Tuesday Crew Chief: Indianapolis 500
The 102nd Indianapolis 500 was a different show from what fans have been used to since 2012.
Facing one of the hottest afternoons in the history of the May classic, passing became difficult, and veterans suddenly struggled to keep control. From my position inside turn one, you could hear pilots backing off, a tactic that was used at each of the four corners, even by the race leaders.
With those parameters on the table, front row qualifiers Will Power and Ed Carpenter took advantage. After the owner-driver controlled the proceedings in the first half of the event, a strong green flag pit stop vaulted the Australian to the head of the list, a possession he would maintain over the final 250 miles.
This victory provides several accolades for the 10-year Team Penske chauffeur, ones that may forever remove the tag of him being a road course-specialist. Sunday’s kiss of the bricks gives the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion a third triumph at a super-speedway, adding to previous scores at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in California. He also is the first competitor to sweep both legs of the May double at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having captured his third IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Team Penske, of course, must be included in the conversation. Sunday’s cash-in is number 17 in 50 appearances at the Brickyard for the Captain’s men, a record that may never be matched. Although organizations like Andretti Autosport have threatened the multi-dimension race squad’s dominance in recent years, the Chevrolet-powered group remains the target that others strive to defeat.
One of those groups is fellow GM runners Ed Carpenter Racing. In the early returns, the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet looked unbeatable. The team boss easily pulled away from the competition in the opening two green flag stints and quickly reversed an overtake by Tony Kanaan to reassume P1. However, the lead loss exposed a significant flaw in ECR’s setup plan.
On the final restarts, it was clear that Carpenter had too tall of a gear in the transmission. Will Power was able to pull away from the Indianapolis-native and with track conditions siding against overtakes in long runs, the hometown star was able to remain in second place; however, a serious challenge to wrest the top spot away was not possible.
Still, second in the Indianapolis 500 shows that Ed Carpenter is far from putting away his helmet to focus only on team ownership. Sunday’s performance is also evidence that ECR is also not a one-trick pony. They can be contenders in race-trim as much they have been in four-lap time trial mode.
Outside of the top rabbits, the biggest charges Sunday were from Alexander Rossi (fourth) and Graham Rahal (tenth), both after suffering humiliations in qualifying last weekend. It was not a joyride for either pilot at the 2.5-mile oval. Rahal nearly avoided being collected in his teammate Takuma Sato’s crack-up with James Davison on lap 47, while Rossi narrowly missed a spinning Danica Patrick on lap 68. Aggression was paramount in both participants’ assaults. Unlike most drivers, the two popular wheelmen showed a willingness to rim-ride their Dallaras around the outside of others on the south end of the track on restarts, gaining precious ground.
The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner made one final push to take second from Ed Carpenter on the next-to-last restart but was fought off. Still, a fourth-place return keeps Rossi only two points behind WIll Power in the championship standings heading to the doubleheader in Detroit next week.
As for the rest of Sunday’s combatants, the most notable were those who found the fence or fell just short of perfection in rolls of the dice. The most influencing on the finish were Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, and Jack Harvey, who each attempted to steal the race victory from Power by extending their fuel mileage. The scenario would have been especially big for Wilson, who had not driven in an IndyCar race for over two years and having lost his brother Justin in a race-related accident in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the fuel mileage risks failed; however, the late publicity could be a boon for each of the lesser-off squads represented, especially the Spaniard’s Scuderia Corsa group, who is reportedly interested in running more rounds in 2019.
Opportunities were also lost for other one-off participants and notable full circuit entrants. For Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam, Sunday continued a frustrating trend at Indianapolis. While running in the top ten, the Pennsylvanian lost control and clouted the turn four wall. The incident is his third in four years and has continued a string of DNFs that will increase the difficulty of re-joining the IndyCar Series as a regular entrant. An early bath continued Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones frustrating open to 2018, while Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach was the victim of two fires on pit road, caused by a malfunctioning fuel nozzle.
With May in the record books, the Indianapolis 500 has a lot to look forward to for 2019. NBC takes over television broadcasting duties from ABC. The new Dallara body kit should be much improved after its first battle against sweltering track conditions. And of course, the fight to keep up with Penske should provide further motivation to take the challenge to them at the Brickyard.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.