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After more than 30 years, legendary Blue Max and Cajun Cuda Funny Cars ride again this weekend


Before John Force became the winningest driver in National Hot Rod Association history, there were other drivers who were the Force of their time.

If you’re a longtime gearhead and drag racing fan, surely you recognize the name Raymond Beadle and his “Blue Max” Plymouth Arrow Funny Car, or Paul Candies and Leonard Hughes’ “Cajun Cuda,” which ruled the quartermile back in the 1970s.

Nearly 40 years later, those iconic cars will once again take to the dragstrip in the International Hot Rod Association Nitro Jam Spring Nationals Saturday and Sunday at Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway, right across the street from legendary NASCAR track, Rockingham Speedway.

The two legendary Funny Cars are part of  increasingly popular nostalgia classes in both the IHRA and NHRA (Hot Rod Heritage Series) that have been bringing back memories for longtime drag racing fans and are attracting new fans, as well.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” Dragway owner Steve Earwood said in a media release. “When I was the PR Director at the NHRA, I worked with the Blue Max guys as well as with Paul Candies and his series of drivers.

“Richard Tharp, he drove for both teams at different times, Mark Oswald, Leroy Goldstein, the list goes on. Those cars had personalities and I think that still resonates with our fans.”

The Blue Max and Cajun Cuda were among a crop of Funny Cars that not only put the NHRA and IHRA on the map nationally, they also barnstormed across the U.S. and Canada as the sport exploded to the greatest level of its popularity in more than a half-century of chasing the fastest elapsed time and top speed.

“Between them, the Blue Max and Candies and Hughes won seven IHRA Funny Car championships and four NHRA titles in the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s,” according to the media release. “In fact, Candies and Hughes once won both titles, IHRA and NHRA, in a single season (1984).

“Back then, the drivers were Beadle, who this year will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich., and Mark Oswald.  Now, they’re Ronnie Young of Dallas, Texas, and Mike Halstead of Fontana, Calif.

“Nevertheless, while the drivers’ names have changed, the mystique has not, which is why the nostalgia Funny Cars are among the hottest commodities in the sport.”

Beadle went on to parlay his drag racing prowess into a successful career as a NASCAR Winston Cup team owner.

In fact, it was Beadle who owned the car NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace earned his only Winston Cup championship (1989), not Roger Penske as many fans still get wrong even to this day.

Beadle had a special fondness for Rockingham Dragway while still a driver, winning the spring race there four times in seven years from 1975 through 1981, using three of those wins to springboard to the eventual championship that season.

Other legendary Funny Cars expected to compete in this weekend’s event are John Smith of Delray Beach, Fla., in a “Jungle Jim” Liberman tribute car, former IHRA Top Fuel winner and trailer manufacturer Bruce Litton in the U.S. Male Chevy Vega, and rookie Mike McIntire Jr. in the McAttack 1969 Camaro that won earlier this year at Bradenton, Fla.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant renewed interest in legendary dragsters of old, particularly Funny Cars.

Although they won’t be at Rockingham this weekend, legendary Funny Cars like Don “Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen campaigned their Hot Wheels-sponsored rides not only at NHRA races, but also barnstormed from one end of the country to the other. The special friendship and rivalry between the two was profiled in the recent Hollywood movie, “Snake & Mongoo$e.”

To see how drag racing was back then, check out the promotional trailer of “Snake & Mongoo$e” below:

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Karam: “I’m so bummed, because our car was so fast”

Photo: DRR-Kingdom Racing
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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for this month. Here’s his fifth entry, after a tough race on Sunday with an accident just before halfway. You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs here. He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Well, this is my last blog for the 100th Indy 500 and I felt this would be a celebration of a great day.

Unfortunately, it ended way too soon.

After the Monday practice and the Carb Day one-hour session, I was so pumped up about our No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet. I could put the car pretty much anywhere I wanted and could pass our guys fairly easily.

In fact, the car felt so car on Carb Day that we parked it early in the practice. The Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing crew, led by lead engineer Jeff Britton and chief mechanic Brian Goslee, had prepared a great car for the race. I was disappointed with my qualifying effort. That day we just had too much downforce in the car for qualifying. So, we had to start in the 23rd position, the middle of the eighth row.

It’s wasn’t great, but I know it was a long race too.

The morning of race day is always busy. You have media interviews, suite appearances, photos with sponsors and other activities. And this year, with Gas Monkey Energy as our primary sponsor, we had the “Fast N Loud” TV crew from the Discovery Channel following the team. Gas Monkey Garage co-principal Richard Rawlings was at the race and he is the star of the “Fast N Loud” show. It was fun to have Richard and his friends at the Indy 500. I think he really enjoyed it too.

The tradition of the Indy 500 is like no other auto race. It’s Memorial Day weekend and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway salutes our troops and veterans. It’s great tribute to them. Then you have songs like America the Beautiful, Taps, the National Anthem and, of course, “Back Home in Indiana.” My favorite song at Indy.

I knew at the start of the race that I didn’t want to be too aggressive. Just wanted to settle in and get a good rhythm early. And the car felt similar to last Monday and Carb Day.

I knew I could pick off cars one-by-one since our race setup felt so good. And that is what began to happen. The car had a little understeer or push in the early stages of the first stint. But I could manage it with my “in-cockpit” tools like the weight jacker. That shifts weight to one side to the other to help the handling of the race car.

I never really forced the issue in the turns of passes but I was 15th after 23 laps. It was a good start from 23rd. The team added a half-turn of front wheel on the first pit stop to help the understeer. In the second stint, the car felt great. I could run up on other cars and make the pass. By lap 45, I sat in 12th and was looking for just a bit better handling. On the third pit stop, we added another half-turn of front wing.

Now, the car was fast and I knew it. I wanted to pass people. On lap 75, I moved to 11th, then on lap 80 to 10th. The next lap I got to ninth past Scott Dixon, followed by eighth over Tony Kanaan at lap 84, and seventh over Mikhail Aleshin on lap 85. But lap 92, I went by Carlos Munoz for sixth.

Bell and Karam. Photo: IndyCar
Bell and Karam. Photo: IndyCar

Man, I knew I had a great car. Then next lap, I got around Townsend Bell for fifth. Josef (Newgarden) checked up out of turn four and Townsend and I tried to go wide. I think I had a little nose on Townsend. I’m sure he knew I was there and I thought Townsend would back out of the throttle and I could slide by on the high side. But Townsend’s car bumped mine and I slid into the gray area by the wall. I got sideways and thought I saved it. But it kept sliding and I clobbered the wall.

I’m more upset than hurt. I banged up my right knee a little. But we had a terrific car today. It was so fast. I could drive past everyone I came up to. The Gas Monkey Energy DRR-Kingdom Racing crew worked their tails off. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t put blame on anyone. Just a racing thing.

This is a hard one for myself and the whole team. We had a fast car and maybe a chance to win the race. I just wish I hadn’t run into turn one side by side. Again, it was another great experience with this team. They gave me a super car for the race. But I’ll be back here again next year. There’s nothing like the Indy 500.

Charlie Kimball overcame drama and debris to finish 100th Indy 500 in fifth

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It was not the way anyone would have planned, but a roller coaster Indianapolis 500 ended with Charlie Kimball near the front of the field and scoring major points.

Kimball started the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in 16th, never led a lap, and was forced to overcome a season’s worth of drama in 200 laps, but when the checkered flag waved he finished fifth.

To score that result, Kimball had to stretch his fuel 36 laps, the same number as eventual race winner Alexander Rossi.

Kimball’s result was not nearly as emotional as it was for Rossi. But it might have been more dramatic.

Rossi had to fight back from a drop to the low 20s early in the race but Kimball also had a crazy day in the temporarily renumbered No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet, which is usually No. 83 for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The 42 crew worked so hard all month long and then during the race, nothing went right, it seemed like, until close to the end,” Kimball told NBC Sports following the race. “We hit a huge piece of debris about lap 100 that changed the front wing.”

One obstacle would have been enough of a challenge for most drivers, but Kimball’s misfortunes were stacked one upon another. His car was struck by debris, he believed from Mikhail Aleshin’s car after his accident.

“There was a bumper pod that I thought was going to hit right on the cockpit. It took the right front wing, broke the mount, and then got lodged in the suspension. Debris just filled the side pod so we had to come down pit lane four or five times just to clean it all out.”

“Third set from the end we had a problem with the right rear tire. I just about crashed three or four times. And then with 15 laps to go—trying to save fuel to the end—I tapped the wall in turn one as well. It was an eventful day.”

“It’s tough to swallow this because the team worked so hard,” Kimball added. “Coming away with a top-five; it helps in points, but that is about the only salve for the disappointment.”

Kimball is ninth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

“We’ll take it. We’ll learn from it. We’ll move on. We’ll be better next week.”

Follow: @FantasyRace

Smith: Monaco brought out the best in Hamilton, but where was Rosberg?

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix always had the makings of a classic. As I wrote in my pre-race preview, wet races around the streets of the principality have seen the greats in Formula 1 history flourish.

And yesterday’s race was no exception.

Lewis Hamilton’s status as a legend of the sport has been debated for some time. When he crossed the line to win his third world championship in Austin last October, the enormity of the achievement surely made such a moniker fitting.

Yet in the months that followed, questions began to be asked about Hamilton’s focus. A run of eight races without a win – seven of which were won by Mercedes teammate and perennial rival Nico Rosberg – plus a crash in Spain that had hints of desperation could have made us think twice about Hamilton.

It was perhaps fitting that the emphatic answer came at the track where Hamilton stunned F1 in 2007 and 2008, winning the latter – not to mention it being where his hero, Ayrton Senna, made his name.

Lining up third on the grid, Hamilton knew that another defeat to Rosberg would deal another significant blow to his title hopes. 43 points down heading into the weekend, he cut his usual lonely figure on the drivers’ parade, sitting alone at the other end of the truck as he focused on the race ahead.

Johnny Herbert asked Hamilton on the parade why he was so grumpy.

“I’m not grumpy, who said that?” Lewis replied.

“Don’t listen to the noise. That’s the problem with people, they listen to what other people say.”

Hamilton has always preferred to do his talking on-track, but starting third under the safety car behind Rosberg and pole-man Daniel Ricciardo – who appeared to have the fastest car in Monaco – the challenge ahead was huge.

Once the track had dried enough to allow the safety car to peel in and the race turned green, it became clear that Hamilton had the edge over Rosberg.

Ricciardo eased away in the opening laps, running almost three seconds per lap quicker than Rosberg at points. By the time Mercedes made the call for Rosberg to let Hamilton by – which he did obediently, recognizing himself that the race was slipping away – the gap was 13 seconds.

As the track dried and intermediate tires became the order of the day for most of the field, Mercedes rolled the dice and kept Hamilton out on his worn wets, hoping that conditions would quickly become good enough for slicks. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely.

What we saw in Monaco was the Hamilton/Mercedes partnership working at its very best. Seeing a driver and team work in harmony to dig themselves out of a hole together is quite rare in modern motorsport – and given the struggles both parties have faced in recent weeks, it was all the more impressive.

Yet we cannot ignore the fact Red Bull threw the race away. The early lead that Ricciardo forged should have been enough for him to win it, only for the dud pit stop on lap 32 to undo all of the hard work.

Ricciardo came in one lap after Hamilton for slick tires, the initial call being for softs. However, after seeing Hamilton bolt on a set of ultra-softs, Red Bull made a late switch to super-softs – so late that the crew did not have time to ready the tires in time. Ricciardo was sat in his pit box for 10 seconds, waiting for the wheels to be attached. The margin to Hamilton at pit exit was minuscule – but enough to decide the race.

Nevertheless, Hamilton still had to hold the faster Ricciardo back and manage his ultra-soft tires. Pirelli’s pre-race prediction was that the new compound – making its race debut in Monaco – could last a maximum of 25 laps. Hamilton made his last 47.

“I’m telling you that was the longest run, particularly after I stopped for those tires,” Hamilton said.

“It was crazy how long that was and to understand how much you can use the tires, because you don’t know what end they’re going to go. I think the last lap was the time they were literally about to drop off, but thank God they stayed on.”

The sight of Hamilton and Ricciardo running nose-to-tail for much of the second half of the race was reminiscent of some of the classic battles in Monaco. Senna/Mansell? Not quite. But it was nevertheless a brutal fight, slugging blows back and forth. And somehow Hamilton stayed ahead.

It may have been lucky, but this will nevertheless go down as a career-defining victory for Hamilton. It is the win that ended his drought and banished the demons of the early season.

And, most importantly, it has brought him back to within striking distance of Rosberg in the title fight.

What happened to Nico in Monaco?

For a man who had won every race he had finished in 2016 and the last three in Monaco, Rosberg’s display on Sunday was massively underwhelming.

It was a race where drivers such as Hamilton, Ricciardo, Sergio Perez (P3) and Fernando Alonso (P5) stood out. Rosberg looked totally out of his depth.

After tip-toeing his way through the damp conditions, Rosberg fell behind Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Alonso when making the switch to slicks. A busy pit lane meant Mercedes had to hold him for a couple of seconds, costing him positions.

Even armed with his Mercedes though, Rosberg couldn’t fight back. The one time he did get past Alonso at the Nouvelle Chicane, he ran wide and was forced to hand the position back. On the final lap, his ultra-soft tires – the same compound Hamilton had made last – lost all grip, causing him to lose another position to Nico Hulkenberg. P7 and a measly haul of six points was his lot for Monaco.

“I don’t know what the reason was. It was just very difficult out there on the intermediates,” Rosberg told NBCSN after the race.

“I just had no confidence out there, so I had to stay quite far away from the limit. Then after that, I had to let Lewis past to give him the chance to win, because with my pace I wouldn’t have had the possibility.

“So gave that a go, and then of course he did win, so good for the team. For me, I lost out a lot in the pit stops and everything, so that was disappointing.”

For Rosberg, such a disappointing display could not have come at a worse time. The German is currently in crunch-talks with Mercedes regarding a new contract, with the sticking point at the moment being the length. This performance will have done little to strengthen his case.

Rosberg has certainly been impressive this year. His four straight wins may have been comfortable, but they were perfectly executed. It is when Rosberg is thrown in at the deep end and comes under pressure – think Hungary 2014, Belgium 2014 and the 2015 US GP – that the cracks begin to show.

In 2008 we saw Felipe Massa be made to look rather average by Hamilton in a damp Monaco. Fast forward seven years, and once again the Briton has turned the tide in the title race.

What was 43 points is now 24 points. Lewis Hamilton is well and truly back in the championship race.

Well, that’s if you ever seriously thought he was out of it to begin with…

DiZinno: Shock finish matches Rossi’s unpredictable, improbable rise

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 29:  Alexander Rossi, driver of the #98 Andretti Herta Autosport Napa Dallara Honda celebrates in victory circle after winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Some five years ago, May 29, 2011, I was less than a month shy of turning 22 years old. I’d just graduated college. I really didn’t know what I was doing with my life, other than I wanted it to involve some combination of racecars and writing.

I stood along the wall in the media center, watching in aghast shock as JR Hildebrand, a rookie, hit the wall out of Turn 4 in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 (but 95th running) and Dan Wheldon swept through – out of nowhere – to win the race in the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda.

Sunday, May 29, 2016, I stood along the wall in the media center… watching in aghast shock as Alexander Rossi, a rookie, crawled at little more than a snail’s pace – 179.784 mph for the last lap – to make it home to the checkered flag and win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda.

OK, so technically the team name is now Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian. The title sponsor has changed from William Rast to NAPA Auto Parts. And this time, the rookie American driver made it home and the second and third place finishers suffered heartbreak.

But man, other than those minor technicalities, history has a damn fine way of repeating itself – even if the circumstances of how they happened couldn’t be further apart.

For Rossi, who at 24 becomes the youngest and first Indianapolis 500 champion under 25 since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 – and supplants Montoya as champion of this race – he might agree that heading into the 2016 season he really didn’t know what he was doing with his life, other than he wanted to be racing and not on the sidelines.

Much as Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion, entered the two-timer club on a shock one-off win that year, Rossi became the first rookie to win in 15 years thanks to a perfect run on fuel strategy that saw him miraculously hit his fuel number to make it home 36 laps without a final stop.

Yet the final stint is but the latest chapter in the incredible story of how team and driver even came together before this season began, under abnormal circumstances.

Little more than three months ago, Rossi didn’t have a ride. Any ride.

And Bryan Herta barely had a team, after a reportedly ghastly sponsor loss.

Rossi was well positioned for a long overdue full-season seat in Formula 1, before Indonesian rookie Rio Haryanto bought it out from underneath him at Manor.

Meanwhile the driver Herta had done nearly everything he could to keep during the offseason – Gabby Chaves – would become a casualty of the situation through no fault of his own as Herta and Michael Andretti made an 11th hour deal to partner for this year and get Rossi on board. Herta was asked whether he found him but it was Andretti who had.

“We followed his career all the way through when he was in Formula 1 and Formula 3 even, all the way through,” Andretti said post-race. “He was our hot, young American prospect to be in Formula 1. He finally achieved his goal last year, which was awesome.”

Alas, it led to some consternation because it meant Chaves, the 2015 race and series rookie-of-the-year, was left sidelined and Rossi, a guy who hadn’t always given off the impression he wanted to be in IndyCar first, had a coveted spot at one of IndyCar’s three most competitive and storied franchises.

“It’s amazing. I got to say, we had such a weird off-season,” Herta explained post-race. “This partnership with Michael and his group kind of came out of a set of bad circumstances. I told him on the parade lap there, I said: ‘Thank you so much.’ Without him, I’d have been watching this one on TV.”

Frankly, it was controversial at the time. I’m not sure I helped matters any with a preseason column I wrote where I wondered about whether Rossi’s focus would be fully in IndyCar, given the substantial competition and his decision to balance his commitments with a reserve role at Manor in F1.

Yet what I realize today, as I decide what flavor of humble pie to order and what coffee choice I should pick from Alaska Coffee Roasting – one of Rossi’s long-time sponsors – is that I have only just understood how good of a driver Alexander Rossi truly is.

It’s not that I didn’t see what he could do in his European junior formula career. Far from it.

When you consider that Rossi moved his life away from America in pursuit of his Formula 1 dreams – not an easy decision, nor an easy journey – it was always going to take time to make an impression. And I’m sure that being, really, the only legit American abroad in pursuit of F1 didn’t help matters either… he had the pressure of an entire country’s hopes and dreams riding on his shoulders.

Rossi in Austin last year.s. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Rossi in Austin last year. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

When he finally made it to his five grand prix starts with Manor last year, I was overjoyed. He had had several would-be grand prix debuts pulled out from under him through no fault of his own – as many as five in 2014. Among other solid drives, he recorded arguably the most memorable 12th place finish in recent memory at Circuit of The Americas, in Austin, at his home grand prix.

“That’s a long journey,” Rossi said.

Then it all stopped, abruptly. And to me, and to others in the IndyCar paddock at the start of the season, it initially felt like Rossi’s trip here was merely a stopgap on the way back to F1.

But what has followed in the last three months has been a tour de force of determination, improvement and – most importantly – a relentless focus to succeed and silence the doubters.

Quickly, Rossi and his family have begun to understand just how deep the IndyCar field is. His dad Pieter has been by his side at every opportunity to understand it as well. Andretti Autosport’s early season struggles bared that out.

But signs were evident they were eventually going to be a factor from the first oval race at Phoenix and the most recent race at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Rossi at Phoenix. Photo: Getty Images.
Rossi at Phoenix. Photo: Getty Images

He’d run top-10 most of the day in Phoenix before shuffling back on pit stops and incurring a late-race puncture in his first ever-oval event. At the latter event, Rossi set race fastest lap and spoke of how the expectations had shifted to where he was now disappointed with 10th, when a month earlier 10th would have been a good result.

“Really the Indy GP for us was a big step forward in terms of confidence, kind of a general understanding of where we were at,” Rossi said.

“To carry that forward into all the practice, qualifying, and now this, it’s phenomenal. It’s just a huge testament to the great people I have around me.”

Then Rossi arrived at the Indianapolis oval and took to the place like a duck to water.

Rossi just delivered one of the best months in recent Indy history for a rookie, if not one of the best ones overall. His lines were clean and consistent all month; his speed right on par with his teammates.

Rossi's early laps at Indy. Photo: IndyCar
Rossi’s early laps at Indy. Photo: IndyCar

You simply don’t come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a first-timer – for your second-ever oval start – and rock up, run a clean, consistent month, then win the race on debut.

Yet Rossi did, aided by the combination of the five-car team, an ace engineer in Tom German who’d won this race twice before with Team Penske (Gil de Ferran in 2003, Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006), Herta’s strategy and a calm, levelheaded focus throughout the month to not be distracted by the magnitude of the place, the magnitude of the moment.

With tears flowing inside his helmet as he crossed the line Sunday, and with the world that had followed his path to F1 in tears as the American kid they rooted for along with him, only then could the magnitude of what was achieved be able to sink in.

“It won’t sink in for a while. I don’t want it to,” Rossi said.

“I want to enjoy this moment, enjoy it with the people around me. It’s obviously a huge honor and privilege, something I’m going to carry with a great sense of responsibility.

“We need to really push this forward. It was an incredible event for the hundredth running of the Indy 500. We need to do everything in our power to continue the momentum forward, make it even bigger next year.”

In one answer to one question, Rossi has just suddenly shifted the narrative.

For a Californian who adopted the European lifestyle in living over there for nearly a decade, he’s come home to Indianapolis, back to the U.S. To mention the words “next year” in the press conference is huge.

It creates the impression that in just three months, Indy has made a positive impact on Rossi after all. His first month of May was different – certainly – than most race events but once in the car, he knew he could deliver.

“It was busy. I was very happy to get in the racecar at 12:03 today,” Rossi laughed and admitted post-race. “Finally I can go do this and I don’t have to talk about it anymore, but here I am talking about it.”

He also headed into the race knowing he could win. He probably should have made the Fast Nine Shootout last weekend, bumped out only by a one-second gap when Mikhail Aleshin snuck in, but he knew early on a win from 11th was possible.

“Every time I get in a racecar, I want to win. I was incredibly disappointed with 11th. A lot of people were expecting me to be happy with it. There was a bit of criticism that I wasn’t happy with 11th as a rookie. Well, I’m here to win. That’s the goal I have every single time I get in a racecar,” he said.

Rossi leads Tagliani and Hinchcliffe. Photo: Getty Images

From Lap 5, Rossi thought he had a car that could pull off the upset.

“Probably Lap 5, if I’m honest. I had a bit of a conservative start. I was able to overtake cars. I was overtaking big cars,” he said.

“I knew if that was the case, we definitely had the opportunity to go forward. There were a couple setbacks we had, pit stops that put us back. We had to come forward again. Every time we fell back, we were able to come forward. I knew we were strong, the pace was there, we were able to pass cars, follow cars. It wasn’t much of an issue.

“That’s why I mentioned the emotional rollercoaster because I knew we had a car that was good enough to win. When you see yourself on the pylon, 29th, whatever, you’re like, ‘This isn’t great.’

“Yeah, I mean, it was kind of through the whole race. I just made sure the overtakes I did were necessary and strong.

“It was a culmination of a lot of things that got us there.”

And that takes us back to the final stint, and after Rossi had had a taste of the lead for the first time on Lap 122 and again from Lap 129 to 137, he had two pit stops to make it home, and Herta’s call to pit on Lap 164 was the winning one.

It would only work if the race stayed green – which it did.

One by one the would-be contenders around him fell by the wayside. Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell crashed on pit road. JR Hildebrand hit Helio Castroneves’ rear wheel pod. James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan were close-ish in terms of their car potential but fell back late.

And then Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden, arguably the two strongest cars in the field late on, peeled off in the final five laps needing a splash of fuel.

Rossi in disbelief. Photo: Getty Images

Rossi didn’t, and that fuel saving job he delivered in the last stint will enter Indianapolis lore in the annals of history. Herta’s sage advice is what helped get him there.

“It was just patience. Bryan kept reminding me the way we were going to win this race was by hitting the fuel number,” Rossi explained. “It was very difficult because obviously I had at the time cars in front of me that I knew I was quicker than.

“Throughout the whole race we were overtaking cars. It was very hard to then not do that, look big picture.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Bryan on the radio and offering the support and wisdom that I needed.”

Shock was the word of the day as it happened. But indeed, it happened.

“Did I imagine it would happen? No,” Rossi said.

“Did I want it to happen and was I working for it to happen? Absolutely. I was glad we were able to make it all come true.”