The 2013 Indy 500 was truly historic in more ways than one

2 Comments

Several years ago, Firestone put together an Indianapolis 500 ad (above) that asked the question about Indy, “How do I love you? Let me count the ways.”

It may sound like hyperbole, but it’s hard to find anything not to love about this Sunday’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. Sure, a green flag finish could have helped, but tradition has always dictated the race stays just 500 miles, and does not implement a NASCAR-style “Green-White-Checkered” outcome.

Consider, from that standpoint, that the last two years the race has ended under yellow only because of a last lap accident (JR Hildebrand in 2011, Takuma Sato in 2012) marked by a driver either going for the win or trying to hold off pressure from behind. The 2010 race marked the last time an Indianapolis 500 ended with more than one lap under yellow, after Mike Conway’s savage accident.

From the view of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway pressroom, let me count the number of historical notes and/or records set on Sunday:

  • Tony Kanaan’s first ‘500 win in his 12th start ties Sam Hanks (1957) for the latest first-time win in race history, and was his ninth 500-mile race he led before winning.
  • Kanaan set a new record for the fastest ‘500 in history: an average speed of 187.433 mph beat Arie Luyendyk’s old record of 185.981, set in 1990.
  • Kanaan was the first driver to win the ‘500 with the number 11, and the first driver to deliver a win for KV Racing Technology under IndyCar sanction (its last win came in the Champ Car finale in 2008 at Long Beach).
  • Kanaan led this race 15 different times, as did Marco Andretti. That marks the most times any driver has led in both a winning and non-winning effort.
  • Scott Dixon extended his own record of consecutive Indianapolis 500 laps completed to 1,566, while completing the full 500 miles for a sixth straight year (ties Wilbur Shaw, Rodger Ward).
  • There were a record 14 leaders (old record 12 in 1993) for a record 68 lead changes (old record 34 in 2012).
  • Six drivers: Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Jakes, E.J. Viso, Carlos Munoz, AJ Allmendinger and Townsend Bell, all led the ‘500 for the first time.
  • The ‘500 tied the record for number of finishers (26, same as the first in 1911) in a full race distance, and tied the record for number of lead lap finishers (19 in 2009).

Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”