INDIANAPOLIS – With the month of May now complete, here’s some final thoughts on this year’s full rundown of Indianapolis 500 festivities:
- Takuma Sato will be a class winner. Sato’s already got the respect of the paddock and the adoration of the Indianapolis fans, and his welcome appreciation and understanding of what he achieved on Sunday will stand large for however long he continues to compete in the race. At age 40 though, and with what he’s been through over the course of his career in both F1 and IndyCar, you could tell how much this sunk in at the moment. Sato’s old reputation for crashing has definitely subsided in recent years and he’s already making the most of the media rounds. He’ll be a good champion.
- Andretti Autosport’s six-pack strategy worked. With six cars in the race, at least four of them for Andretti Autosport boasted realistic win chances. Sato emerged from a group that also included Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Fernando Alonso, before all three hit trouble later in the race. Marco Andretti held on to eighth despite losing a rear wing end fence while Jack Harvey’s month of gradual improvements came to a halt in the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti car when he got collected by debris from Conor Daly’s car, through no fault of his own.
Helio Castroneves drove one of the best races of his career. Sometimes it’s hard to properly appreciate Castroneves, but what he did Sunday in a car down on power and after also losing one of his rear winglets was one of the most impressive drives he’s done in 20 years, bar none. None of the other Chevrolets had a particularly realistic shot, but Castroneves drove most of the race with a car seemingly set up for qualifying in the race. It doesn’t ease the sting of his losing out on a fourth ‘500 win, but he gave everything he had and then some for Team Penske.
- Fernando Alonso lived up to the (excessive) hype. On-track, Alonso did all he needed to do and then some. He proved his point; he was a definitive victory contender with his drive in the race, the capper to a month where he hit all the key notes he needed to both on-and off-track. And he rolled with all he needed to do, never saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way in public sphere. His acceptance speech for Sunoco Rookie of the Year was gracious and humble. While he did well, as the month wore on, it became obvious the hype shifted from adoration to overkill, and indeed the story line of Alonso vs. “The Other 32” often superseded the remaining competitors. Indeed Alonso’s presence was good for IMS and for the Indianapolis 500, and good for PR value for both him and McLaren, although his winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year raised some eyebrows. But the circus moves on without him to Detroit next weekend, and normalcy will be restored to the galaxy.
- Revenge of the old guys. A year ago, youth dominated the top-five and top-10. Sunday, the 40-year-olds had their day. As noted by IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman, with Sato (40), Castroneves (42), Tony Kanaan (42) and Juan Pablo Montoya (41) in the top six, and with Oriol Servia (42) poised to have finished near them if he didn’t get collected in the final accident, there’s a good chance five of the six 40-somethings in the field could have all been in the top six or seven. Even Buddy Lazier, now 49, was more competitive this month than in recent years thanks to Mitch Davis’ input, and could have ended in the top-20 had he not had his accident at Turn 2.
Two lucky escapes. Although Sebastien Bourdais did sustain the multiple pelvic fractures and fractured right hip, he’s already working hard on the road to recovery. And Scott Dixon survived one of the more horrific looking accidents in recent memory on Sunday. We could already joke about it once Dixon was checked and released. INDYCAR has made headway on safety enhancements over the years and the combination of the HANS device and SAFER barrier were paramount to both drivers – and the others involved in accidents this month – to keeping the field safe. Some cries for canopy protection were made, as could be expected, but it’s worth noting how fast Dixon was already climbing out of his car in the race, and how quickly Bourdais wanted to get out but couldn’t after his smash.
- Reliability a welcome story line to see back. The Honda camp would probably argue otherwise, but there was something magical about seeing booms and pops like the days of old, because it meant the Hondas were pushing the envelope like hell. Chevrolet runners had a quiet confidence their aero and reliability edge could steal them the race, but Honda’s pace and skill set from its pack of 18 drivers netted them the win. Knowing the outcome was in doubt as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball and Fernando Alonso all fell by the wayside was fascinating to watch, and it opened doors for the likes of Sato, who won, and both Ed Jones and Max Chilton who were third and fourth.
- Former Carlin teammates Jones, Chilton emerge at head of the young guns. In a good race for a number of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires graduates, it was former Carlin teammates Jones and Chilton who ultimately led the way as Honda’s – and IndyCar’s – surprise revelations among the young chargers. Jones, 22, and Chilton, 26, were competitive from the word go this month and never looked overmatched for the moment. As IndyCar has not had a first-time race winner since Alexander Rossi at last year’s Indianapolis 500, both of these two have thrown their hat in the ring to be next up among the first-timers. Carlos Munoz made the most of his day with A.J. Foyt Racing and ended a more than solid 10th. Lots of others impressed, notably Gabby Chaves in Harding Racing’s debut and Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot, the latter of whom held on to a brutally handling car for Juncos Racing’s debut. James Davison also did a nice job in his progression through the field before his accident late on.
Elsewhere in the field. Neither Graham Rahal nor Oriol Servia were able to parlay pace into a result for RLL Racing. A puncture resigned Rahal to 12th after he led, while a potential top-three for Servia went begging when he got caught up in the five-car accident. … Penalties also sabotaged the days for Ed Carpenter Racing’s pair of Ed Carpenter (work in a closed pit) and JR Hildebrand (jumped a restart), leaving them an unrepresentative 11th and 16th. … Carpenter (front wing loss), Mikhail Aleshin (sidepod damage), Simon Pagenaud (rear wing assembly damage), Jones (hole in the nose) and Marco Andretti (lost rear wing end fence) were all among those who had to press on with damage during the race, on a chaotic afternoon where a lot of bits of bodywork flew. … Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden had rare off months, never fully able to contend for Team Penske, which was hard to fathom. … Similarly, it was a tough month for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with multiple engine issues, relatively anonymity from the usually exciting Mikhail Aleshin, a tough end for James Hinchcliffe and an early end for the returning Jay Howard, who’d been fine all month but didn’t cover himself in glory with his accident and then blaming Ryan Hunter-Reay after his crash. … Quiet credit to Pippa Mann who endured a tough month dialing in the feel of her Dale Coyne Racing Honda, but pressed on anyway for a ‘500 career-best 17th place. She’s now finished her last seven 500-mile races in IndyCar in a row dating to 2014. … Alternator problems affected Sage Karam before his DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet could ever really get going. … It was hard not to feel a bit for Stefan Wilson this month. Having stepped out for Alonso’s seat to materialize and then finding out he didn’t get Coyne’s seat as a fill-in for Bourdais were two blows to him. One hopes he’ll be in this race next year, beyond the promises.
The normalcy of the IndyCar schedule, albeit after a crazy week for the crews in tearing down their speedway cars and prepping their street course cars for the Detroit doubleheader this weekend, resumes on Friday.