The biggest question about the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 lacked a definitive answer, but the field of 33 drivers certainly didn’t mind being asked about it.
After four crashes involving cars that got airborne or flipped on the 2.5-mile oval during the past two weeks, why weren’t there thankfully any such incidents Sunday?
It certainly wasn’t a lack of accidents. With six caution flags gobbling 47 laps, it was the most laps run under yellow since 61 in 2009, and 10 cars were involved in incidents.
Though several cars, most notably Tony Kanaan’s No. 10 Chevrolet, turned backward at high rates of speed as Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe did in practice and qualifying, none took flight. And aside from a foot contusion for Sebastian Saavedra, there were no injuries (Hinchcliffe is recovering after he lost a massive amount of blood when a part pierced his legs).
“It’s a very unfortunate thing to happen to me, but if I had to prove that we don’t flip cars anymore, here it is for the critics,” said Kanaan, who led 30 laps before his heavy impact on Lap 130.
IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker told The Associated Press that it validated the circuit’s decision to make changes to slow the cars down in qualifying and the race.
“It showed the decision we made in qualifying made a big difference,” Walker said. “We had a great race. That’s the takeaway from today.”
IndyCar will race at Belle Isle in Detroit this weekend before a June 6 race at Texas Motor Speedway’s high-speed oval, where concerns are sure to resurface. Track president Eddie Gossage told Motorsports Talk that he planned to discuss potential changes this week with the series, and RACER.com reported IndyCar was considering a return to 2014 bodywork.
Some drivers, though, were encouraged the fix might have seemed as simple as slower speeds.
“Most of the people who got airborne were at high speed in qualifying trim,” runner-up Will Power said. “Maybe we should keep it always below 230 (mph). That might be a lesson.”
That would be in conflict with the series’ goal of promoting an assault next season on the track qualifying record of 236.986 mph set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996, but Sunday’s scintillating finish (a three-way battle between winner Juan Pablo Montoya, Power and Scott Dixon for 15 laps) might change minds.
“We put on a heck of a show,” third-place finisher Charlie Kimball said. “You have to ask yourself what we’re here for. It was one heck of a motor race out there, in beautiful conditions. I think that showcases what the Verizon IndyCar Series is really about.
Said Graham Rahal (fifth): “I prefer to not understand the crash dynamics and keep the thing pointed straight.”
Power has advocated keeping downforce off the cars at speedways such as Texas, calling that “a massive leap in safety” last week.
“I think you should be lifting at every oval because that makes you a better oval driver,” Power said Sunday. “It should be about the driver, not just a fast car. I liked the fact today it was hard. One of the hardest days I’ve had running the track there. Rarely were you wide open (on the accelerator). Only at the end when you were leading were you wide open. That’s how oval racing should be. I think IndyCar needs to make the rules so it is that way.”