INDIANAPOLIS – Marcus Ericsson was beaten at his own game by Josef Newgarden, but that’s not why the runner-up to Josef Newgarden felt the finish of the 107th Indy 500 was unfair.
“I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did,” Ericsson said after falling 0.0974 seconds short of earning a $420,000 bonus from BorgWarner as the first repeat Indy 500 winner in 21 years. “I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green.
“I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race. I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. So I can’t agree with that.”
IndyCar officials threw an Indy 500-record three red flags to try to ensure a green-flag finish Sunday, and the last came with one lap remaining after a restart wreck caused the fifth and final yellow flag on Lap 196 of 200.
Three laps were run under yellow (with the field dodging the crash involving Ed Carpenter and Benjamin Pederson before the race was stopped. Cars were sent to the pits while the running order was reviewed (resulting in Newgarden being moved from fourth to second).
In an unusual procedure, after the cars were back on track, the white and green flags then were waved simultaneously for a one-lap shootout. Other sanctioning bodies (such as NASCAR) that try to guarantee green-flag finishes usually run at least two laps of green before the checkered flag.
Ericsson believed the race should have ended under yellow.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I just have to deal with it. I think I did everything I could. I did an awesome last restart. I caught Josef by surprise and kept the lead into 1, but it wasn’t enough, so for sure it’s hard to swallow.
“Yeah, I think it was just not enough laps. If they wanted red they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going, then I think they should have called it. But I’m sure Josef doesn’t agree with that and thinks that way, but that’s just the way I thought. I thought it was too tight to do the last red.”
Indeed after Team Penske’s record 19th Indy 500 victory, Newgarden, car owner Roger Penske and strategist Tim Cindric saw no issue with how the ending was managed by race control.
As the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, Penske goes to lengths to avoid any involvement with competition and officiating decisions but noted that “we want to see a checkered flag, not a yellow flag.”
“I’m happy they did it to give a good finish,” Newgarden said. “Obviously if I was in Marcus’ situation, I would have said, ‘Yeah, just end it.’ That’s great.
“I’ve also been in a lot of races where you get ahead of somebody like that and the yellow just comes out, and you’re going back to the timing line of Turn 4. And I’m like, what are you talking about? We’ve been sitting here for about 5 seconds where I’m in front of this person.
“There’s so many different ways that this could have played out and you could have said this is fair or that’s fair. I’ve seen it all. At this point I’m just really thankful they did it the way they did. I’m glad I had the car. I don’t really care. I’ve seen a lot of situations where it didn’t go our way. Today went our way, and I’ll take it. I’ll take it all day.”
Said Cindric: “Each restart could have played out a different way, and when you look at the fact that we lost the lead on one of the restarts, it can kind of go either way, and that’s kind of the way this place is now. I think somebody has got to win and somebody doesn’t. We’ve been on the other side of that, too.”
IndyCar officials often remind drivers in meetings that it’ll do everything in its power to ensure a green-flag finish, and that’s become particularly evident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The red flag first was used to help ensure a green-flag finish at the Brickyard in 2014. Tony Kanaan’s first Indy 500 victory had come in the 2013 that ended with three laps run under caution and much fan outcry.
“The biggest complaint we have every year was we shouldn’t finish a race under the yellow,” Kanaan said Sunday after finishing 16th in the final start of his IndyCar career. “Could have they called (the red flag) earlier? Yes. Could have, should have, would have, but we ended under green, and that’s what the fans kept asking us every time.
“I mean, look at this place. Do we really want to finish under yellow with all those people out there? For me, it was the right call.”
An estimated crowd of more than 300,000 was treated to a similarly memorable finish to last year when Ericsson used a move dubbed “The Dragon” to fend off Pato O’Ward.
After getting a good jump on the restart in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Ericsson used the same weaving maneuvers to break the draft of the trailing car.
But Newgarden still picked up enough of a tow to swing around Ericsson and into the lead on the backstretch.
The Team Penske driver began taking weaving countermeasures in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevy.
Coming off Turn 4, he dove below the white line (followed by Ericsson) and pulled just above the attenuator at the beginning of the pit lane wall on his way to the checkered flag.
“Yeah, I was about driving through pit lane,” Newgarden said. “It was legal is all I’m going to say. They were very clear that they are not enforcing that line, and they didn’t enforce it last year.
“I’m coming to the checkered flag, and I’m going to do everything I can to win this race, and I had to be as aggressive as possible, because the tow effect to just the first car was even more difficult than last year. You were just a sitting duck if you were in the lead.”
Ericsson also said a bevy of aerodynamic tweaks (intended to increase passing this year) had an adverse effect on “The Dragon.”
“The cars with the aero spec we had this month was a bit harder to lead,” he said. “I think last year was just a little bit less drag, and it was a little bit easier to be in the lead than today.
“I knew for that last restart it was going to be almost impossible to keep the lead. I did a great job there on the restart of catching him by surprise and getting a jump and not get overtaken into 1, because every restart it felt like P1 was going to P5 on every restart.
“I think I aced that restart, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Newgarden lobbied for IndyCar to make further changes that would make it harder to catch the leader (and thus help eliminate the weaving that had become “imperative because of this style of racing”).
“I think the cars should be more difficult to drive here,” he said. “It’s a terribly difficult balance for the series to walk because you want to have a good show. You want everybody to be as close together as possible and you want it to be difficult for someone to win this race, and I agree with that.
“But I think it’s not difficult in the right way. We’ve got to find a different formula where we can trim the cars out and they’re easier to follow in the pack. Basically all this downforce that we’ve added has only made it easier and easier for the first two cars, so when you’re the third car you’re still just stuck in that tow line where no one is really going anywhere. We’re all closer, but it’s only the first two that can really do something.
“So we’ve got to change that formula where it’s easier to follow in the pack, but you can also be rewarded if you’re better at driving the car with less downforce. I want to see the drivers that really excel get a better advantage. That’s why they pay us to be in the seat. That’s why they pay the engineers, to find the perfect setups that we can make an advantage. Not so we can win by two laps, but I just think the dynamic of the race, the complexion could look a little differently.”