Vincent Van Der Hoek
The month of May came to a dramatic close today with the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. More than 325,000 race fans descended on Speedway, Indiana to embrace all the tradition that surrounds the greatest spectacle in racing. The past two weeks have seen many hours of on track running through all the weather conditions you could think of. The field was set last weekend across two days of qualifying, in the end Scott Dixon took the pole position with a record-breaking 234.046 four lap average speed around the World’s Greatest Racecourse.
Orange causing Yellows
Dixon led the field to the green flag and experienced a very calm start to the race, outside of Alex Rossi who had an amazing start, most of the field slotted in line without taking a major risk. Dixon controlled the race from the front, getting overtaken a number of times by Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay. The two youngsters seemed to have their strategy firmly set, let Dixon stay out in front, while we save fuel behind. Veekay had mentioned prior to the race that he learned from last year, when he led the race for a number of laps, but in the end lost the flexibility of his strategy.
When the first green flag pit stops came around, it was indeed Dixon who kicked off the party on lap 31, followed by Palou on lap 32 and Veekay on lap 33. The status quo of the top three seemed to stay the same, with the #09 Chip Ganassi Racing driver in the lead of the race, followed by his teammate in the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing machine and in third the Dutch Orange #21 Ed Carpenter Racing machine. VeeKay seemed to be fully under control of his car, he qualified well and in practice appeared to have a very quick race car. The three were swapping places quite often, all managing their race strategy, but things took a drastic turn when VeeKay caused the first caution of the afternoon. The ECR driver experienced a quick snap in the middle of turn two and hit the wall on lap 39. It was quite a hard impact, however, the 21-year-old was uninjured in the crash.
Palou led the field to green when the race got back underway on lap 47. The restart was calm at the front, but the action happened in the back where Takuma Sato dared to make it 4 wide heading into Turn 1 and completed the spectacular move around the outside. In a matter of seconds, the two time winner of the 500 went from 10th to 6th. The race then followed the same pattern, leaders Dixon and Palou swapping positions once every couple of laps. All working towards another set of green flag pitstops. Just like in the first stint, it was Dixon who bit first, followed by almost silently followed by Conor Daly.
Chip Ganassi teammate Palou was supposed to pit a lap later, but rookie Callum Ilott threw a spanner in the works when he brought out the second yellow flag of the race. In quite similar fashion to Veekay, the British driver lost the back end of his Juncos Racing machine. Lady luck wasn’t kind to Palou, The Catalan driver was already committed to the pit entry and had no choice but to pass through the closed pit lane. The reigning IndyCar Champion then had to take an emergency stop for fuel. As per IndyCar rules, if you make a pit stop in a closed pit, you are forced to restart the race at the back of the field.
Through no fault of his own, the Indy 500 dream for Palou has to wait another year.
Turn 2: Part 3
After the pit cycle following the first yellow, Dixon retained his lead, but was followed by Indiana native Conor Daly to green after Palou’s penalty sent him to the back of the grid. As the field crossed the yard of bricks, Daly felt immense pressure from behind, but his eyes were forward. He took a look towards Dixon in the lead but decided against it, his patience paid off just a lap later when he made the move stick down the front stretch. The hometown crowd cheered Daly around the oval, but Dixon to the lead back not long after.
Come lap 82 Pato O’Ward looked to make a move on Daly, but it didn’t stick. Daly once again put his Ed Carpenter Racing number 20 machine to the front of the pack ahead of Dixon. The back and forth between the lead drivers suggested that the spotters were working together, similar to the fuel saving tactic teammates Palou and Dixon utilized when they lead the race.
Further down the grid, a few drivers had found their way out of less than desirable start positions. Scott McLaughlin was in an unfortunate 26th position going into the race after he was caught out by changing conditions in last week’s qualifying. By lap 86 the Kiwi was up to 12th and climbing. Four time winner Helio Castroneves also found him self in the third to last row after a bad qualifying performance, but had improved to P14 near the halfway point of the race.
Right as the third stint was coming to a close, turn 2 claimed another victim. This time fan favorite Romain Grosjean lost it coming out of the infamous corner and made a harsh impact with the wall before rolling to the infield. The former F1 driver was ok, but his Andretti Autosport car was destroyed, bringing his day to a close.
The field descended to the pit lane for a refuel and fresh tires. Daly won the race out of the pit lane and would lead the field to green.
A bad day to be a guy named Scott from New Zealand, Pt. 1
Once what remained of Grosjeans car was cleared off the track, the green flag flew once again. The field was led by Daly, but not for long. Dixon went for a move over Daly, but O’Ward and Santino Ferrucci took the high side over both of them. O’Ward took to the lead while Ferrucci made an attempt over Dixon but slotted in P3 after a few corners.
In less than half a lap, Daly fell down the order from first, and he wouldn’t be much of a contender for the rest of the race. O’Ward’s teammate Felix Rosenquist made an attempt on Ferrucci, but Ferrucci aggressively closed the door on the Swedish driver, Rosenquist would make it stick on lap 115.
Things slowed down on the brickyard as teams settled in the for the last half of the race. Dixon maintained his lead and continued to grow a gap between him and the chasing O’Ward. During this portion of the race Dixon overtook Al Unser Sr. for the all-time lap leader record holder at the speedway.
Colton Herta officially retired on lap 137 due to a mechanical issues. Herta was running his back-up car after a nasty crash on Friday left him upside down and the car totaled. The number 26 driver spent most of the race at the back of the field complaining about the new car was difficult to drive and “Sketchy”. Hertas retirement just piled on to an already bad day for the Andretti stable.
The pit stop cycle started up once again on lap 140 when Driver/Owner Ed Carpenter took to pit lane. Dixon came in a lap later and came out near the back of the grid. Daly pitted a lap after Dixon and Rosenquist pitted a lap after that. Pato was the last of the lead group to pit and came out ahead of Dixon into the lead on lap 148.
Continuing his rise through the field, McLaughlin turned laps off the speedway in the iconic Pennzoil Yellow Submarine paint scheme, but he would unfortunately not see the checkered flag. The Team Penske driver lost it at turn 4 on lap 152, McLaughlin hit the wall at scary speeds and impacted a second time after skidding along the wall. He got out of the car and didn’t incur any injuries besides what he called “a bruised ego”.
A bad day to be a guy named Scott from New Zealand, Pt. 2
The restart fell at an interesting point. 42 laps to go, everybody had to make one more stop, to get to the end of the race. The key to the race laid at the hands of the drivers behind the wheel, but also the men and women doing the pit stop. With 29 laps to go it was Rosenqvist who took to the pits. A good pit stop got him out still on the lead lap. Then the biggest turning point of the race for the 500 win occurred as the 6-time champion, one of the most experienced drivers of the entire field, Dixon, made a mistake locking up and sped in pit lane, taking the New Zealander out of contention for the race win. Rosenqvist would take the virtual lead of the race.
With two Ganassi drivers out of contention, the highest remaining Ganassi driver was Marcus Ericsson. The Swede had silently been running in and around the top 5 for the entire race, yet had stayed out of problems. A great final stop put him out right behind O’Ward, and it didn’t take long for Ericsson to make the pass around the Mexican. The Arrow McLaren 1-2 quite quickly turned into a 2-3 as the one Swede overtook the other. On paper, it wasn’t for the lead, but none of the drivers who tried to make it on a long fuel run made it to the end.
Things started to look even better for the ex-Formula 1 driver when he was able to get around Jack Harvey and Sato without losing time, the same couldn’t be said for the McLaren duo, O’Ward passed his teammate Rosenqvist, but got stuck behind Harvey. When the Mexican finally got through, the gap between him and Ericsson was 3.4 seconds, with 10 laps to go. One by one the laps were counting down and nothing seemed to be in the way for the Swede, until Jimmy Johnson put his car in the wall with 6 laps to go. The first thought of the Chip Ganassi mechanics is joy, but then with 4 laps to go, the race gets red flagged. Race control wanted a racing end to the 2022 Indianapolis 500. O’Ward was going to get one chance to overtake. 5 miles separated Ericsson from eternal glory, he had to survive two laps
At the restart Ericsson immediately starts to weave on the straight trying to break the slipstream, O’Ward behind is forced to defend from his own teammate, Rosenqvist. This meant that The Mexican would get only one shot at an overtake on the final lap of the Indy 500. The McLaren driver behind gets a big run into turn 1, however the leading Swede didn’t budge and remained in the lead of the race. The race was no longer in doubt, but it was set in stone when Sage Karam hit the wall causing one more yellow. Your winner for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is Marcus Ericsson
At the end of the day history will pick and choose what to remember from this year’s race, but one thing is for certain, Marcus Ericsson is an Indy 500 winner and nothing will ever change that. But the story spreads far beyond the man with the wreath, many drivers had a shot at glory today and some came tantalizingly close. Misfortune was the only thing that stood between Scott Dixon and a second 500 victory. Alex Palou was on track to fight for the win for the second year running but fell victim to an untimely pit closure. Pato O’Ward came within inches of victory on the final restart but wasn’t able to make the move stick. So many other drivers came within a whisper of victory today and therein lies the beauty of the Indy 500, you never really know who’s going to win until the checkered flag flies.