Monday , 22 July 2024
The field of 33 heads down towards Turn 3 on the parade lap. Photo: IndyCar

Top Five: Underrated performers at the 2019 Indy 500

The 2019 Indianapolis 500 was a tense thriller right from the moment the green flag was first waved until Simon Pagenaud blurred past in his luminous yellow Team Penske-entered car to take his a very popular and well-deserved maiden 500 victory. The story of the race was the tense battle between the 2016 series champion and the 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi. The pair were effectively at it for all 200 tours of the 2.5-mile oval and were absolutely the stars of the event.

Elsewhere in the field of 33 (which did not feature Fernando Alonso and McLaren after their embarrassing qualifying attempt), several other drivers from a vast range of teams and backgrounds had some mighty impressive drives that went completely under the radar.

Takuma Sato – Came from a lap down to nearly winning

The 2017 race winner dropped like a brick early in the race and was a lap down early on. Impressively, in a race of few caution periods despite the immensely tight field, Sato worked his way back onto the lead lap with the help of some superb Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing strategy. By the business-end of the race, Sato was right there. He didn’t quite have an answer for Rossi or Pagenaud, but very few seemed to on the day. He ended the race third, which while disappointing as it is not the win, is remarkable considering he was 32nd at one point.

Pippa Mann – Made the show with brand new team and finished commendable 16th

Photo: IndyCar

The sole Clauson-Marshall entry was raceday’s giantkiller. Mann brilliantly secured a spot in the show without having to fight in the last row shootout along with DragonSpeed and Ben Hanley. But the race unravelled early for Hanley. Mann, like Sato, went a lap down early on. However, she fought her way back into the thick of the action and took a controlled and career-best 16th. There’s a lot to like about this entry – from the superb organ donation message to how it conducted itself throughout the month to the overall result. Directly behind her were Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. That says it all.

James Hinchcliffe – Made up 21 positions in quiet but effective run

Indianapolis has a somewhat fractious relationship with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s Hinchcliffe. The 2016 polesitter started in the middle of the final row and was on the attack immediately. Despite eight trips down the pitlane (Pagenaud and Rossi made six), Hinchcliffe climbed more positions from his starting spot than anybody. Raceday seemed tricky for the SPM cars, and Hinchcliffe’s speed arguably was not as impressive as that of rookie team-mate Marcus Ericsson’s, but his racecraft was superb – not least with the excellent evasive action to avoid the collision between Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal.

Will Power – Bounced back from penalty to finish in the top five

It should not have been a huge surprise for the defending winner to have been in the thick of the action – especially a driver as fearsome on every kind of circuit as Power is. Power, for much of the early phases of the race, looked to be one of a very small number of drivers who could take it to the likes of Pagenaud, Rossi and front row-starting Ed Carpenter. However, on one of his stops, he was penalised for hitting a crew member in the pits. Power was forced to drop to the back of the field but picked off his opponents one by one to secure fifth in the race. A mighty comeback. Whether he was good enough on the day to beat team-mate Pagenaud is questionable, but he would’ve almost certainly have been a feature in that epic scrap.

Santino Ferrucci – Exciting youngster took deserving Rookie of the Year honours

Ferrucci is a young man who is making a good name for himself over in IndyCar. It is just as well after he completely tarnished it with his antics over in Europe last year. Ferrucci qualified a commendable 23rd for his first 500 behind two other rookies – the frighteningly talented Colton Herta and former F1 driver Ericsson. In the race, Ferrucci was one of the most exciting drivers to watch – pulling Rossi-esque moves in situations other drivers wouldn’t have dared to. Like Hinchcliffe, he brilliantly evaded being wiped out in the Turn 3 mayhem as a result of the Rahal/Bourdais clash. He may not have been the fastest rookie, but he did not put a single foot wrong when it mattered and deserves the coveted ROTY award that arguably should’ve gone to the Dale Coyne Racing team with Ed Jones in 2017. However…

What if…

What if Herta’s car had not expired so early in the race. One of the more intriguing stories going into the race is knowing what the fastest Honda qualifier had in the tank for the race, and whether the 2018 Freedom 100 winner could have challenged right at the sharp end of the pack. The race did not lack drama, intrigue, fascination and excitement, but Herta could have added a Carlos Munoz in 2013-like extra bit of immense rookie spice to it. And the race was much worse off for it.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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