Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay took his first Indy 500 victory by the slimmest of margins as the race descended into an a six lap dash to the finish.
The 98th Indy 500 race started with pole sitter Ed Carpenter immediately sent down to second place as James Hinchcliffe made a better start off the front row with Will Power holding station in third.
For the first lap – and all of the first 100 laps of the race – it was a sea of green flag laps. Save for Ryan Briscoe needing to pit for a new front wing, the field negotiated the first five laps unscathed.
On lap ten the first of the many duels for the lead took place, Carpenter dived up the inside of Hinchcliffe and into the lead with Will Power sniffing close by to leap on any potential mistakes.
At this point eventual race winner – and the first American winner since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 – Ryan Hunter-Reay, had made the biggest jump in the grid – moving from 19th to tenth.
Into lap 30 and the first of many pit stops took place with the grid shuffling about, the front pairing were the first to pit with the pack behind spreading their stops out over five laps with drivers – like Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya – really hitting their fuel saving targets.
However, for Montoya his hard work would seemingly be in vain when he was given a drive-through penalty for a pit lane speed violation. Thankfully thanks to a number of yellow flags – which we will get to soon – put him into a slightly disappointing fifth place.
Just before lap fifty saw the first of eight retirements from the great race and that dishonour went to Graham Rahal in the National Guard RLL Honda. He was struggling with the engine cutting out for much of the opening quarter of the race and eventually called it quits with 44 laps behind him.
In the gap between 50-100 laps the man on the move was Marco Andretti, the third generation racer was well on his way to breaking the family curse – much to the delight of the capacity crowd – but as in life the Indy 500 ain’t over till the fat lady sings!
Indeed it looked like the race would be a green one, 129 laps were in the books before the first full course caution came out at the speedway. That was for Charlie Kimball who span coming out of turn two and made light contact with the wall, he managed to keep going to the pit lane but decided retiring was the better part of valour.
As the saying goes, yellows breed yellows, and not long after the restart Scott Dixon took a spin on the traditional racing line and decided to go backwards through turn four, he hit the wall on the outside and the inside of the turn bringing out another full course yellow.
At restart Hunter-Reay was running first and Carpenter was running second, but not for long as Carpenter, James Hinchcliffe and Townsend Bell all decided to put on a show and went three wide in turn one. As might have been expected that ended badly, Bell slightly tapped Carpenter who then shunted into Hinchcliffe – sending the pair into the turn one wall and into yet another safety car situation.
This is the point that showed why the IndyCar Series is one of the most exciting single seater series out there at the moment, the safety car – driven by Dario Franchitti – came back in with 20 laps to go and from that point on there was a three horse dash to the
end with Helio Castroneves leading Hunter-Reay and Andretti.
The situation remained tense for 10 laps when Townsend Bell lost the rear of his car coming out of turn two and heavily impacted the barriers scattering debris across the start of the back stretch.
From that the Race Director made a very smart decision, red flagging the race with eight laps left to go so that the fans saw some cut throat action in the dying moments and by god cut throat action would come to them.
With a lap under the safety car to get the cars back up to temperature, that meant the field had six laps to do their thing and try to make something out of nothing and by god did Hunter-Reay and Castroneves need no invitation.
Lap in and lap out they were dicing for the lead, with two laps to go Castroneves seemed set to claim his fourth Indy win but Hunter-Reay wouldn’t be silenced and on that very lap he landed a lead change that wouldn’t be reversed. His eventual winning margin? IndyCar Timing and Scoring have recorded it at 0.06 seconds.
Third place, and rounding out the podium was Andretti in a sign that whilst the curse may be alive and well the young racer isn’t taking it lying down. In fourth place was Carlos Munoz showing that his second place last year wasn’t a fluke and that he has a good claim to take a win in the future.
This year the rookie to watch for was Sage Karam, starting a poor 31st on the grid he fought his way through and finished ninth – incredible for a driver only 19 years old. He certainly wins this writers award for drive of the day, whilst he may not have been featured as heavily his progress was stunning.