Chris Graythen/Getty Images

INDYCAR Decade in Review: Best races of the 2010s

Leave a comment

Over the course of the last 10 years, the NTT IndyCar Series has held 169 races at 34 different tracks.

Though not every race was always a barn burner, the past decade has produced plenty of memorable races.

Here’s our picks for the 10 best IndyCar races over the last decade:

 

1. Auto Club Speedway, June 27, 2015

IndyCar’s most recent race at the 2-mile superspeedway in Fontana, California easily tops our list as the best race of the decade as it was the most competitive race in series history with a record 80 lead changes. By the time the race had ended, 13 of the 23 drivers entered in the event led at least one lap

The wild race saw a return of the side-by-side pack racing not seen since the introduction of the Dallara DW-12 chassis and also saw three and four-wide racing at speeds up to 220 mph. 

Chris Jones/IndyCar

But perhaps the most memorable moment in the race came as the leaders approached the start/finish line to take the white flag. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe made contact in the tri-oval, causing Briscoe’s car to violently flip as it made contact with the infield grass. Luckily, Briscoe walked away from the accident unscathed.

With the final lap of the race ending under caution, Graham Rahal won for the first time since St. Petersburg in 2008.

2. Texas Motor Speedway, June 12/Aug. 27, 2016

The 2016 Firestone 600 will forever be remembered as one of the most unusual races in IndyCar history for a multitude of reasons. 

For starters, the race holds the distinction of being delayed for over two months, as heavy rains plagued the originally scheduled race date of June 11. 

After the Saturday night race was postponed until Sunday, the rains returned once again and the race itself was red flagged on lap 71 of 248.

With several IndyCar competitors needing to leave for France to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following weekend, the decision was made to resume the race at a later date.

When the Indy cars finally returned on August 27, the fans were given a phenomenal race as a reward for their patience. 

By the time the final restart came with nine laps remaining, there were only five cars on the lead lap. But those five cars put on a battle all the way through the checkered flag.

In the end, it was Graham Rahal who passed James Hinchcliffe for the lead on the outside as the pack raced into Turn 3 in the final lap.

As the cars raced towards the finish line, Hinchcliffe narrowly closed in Rahal. But he was too late. 

Rahal crossed the line ahead of Hinchcliffe by the slim margin of 0.008 seconds to win the fifth-closest race in IndyCar history. 

3. Indianapolis 500, May 29, 2011

With three laps remaining in the 2011 running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” it was already apparent that the race was setting up for a storybook ending.

With many of the leaders needing to pit for fuel as the laps wound down, 23-year-old rookie J.R. Hildebrand inherited the lead of the race and appeared to be en route to his first career victory in IndyCar’s biggest race.

However, Hildebrand was about to make the ultimate rookie mistake.

In the final corner of the final lap, Hildebrand went high to avoid the slower car of Charlie Kimball. But Hildebrand miscalculated and collided with the outside wall.

As his damaged car slowly slid towards the finish line on three wheels, all Hildebrand could do was sit and watch as his Indy 500 hopes faded away.

Second-place Dan Wheldon quickly approached and passed Hildebrand for the lead on the frontstretch, taking the checkered flag to win at the Brickyard for the second and final time of his career.

Tragically, Wheldon was killed in a crash later that year in the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

4. Indianapolis 500, May 25, 2014

The finish to the 2014 Indy 500 will be one that many fans will likely remember for the rest of their lives

Following a hard crash by Townsend Bell on lap 191, IndyCar officials red-flagged the race for 11 minutes to ensure the 98th running of the event would end under green.

When racing resumed with seven laps remaining, it was a battle for the ages between Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

In the remaining laps, the duo would swap positions for the lead four times. As the field raced down the frontstretch to take the white flag, Hunter-Reay passed Castroneves on the outside in the final lead change of the race. 

Once the cars exited Turn 4 for the final sprint to the finish line, Castroneves attempted to make a final pass of Hunter-Reay for the lead.

But he was too late. Hunter-Reay held on to win by 0.0600 of a second – the second closest finish in race history.  

5. Streets of São Paulo, May 5, 2013

Some of the most exciting street racing of all-time came in the final five laps of the 2013 São Paulo Indy 300, as it was a three-way battle for the win between Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, and James Hinchcliffe. 

Fresh off his first career victory on the streets of Long Beach just two weeks prior, Sato was looking to become the first driver to win their first and second career victories in back-to-back starts since A.J. Allmendinger in 2006.

As the cars raced down the long backstretch with five laps remaining, Newgarden had a run on Sato and appeared as if he was going to be able to make a pass for the lead. 

However, Sato made a blocking move on Newgarden as the cars approached Turn 11 and Newgarden’s attempt to take the lead was unsuccessful. In the following lap, Newgarden was then passed by Hinchcliffe for second. 

With three laps to go, Hinchcliffe was right at Sato’s heels. But just as he did two laps prior with Newgarden, Sato successfully blocked Hinchcliffe as the cars approached Turn 11.

On the final lap, Hinchcliffe made the race-winning move. As the cars roared down the backstretch one final time, Hinchcliffe attempted to pass Sato on the inside, and Sato once again made a blocking maneuver. 

But as the cars were entering the final corner, Hinchliffe made a quick crossover move, driving into the outside of Sato to take the lead coming out of the corner. 

Hinchcliffe then had the edge in the final drag race to the finish line and went on to win IndyCar’s final race to date in Brazil.

6. Kentucky Speedway, Oct. 2, 2011

Fans who attended the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300 were treated to a side-by-side finish that saw a first time winner. 

Bret Kelly/IndyCar

With series points leader Dario Franchitti dominating the majority of the race, Sarah Fisher Racing’s Ed Carpenter found himself right up front with the leaders in the final restart 23 laps remaining.

When the green flag waved, Carpenter got off to a great start and quickly positioned himself right behind Franchitti.

On lap 188 of 200, Carpenter took the lead for the first time, and him and Franchitti swapped the top two positions four more times over the next eight laps.

Carpenter took the lead for the final time with six laps remaining and narrowly held on to win by 0.0098 seconds over Franchitti to collect his first victory in IndyCar Series competition. The margin of victory was the seventh-closest in series history.

7. Indianapolis 500, May 29, 2016

In 2016, the Indianapolis 500 celebrated a significant milestone – the 100th running of the race.

But that alone was not the only reason why the race will be forever remembered by fans. The 2016 Indy 500 also saw a future IndyCar star claim his first victory in exciting fashion.

After spending several years in Europe attempting to secure a competitive Formula One ride, Alexander Rossi found himself as an IndyCar rookie in 2016. With 20 laps remaining in his first Indy 500, Rossi found himself in the seventh position.

But with fuel milage in play, all of the leaders ahead of him eventually had to come in and make one final pit stop. With four laps remaining, Rossi took the lead of the race when his teammate Carlos Munoz came in to make his stop.

With a clear track ahead of him and a sputtering fuel tank, Rossi had to conserve all of his remaining fuel to the final drop.

As team co-owner Bryan Herta called the shots from the pit box, Rossi began to slow his pace considerably. 

Working his clutch and carefully listening to Herta’s instructions, Rossi rounded Turn 4 on the final lap to cross the finish line at a mire 179.784 mph. Rossi’s car then ran out of fuel on the cool down lap and had to be towed into Victory Lane for celebrations.

8. Indianapolis 500, May 27, 2012

Takuma Sato may have not won the 2012 running of the Indy 500, but he certainly gained a few new fans that day after he made a brave but risky move in the final lap that ultimately saw his chances of winning go up in smoke.

As the cars sped down the frontstretch to take the white flag, Sato ran in the second position, right behind leader Dario Franchitti. With only four corners remaining, Sato needed to make his move quickly. 

As Franchitti approached Turn 1, Sato attempted to dive under him in an attempt to make a pass on the inside.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Sato, however, his move did not pay off. He lost control of the car and spun, making contact with the outside wall.

With the yellow and checkered flags being displayed, all Franchitti needed to do was coast back around the track to the finish line and collect his third and final victory at the Brickyard. 

As for Sato, he eventually went on to win the Indy 500 five years later in 2017 by holding off Helio Castroneves for the victory.

9. Indianapolis 500, May 26, 2019

Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud put on quite a show in the closing laps of the 2019 Indy 500. 

With the final restart taking place with 13 laps remaining, Rossi led Pagenaud to the green flag. 

But almost instantly, Pagenaud put the pressure on Rossi, passing him on the outside entering Turn 1 to take the lead.

One lap later, Rossi returned the favor and passed Pagenaud in a similar manner entering Turn 1. But once again, Pagenaud passed Rossi on the outside and retook the lead with 11 laps remaining. 

Rossi then remained directly behind Pagenaud in a stalking position for the next few laps, waiting for the best moment to make an attack. With three laps remaining, he passed Pagenaud for the lead on the frontstretch. 

But Pagenaud took the lead for the final time entering Turn 3 with two laps remaining, and held off one last charge by Rossi on the final lap to win his first Indy 500. 

The win completed a month of May sweep by Pagenaud, who also won the pole position for the race as well as the IndyCar Grand Prix on the track’s interior road course.

10. World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Aug. 24, 2019

One week after being blamed by many of his peers as the cause of a multi-car accident at Pocono Raceway, Takuma Sato redeemed himself in exciting fashion by holding off a hard-charging Ed Carpenter to win at Gateway by the slim margin of 0.0339 seconds – the closest finish in race history. 

But while Sato and Carpenter fiercely fought in the final laps, third and fourth-place drivers Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden attempted to hold off rookie Santino Ferrucci, who was looking to clinch his first career podium. 

Ferrucci managed to get past Newgarden with three laps remaining, and in the final lap on the backstretch, he attempted to navigate around Kaanan.

But Kanaan blocked, and as Ferrucci entered Turn 3 he got loose after running into the marbles. 

As Ferrucci dove down back into the racing line, he nearly made contact with Newgarden, causing Newgarden to run into the infield grass and then slide across the frontstretch before finishing seventh.

Despite the disappointing finish, Newgarden still maintained his lead in the series point standings and went on to win his second championship at Laguna Seca a month later. 

Honorable Mentions:  2010 Chicagoland, 2013 Indy 500, 2015 Indy 500, 2018 Portland,  2019 Mid-Ohio.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter 

Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Graham Rahal Photo
Leave a comment

Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500