CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Doug Mathews/IndyCar photo —
If you didn’t like the outcome of the 100th running of the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” otherwise known as the Indy 500, what in the world were you hoping for?
As far as I’m concerned, fate couldn’t have possibly written a more perfect script.
Alexander Rossi — born in California and raised in open-wheel racing — was given the opportunity to run his debut season in the American open wheel spectrum thanks to a collaborative effort between Indy car legends Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti, after losing his ride with Manor’s mid-pack F1 team, where he made five starts last season.
Now 24, Rossi walked into the Brickyard as a rookie and walked off with a stunning upset victory.
The race came down to pit and fuel strategy, which should take away nothing from this team’s accomplishment. He had the fastest lap of the race. He was running 33rd at one point and drove all the way back through the field. He earned the win as much as anyone else in the race would have.
And what a race it was.
Fourteen (yes, 14) Americans started this year’s 500, the most since about 2001. That’s a good sign for future hopefuls, and Rossi’s win as a rookie also still shows that however the odds fall, magic can still happen at the world’s most hallowed auto racing facility.
It nearly did for three other American racers.
J.R. Hildebrand led laps, Sage Karam had another good run going until he crashed, and Josef Newgarden once again showed why he’s considered by many to be among the brightest stars in the current IndyCar universe.
Then of course there is James Hinchliffe, who came all the way back from the 2015 Indy practice crash that nearly killed him to sit on the pole and wage a thrilling battle with Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead in the first half of the race.
If you prefer the “ageless veterans,” Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and even Townsend Bell all brought their best to the Brickyard on Sunday, though Bell ended up in a pit road incident with Hunter-Reay, ending both of their shot at glory.
As far as manufacturers and teams go, Andretti Autosport was arguably the strongest overall team in the race, and really all month long.
They led practices, qualified well (with Hinchcliffe’s pole coming in a Schmidt Peterson Honda), and had Carlos Munoz leading going into the last five laps before he ran out of fuel and handed the lead to Rossi. However, it didn’t mean they weren’t challenged by the ‘Bowtie Brigade.’
So yes, Honda may have won the race, but there were plenty of Chevys in the hunt all day long.
In other news, staying at the Heartbreak Hotel Sunday night surely were Karam, Ed Carpentier, Juan Pablo Montoya and Munoz, among many others who thought they had a chance at Indy glory, only to fall short for one reason or another.
This race had it all. About the only thing I can think of that it didn’t have is driver injuries, and for that we can surely be thankful.
The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 was surely one for the ages. In the end, it was an American racer entered for the first time following a stint in Formula One, teamed with two American team owners that wore the wreath in front of the first-ever sellout crowd estimated to number over 350,000 spectators from across the world.
Congratulations to Alex Rossi, Bryan Herta, Michael Andretti and their entire organization. I’m only too happy as Race Chaser Online’s resident Milkaholic to raise a nice cold glass in your honor.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
What say you?
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Tom Baker is the owner and senior editor of Race Chaser Online, as well as creator and co-host of the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show — airing Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is also the co-producer and co-host of Race Chat, a one-hour Saturday morning show on ESPN Upstate in the Greenville-Spartanburg region of South Carolina.
With 28 years of Motorsports media, marketing and managerial experience, Baker serves as coach and mentor for several next generation racers, as well as Race Chaser’s passionate lineup of rising Motorsports journalists, and serves as Media Director and announcer for both Greenville-Pickens Speedway and the Southeast Limited Late Model Series.
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