th, returnee Jacques Villeneuve 14th and Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to IMS for the Indianapolis 500 finished his day in 5th position, following a pit lane speed infraction drive through penalty. Whilst teammate Will Power had similar issues resulting in an 8th place finish for the series points leader going into the Indianapolis 500.
The last few months have been an interesting ride. They were some of the worst months of my life with stress levels and uncertainty about what was going to happen this season. It was also difficult because the situation I was in was not a driving challenge; it was all about the lack of funding. Sure enough though, I’ve managed to find myself two weekends into the GP2 season of all things. If you would have asked me four months ago, would I be preparing for the Monaco Grand Prix right now, I would have said that you were crazy!
After last season, I was facing a difficult funding situation in Europe for 2014. I had shifted my focus to IndyCar for 2014, and put everything I had into trying to put something together for the full season. In the winter, that effort started to become very frustrating. No matter how much time and effort you put in, it is all for nothing should you not be able to come up with the right amount of sponsorship money. In the end that is what happened. The time passed and I could not get the dollar figure I needed to secure an IndyCar ride, which I was pretty upset about to be honest. I think the IndyCar teams were in a tough position during the off season though with some uncertainty about the title sponsor and how everything was going to play out. But with the Verizon deal in place, I think it puts the teams in a more flexible position for driver selection in the future.
As the IndyCar season started and I looked on from the sidelines, I was contacted out of the blue by the Lazarus GP2 team about doing the preseason testing. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! It was great to finally get back in a proper race car and start working. The team made it very clear that they wanted me there for the season and that really meant a lot to me after the uncertainty of the off season.
I have never seen a team work as hard as Lazarus does to bring their own sponsors on board to work with the driver hand-in-hand to try and put the full program together. It’s a great feeling because it shows my sponsors and potential sponsors the dedication that the team and I have to working together for a successful season. We worked through the tests in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain and learned a lot, but we knew we still had a long way to go for the first two races in Bahrain and Barcelona. Racing in GP2 was always Plan A, but for several months I thought it wasn’t going to happen. Now suddenly I was scrambling to put a full season agreement together at the last minute!
I was extremely happy to continue working with Lazarus at the first race in Bahrain even though we didn’t have any agreement yet for the season. It was a surprising weekend for a lot of the teams including us, but in the end, it all just came down as usual to the Pirelli tires. We could make the soft tires work really well, but could not get the grip in the hard tires. This caused us to do half the race on the soft compound tire, which is really unheard of. In the end, we just missed scoring points in Race One. Sadly, a mechanical failure took us out of Race Two. All in-all it was a shame to leave without any points but we learned a lot that should help us for Barcelona, the next race.
Practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 got underway today and Team Penske rose to the top with Will Power pacing the field with a lap at 223.057 mph (40.3485) in his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet/Dallara. The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader clocked 82 laps on the day, just one less than his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves (83).
“Apart from the speed, it’s great to be at the top of the speed charts with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy,” stated Power. “The car felt really good, too, today and we got to do quite a few laps, try to get the mileage up. You know, just anticipating that it might be wet the next couple of days. It’s only practice, the first day, but always handy to be at the top.”
In his first official session on the 2.5 mile superspeedway since winning the race in 2000, Juan Pablo Montoya clocked the second fastest lap of the day at 222.502 (40.4490). The Columbian saw the day as a learning experience in getting comfortable in the car in traffic. “I did a lot of running by myself and then I ran behind someone just to start getting used to the feel of that; the understeer and how the car feels in traffic,” he said. Right now we just want to get comfortable in the car.” The final member of the Penske bunch, Castroneves was 3rd.
JR Hildebrand, making his first start of the season, was 4th quickest driving is Prefered Freezer Services Chevrolet/Dallara for Ed Carpenter Racing at a lap of 222.200 mph (40.5040). Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 5 with a lap of 222.134 mph (40.5160).
After suffering a concussion in a freak accident in yesterday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, James Hinchcliffe was grounded for the day and was seen at the track with his team while EJ Viso practiced his #27 United Fiber and Data Chevrolet/Dallara. Hinchcliffe could have a medical evaluation tomorrow but nothing is definite yet. The medical evaluation will determine whether or not the Canadian can return to the wheel of the #27 car, but INDYCAR standard operating procedure for concussions is a week off.
Nonetheless, Viso was chipper to return to the wheel of an IndyCar and helping Hinchcliffe at the same time and was 6th quickest at 220.104 mph (40.5014). “I love working with these (Andretti Autosport) guys,” he said. “Last year I had an amazing year, an amazing experience, and I only have positive things to talk about my teammates and my team. This opportunity just showed up overnight. Of course we all know what happened to (James) Hinch(cliffe) – at the same time, he is a great friend of mine, he was my teammate last year. Right now I’m helping him out, putting miles on his car and hoping he comes back soon and jumps back in.”
Sage Karam also completed the final phase of his Rookie Orientation Program and was cleared to practice for the Indianapolis 500 and made 77 laps total on the day in his #22 Comfort Revolution Chevrolet/Dallara for Dreyer and Reinbold Kingdom Racing. Karam initially started his ROP last Tuesday, but mechanical problems ended is run.
Also of note was KV Racing Technology’s Townsend Bell, who is returning to the cockpit of an IndyCar for the first time in a year for a one off deal for the Indianapolis 500, showed little signs of so and logged the 9th quickest lap of the day at 220:840 mph (40.7534). Kurt Busch also was on hand today after arriving from Kansas Speedway after competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Kansas City. Busch turned the 12th fastest time at 220.352 mph (40.8437).