Bob McMurray at the Indy 500
Driven motorsport columnist Bob Murray is on the spot for the 100th running of the Indy 500
And so it began ….at 05.00 am that is.
That was when the first police sirens started flashing past our hotel leading convoys small and large to the Indianapolis Speedway.
You pay for these police escorts of course and the Indianapolis policeman’s ball is a pretty big affair each year but this year it is going to be massive.
Our turn came at 09.45 when we met our own Indy version of ‘Chips’ moustache, tall leather boots, Ray Ban aviators, fully equipped with guns, yes guns in plural, and a big, BIG Harley Davidson.
And we were off.
Through red lights, on the wrong side of the road, cars being moved aside as a second cop joined our speeding bus.
It was a movie I was sure.
At one point we joined the back of another police convoy on a section of four lane road with a wide grass divider.
The cop looked at our bus driver, put his thumb up and took off over the grass closely followed by our 14 metre bus with the driver yelling “hang on folks, this is a REAL cop convoy”.
That was fun.
Just some ten minutes later, still on the opposite carriage way were there in the parking lot opposite the main gate and just ten more minutes into the track itself at around 10.20am.
Then we joined the crowd getting in to the track.
I have never been a part of something around 300 to 400 thousand people before, and I think I actually bumped into every one of them!
Remarkably the queues for security were short and efficient and everybody was in that friendly American good mood, many of them helped along by a liquid breakfast.
The ceremonies were already underway and the huge crowd getting seated even though the race was still some two hours away.
I walked from front to the back of the grid, then back to the front and the palpable feeling was one of occasion, pure occasion with the cars completely immersed in the huge crowd.
The ceremonies continued, as is tradition but a slight break in that tradition with multiple mebers of the founding Hulman – George family saying those words “Lady and Gentlemen – start your engines”.
After the four or five pace laps eventually the field got away and remarkably there were no wrecks, unusually, on the first lap or right up until the 47th lap and that was for ‘debris’ on the main straight.
It must have been very small debris but it also happened to be good for the TV channels commercial break.
The race at the front was between Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay until the first stops. Hinchcliffe did not a good one with a refueling problem.
Dixon slipped back from 10th on the first lap to 12th at the 100 mile mark.
Despite the enormity of the place there is a really quite narrow pit lane at Indy and that caused some problems.
On the release from the pit Will Power had an ‘unsafe release’ and forced Tony Kanaan into the wall. Power was sent to the back of the restart line as a penalty and Kanaan reported that his steering was ‘off.
Another Penske Racing team problem when last year’s winner Juan Pablo Montoya simply got it all wrong and crashed heavily into the outside wall.
A few more caution periods and at the halfway point Scott Dixon was in 11th position having been hovering just in and out of the top ten for most of the race thus far.
Another pit road accident between team mates Ryan Hunter Reay and Townsend Bell took out two of the faster cars to that point.
Bell had pulled out into the fast lane collecting Elio Castro Neves then bounced across and into Hunter-Reay.
Bell was penalized for unsafe release with a stop and go penalty.
Rossi on his way to victory. Picture/AP
On lap 120 Dixon was now 11th.
Another pit stop that went wrong was that for Buddy Lazier when on his pit exit his front left wheel fell off!
His car nicknamed ‘Fast Marge’ then beached itself.
As is common with the 500 it is 450 miles of positioning and 50 miles of absolute racing!
That is exactly how it turned out with cars running and racing at top speed and in danger of running out of fuel before the end of the race.
With 10 laps to go Dixon was sitting in 5th but cars were coming in thick and fast for in for a ‘splash and dash’ Dixon included, and he regained the track in 16th position.
Rossi celebrates his Indy 500 victory. Picture/AP
After 54 lead changes with 13 different leaders, Alexander Rossi, fresh from the disappointment of losing his Formula 1 seat for the 2016 season and a rookie at this track, played the game perfectly and stayed out to win the race and promptly ran out of fuel just as he crossed the yard of bricks to win the race.
His strategy was called by ex race driver Brian Herta.
The emotion continued as Rossi, an American, won in an Andretti team car at the 100th running of the race.
As you would expect the ‘crowd went wild’!
Alexander Rossi will now go down in the annals of American, and worldwide, motorsport.
Last week I wrote about Andretti team Manager Kiwi Paul ‘Ziggy’ Harcus.
Before talking to him, before the qualifying even started, I tipped Rossi to be a dark horse for the race.
I do wish I was a betting man!