In the first victory by an American driver in more than eight years, Fort Lauderdale native Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 25, edging Helio Castoneves by six hundredths of a second in the second-closed finish in "500" history.
"This is American History, an American tradition, stated an elated Hunter-Reay. For me, this is more important than [winning] the championship. I hope the fans loved the finish, 'cause I was on the edge of MY seat! Thanks to my team, I love driving for these guys and thanks to Honda, we had an awesome engine today."
After running for the first 300 miles at the fastest pace in "500" history, a late-race red flag set up a six-lap shootout to the finish, with Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and the Honda-powered car of Marco Andretti in contention for the victory.
Hunter-Reay and Castroneves traded the lead repeatedly in the final six laps, with Andretti stalking less than a half-second behind. Charging into the first turn at the start of the final lap, Hunter-Reay swept past Castroneves. The pair ran nose-to-tail throughout the final three corners, but the Chevrolet-powered machine of Castroneves was unable to find the speed needed to complete the pass.
"What a fantastic day, and an incredible finish," added Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. "I hope all the fans loved it as much as we did. The entire HPD organization worked so hard to achieve this result – not just today, but starting months ago and all through the weeks here at Indianapolis. Their effort has been outstanding, and today's victory is reward for all of their efforts. This is our third win in a row, starting at Barber last month and the Grand Prix of Indy two weeks ago, and it feels like we're on a roll. So we're really looking forward to extending that streak to four- and five-in-a-row at the doubleheader in Detroit next week!"
Of course, not every driver in the race had such an amazing day. Simon Pagenaud battled an ill-handling race car to finish 12th in the event, leading a trio of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He had started fifth in the No. 77 Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, but spent most of the 500-mile race working with his crew to tweak his machine's performance.
"We struggled today," Pagenaud said. "We had a lot of inconsistency in terms of balance between different sets of tires. One of the tires blistered in the second half of the race, and we lost a lap when we pitted early to change it. I'm quite pleased with 12th in the end when you consider how difficult our day was, though."
The last quarter of the race was slowed by five caution periods after running caution-free for the first 149 laps. Pagenaud made the most of the final restart on Lap 194 to improve his position.
"We were able to gain several spots on the last restart, but on normal running we weren't where we needed to be today," Pagenaud said. "This sport is interesting. In our last Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, we were the class of the field and won. Today that wasn't the case, but congratulations to Honda on winning the Indianapolis 500 (with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay). I'm so proud to be part of the development of their engines, and a Honda win for any driver here is special. They work so hard, and it's nice to see them rewarded."
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver Alex Tagliani was able to gain five spots in the final seven laps, bringing the No. 68 SFHR Dallara/Honda/Firestone car to the checkered flag in 13th place. Tagliani, SFHR's secondary driver for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," started the 500-mile race from the 24th position on the grid.
"We had a good start, we settled in, and then all of the sudden we got loose with the car," Tagliani said. "I really didn't know if it was our tire balance or the aerodynamics, but we started with a lot of aero, and the car was a bit slow in the straightaways."
The No. 68 team hoped to pit under caution to take out wing, but the green flag flew for the first 149 laps of the 200-lap race. Tagliani led Laps 171-173 during the pit stop cycle, the fourth consecutive year he has led at least one lap in the "500."
"It takes a lot of time to take wing out and we kept pitting under green," Tagliani said. "We continued to trim the car until finally the car was balanced and quick enough to follow. We made some passes on restarts and had good pit stops to make up time."
Tagliani, from Lachenaie, Quebec, enjoyed working with SFHR for the two-week duration of the Indianapolis 500. This was his sixth career start in the world's most prestigious race but his first with SFHR.
"It's been a lot of fun to see the way Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing operates," Tagliani said. "Until you work with a team, you don't know what it's like. Hopefully it's a team that will become a two-car program, and I'll be right there when that happens. It's definitely a team with potential, and if one day they become a two-car team, with what they showed me this month, it's definitely something I'd be interested in looking at."
Jacques Villeneuve gained 13 positions to finish 14th in his first appearance at "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" since winning in 1995. 1997 Formula One World Champion Villeneuve stayed calm early in his third Indianapolis 500 start while the crew worked to improve the handling of his car.
"Today went according to plan," Villeneuve said. "I started toward the back, so I took a very easy start and didn't go for broke on the first lap. Early on, I wasn't happy with the car, so I hung back and focused on not losing a lap."
Unfortunately, Villeneuve's No. 5 Dollar General Dallara/Honda/Firestone car lost a lap to the race leaders. But Villeneuve regained his lap thanks to the multiple caution periods in the last 125 miles of the race.
"During the pit stops, we steadily improved the car, and luckily we got our lap back," he said. "At the end of the race, I felt that my car was really starting to catch its stride, and I drove more aggressively."
The first 149 laps passed without caution. That shocked Villeneuve, who recalled many more on-track incidents in his first two Indianapolis 500 appearances, in 1994 and 1995.
"Normally this race feels like a marathon, but today I felt like it was flying by," he said. "It was almost like nothing was going on. Everyone was just minding their own business turning laps."
Following the race, Villeneuve made it clear he has no intentions of waiting another 19 years before returning to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"After being away for 19 years, I was happy to be running quickly at the end," he said. "We ended on the lead lap and stayed away from the wall, so I think that's an acceptable result for being away for so long!"
Rookie Mikhail Aleshin suffered a mechanical issue that relegated him to a 21st-place finish. The Verizon IndyCar Series rookie started 15th and made several passes early in the race. He led Lap 32, becoming the first Russian to lead a lap in the world's most prestigious race. Unfortunately, a mechanical issue on Lap 91 marred his day.
"I was very upset that we had a mechanical issue because our car had a great pace today," Aleshin said. "We were racing (Sebastien) Bourdais and (Justin) Wilson early on, and I was very competitive with them. They finished in the top 10, so I'm very disappointed I wasn't able to race them at the end."
Aleshin ended up two laps down in his first career oval race in any series.
"Being off the lead lap ruined our day, but I still gained valuable experience since this was my first oval race," Aleshin said. "The crowd was so much larger than I expected, but it would have been nicer to get a result that reflected our true ability in front of them."
SFHR primary driver Josef Newgarden finished 30th in the No. 67 SFHR Dallara/Honda/Firestone after an accident eliminated him on Lap 168 of the 200-lap race. Newgarden started eighth and was running steadily in the top 10 before problems arose on Lap 123 after his car ran out of fuel.
"We had a good day going," Newgarden said. "We had a few communication issues and then ran out of fuel. We couldn't get the engine fired back over, which is why we lost laps."
Newgarden returned to the 2.5-mile oval after that problem but was forced out of the race when Martin Plowman hit his car from behind under caution on Lap 168.
"We got punted under a yellow," Newgarden said. "It was a bad day for all our boys that worked hard all month. We really had a good car, so we'll try to go to Detroit and be better."
The Verizon IndyCar Series moves to Detroit’s Belle Isle for two races on the island’s street racing circuit on Saturday and Sunday, May 31 and June 1. Both races will air live on ABC, with the telecast each day beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET and green flags at 3:50 p.m. The telecasts also will air on Watch ABC.