Tuesday , 1 August 2017

101st Indianapolis 500 driver-by-driver review

The 101st Indianapolis 500 produced a somewhat unexpected victory for former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato, becoming the first Japanese driver to win the great race. Sato, who finished third at Indianapolis in the 2004 United States Grand Prix for BAR-Honda, held off Helio Castroneves in the late stages of the race to take his first win for the Andretti Autosport team at just the sixth attempt. But how did the rest of the field do?

Andretti Autosport (plus McLaren, Herta and Shank co-owned entries)

Takuma Sato – started 4th, finished 1st

Sato’s win was indeed unexpected, but perhaps not the biggest shock imaginable. Credit to him where it is due – he was brilliant all month long. He kept it out of the walls during practice, chucked it onto the second row in qualifying (and second of the Andretti sextet) and was towards the front of the pack throughout the entirety of raceday. He waited to make his move to the front, and did so when it mattered. That doesn’t mean that he was any less exciting than we all expect from him though, because he was very risky at times as well. He was able to pick spots from the misfortune of others (including his more illustrious team-mates) but his battle with Castroneves was top stuff. He put the despair of 2012 behind him to take a brilliant victory.

Alexander Rossi – started 3rd, finished 7th

Rossi has silenced his critics with his second trip to Indianapolis. Rossi was very much in contention for the victory until a slow stop towards the end of the race dropped him through the field. Rossi was very impressive in qualifying with his front row effort, and was very much in play for the majority of the race until misfortune struck. He is quickly becoming the pacesetter at Andretti regardless of the track visited, which should raise a few eyebrows with his vastly more experienced team-mates.

Marco Andretti – started 8th, finished 8th

Andretti was another entry slowed by a pitstop problem late in the race. Nonetheless, he recovered well to finish in the top ten. His fast nine effort was a bit scruffy, but made decent progress through the early phases of the race. He was then slowed by a wheel nut problem in the pits, which effectively ruled out his chances of victory. Perhaps not the strongest of the six Andretti entries this month, but could’ve still featured more if things went his way.

Fernando Alonso – started 5th, finished 24th (mechanical)

It had to be an engine problem, didn’t it? Alonso did not really look like a rookie at all during his time at Indy, except maybe at the start. The amount of effort put in by Zak Brown, Andretti, McLaren and Alonso himself was clear to see. He put in a very good qualifying effort (but not quite perfect) to qualify on the second row. He was cautious at the start (not something we often see in F1), but started to work his way towards the front. He was strong in traffic, he looked ominously strong in clean air (although pulling away is not always ideal on these ovals) but dropped back a little bit towards the final pitstop sequence, when the drivers really start to get their elbows out. Then, the Honda engine expired. Could Alonso have won this race? It would’ve been tough, but he certainly should’ve been in the mix. He’ll be back though, and thoroughly deserves to win this race at some point.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – started 10th, finished 27th (mechanical)

Hunter-Reay certainly started out of position. He was unlucky with the qualifying draw on Saturday, which meant that the track conditions for his run were far from ideal. He restricted the damage done from that brilliantly by being top of the 10-33 group. Hunter-Reay made swift work of those in front of him, and led a decent chunk of the race, before his Honda engine went pop. He was another driver who very much could have won this race, had things gone his way.

Jack Harvey – started 27th, finished 31st (contact)

Rookie Harvey spent a fair amount of the event towards the back of the field, as he tried to acclimatise himself with the famous speedway. 27th wasn’t a bad effort in his first qualifying, but was some way off the other five Andretti entries. He was unfortunate to run over some debris left by Conor Daly’s crash, which resulted in him instantly losing the car and ending his day.

Team Penske

Helio Castroneves – started 19th, finished 2nd

What a strange day for Castroneves. What a strange month for him. He, along with the rest of the Penske entries were absolutely anonymous for much of the month. They weren’t even the fastest Chevrolet-powered team, which was very strange to see. 19th on the grid is not common for the Brazilian. He then overtook Scott Dixon by literally going under him, which damaged his rear bodywork. He suffered a penalty, yet still finished second. Penske’s strategy and pitstop work were top-notch as always, which certainly helped. But Castroneves seemed to be quicker despite the damage to his car. With five entries of such driving quality, more should have been expected from Penske.

Juan Pablo Montoya – started 18th, finished 6th

Montoya was a Penske entry which was anonymous for pretty much the entirety of the month. It didn’t take him long to get up to speed this month, but like the other cars simply lacked the speed. Pitstops helped him work his way towards the front, but he never really quite got there. Disappointing.

Simon Pagenaud – started 23rd, finished 14th

How could a car so bright be so difficult to spot during the race? Because it simply did not feature. Reigning champion Pagenaud was nowhere to be seen for much of the month. He qualified towards the back of the pack, and spent the majority of the race running four or even five-wide with other midfield runners. He finished behind some entries which were much less prepared than he was.

Josef Newgarden – started 22nd, finished 19th (14 laps down)

There’s a re-occurring theme here. Newgarden was also nowhere to be seen for much of the month, except for when he crashed the car heavily during practice. He spent much of the race in the middle of the pack, which is also where he qualified. The risk of running in the middle is being caught up in a big incident, and that is precisely what happened to Newgarden.

Will Power – started 9th, finished 23rd (contact)

It is not common to suggest that Power is the strongest Penske driver on an oval, but that seemed to be the case this year at Indy. Power was the only Penske entry to make his way into the fast nine (with a superb effort on Saturday) and kept with the leaders for a large chunk of the race, notably at the start. He did seem to drop back though, and got caught up in the melee on lap 183, ending his race.

Dale Coyne Racing

Ed Jones – started 11th, finished 3rd

Picking Rookie of the Year honours is going to be unbelievably difficult this year. Yes, Alonso performed admirably, but he had five team-mates. Jones, the only full-time rookie in the field, is now the de-facto team leader at Dale Coyne Racing. He did stellar to qualify just outside of the top ten, and for a while looked as if he could’ve snuck into the fast nine. A typical Coyne strategy helped vault Jones to towards the front, and for a while it looked as if he could have won the thing at the last minute. It wasn’t to be though, but third is still a very solid effort for the young Brit from Dubai.

Pippa Mann – started 28th, finished 17th

Mann took her best finish in the 500 in this attrition-filled race after a few issues in the pitlane dropped her down a lap. During the month, she became the first woman ever to do a lap of Indianapolis at an average of over 230mph.

James Davison – started 33rd, finished 20th (contact)

Davison put in a really strong effort considering his late call to the team in place of the injured Sebastien Bourdais. The car was certainly quick based on what the Frenchman did on his first qualifying lap, and from last place it was only upwards for Davison. A damaged front wing very nearly ended his day, but his team delayed bringing him in for as long as possible, which resulted in a penalty. Fortunately for Davison, a caution came out at the perfect time for him, and strategy brought him into contention. He led for a few laps, before dropping back after another caution and subsequently being taken out in the lap 183 chaos.

Chip Ganassi Racing

Max Chilton – started 15th, finished 4th

Chilton led the most laps in the race and achieved his best finish yet in the IndyCar series. He was quick for much of the month, but was still someway off his more experienced team-mates. Good strategy calls helped bring him right into contention and his restarts from the front were absolutely masterful. Unfortunately for him, he dropped back a little bit right at the end, but this was by far his best showing on an oval in IndyCar yet.

Tony Kanaan – started 7th, finished 5th

Kanaan played up his and Ganassi’s chances ahead of this race, and rightly so. He put in a good effort to work his way to seventh at the start, and it did not take him long to work his way to the very front with team-mate Scott Dixon. However once Dixon was eliminated, Kanaan dropped back a little bit. He worked his way back towards the front though, but a second victory eludes him still.

Charlie Kimball – started 16th, finished 25th (mechanical)

Kimball had a solid month. Qualifying in the middle of the pack is where one would expect him to be, and he was working his way towards the front through strategy and pitstops before his engine popped.

Scott Dixon – started 1st, finished 32nd (contact)

Dixon is a very lucky boy following his acrobatic display at 170+mph. He was magnificent in qualifying, and took a very impressive pole position. He also played the waiting game at the start, allowing team-mate Kanaan to lead much of the race in the early stages. Dixon’s car wasn’t perfect to begin with, so it is unclear to tell how the rest of the race would’ve panned out for him. The levels of safety involved in IndyCar can be highlighted by this incident.

Harding Racing

Gabby Chaves – started 25th, finished 9th

The surprise of the top ten has to be Chaves with new team Harding Racing. Putting a new team together is no easy job, but Chaves and his team did a superb job to sneak into the top ten at the chequered flag. A brilliant effort.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Carlos Munoz – started 24th, finished 10th

This was expected to be a tough May for Foyt’s team, following the switch to Chevrolet. Munoz did pretty well considering, even if he didn’t play the sort of role we have come to expect to see from him. Tenth is a solid, yet unspectacular result.

Zach Veach – started 32nd, finished 26th (mechanical)

Veach was the slowest of all the qualifiers on the second day of qualifying, and had a pretty tough maiden Indy 500 run. He was plagued with issues throughout the day before retiring on lap 155.

Conor Daly – started 26th, finished 30th (contact)

Daly was in the thick of the midfield action before a rather ambitious move around multiple cars took him (and Harvey) out of the event. He did not look particularly comfortable throughout much of the month.

Ed Carpenter Racing

Ed Carpenter – started 2nd, finished 11th

All things considered, 11th place after a half-spin is not a disaster for Carpenter, but it is very much a case of what might have been. He and his own team did a superb job to be top Chevrolet throughout the month. Second in qualifying is a stellar result for the oval-only driver. He remained in contention for a long time, but dropped back somewhat in the stops and eventually broke his wing, which dropped him well down the order.

J.R. Hildebrand – started 6th, finished 16th

Hildebrand, much like his team-mate was in contention for much of the day. He dropped back at the end though, and was the last car on the lead lap.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Graham Rahal – started 14th, finished 12th

Rahal took a while to really get up to speed this year. By that time, qualifying was already over and done with, leaving him a lot of work to do from the middle of the pack. Good strategy helped him towards the front, before a late puncture put him out of contention.

Oriol Servia – started 12th, finished 21st (contact)

Spain’s ‘other’ driver in this race had a very impressive month. In his first race of the season, Servia featured quite a lot. However, he was the main culprit in the lap 183 shenanigans which wiped out five cars.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Mikhail Aleshin – started 13th, finished 13th

The Mad Russian cannot simply get a break. 13th in qualifying was not too bad considering where his team-mates ended up. However his race was hampered by getting the side of his car punctured by Carpenter’s wing. Amazingly, Aleshin was able to continue, albeit finishing where he started.

James Hinchcliffe – started 17th, finished 22nd (contact)

Hinchcliffe had a much trickier May than recent years (2015 aside, given that he got a suspension through the pelvis that year). He quietly worked his way towards the front as many others did, before being caught out by the Servia crash. He was unfortunate to be caught up in that, considering he was hit from the side by Power.

Jay Howard – started 20th, finished 33rd (contact)

Howard had been out of an Indy car for several years prior to this running of the Indy 500. He qualified very well considering, and even headed the speed charts on one of the days. However the race did not go well. He ran out of fuel early on, putting him several laps down. He then rather clumsily put himself into the wall and rebounded into the path of Dixon.

Juncos Racing

Sebastian Saavedra – started 31st, finished 15th

Saavedra quietly went about his business for new team Juncos and had a pretty uneventful run to 15th place from the back row. He kept it out of trouble though, which is the main thing for the team looking forward.

Spencer Pigot – started 29th, finished 18th (6 laps down)

This race was all about getting mileage and experience for the Juncos team, and that is what they did. Pigot clearly did not have a trouble-free afternoon, but getting two cars to the finish is a brilliant result for Juncos on their debut in IndyCar.

Dreyer and Reinbold Racing

Sage Karam – started 21st, finished 28th (mechanical)

Karam’s one race of the season was going pretty smoothly until an alternator failed on his car. Qualifying 21st in his sole appearance this year is a solid effort. Unlike previous years however, he seems to have toned down his aggression a bit, which will be important for the youngest driver in the field.

Lazier Partners Racing

Buddy Lazier – started 30th, finished 29th (contact)

It took a while for Lazier’s car to get running this month, but he was solid once he did get going. However his race ended just after the half-way point, and complaints of chest pains resulted in a trip to hospital for the oldest driver in the field. He has since been released.

About Craig Woollard

Craig Woollard is an avid motor racing fan and freelance journalist and writer. A mathematics graduate from the University of Essex in 2013, Woollard has ambitions to work within motor racing. He is a member of Autosport's academy programme. In his spare time, he listens to music, sim races, wears hats and drinks cranberry juice.

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