Drivers ponder why cars didn’t go airborne during the Indianapolis 500


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 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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.