Series rookie and GP2 graduate steals historic Indy 500 win, Dixon 8th
American and series rookie Alexander Rossi is the surprise winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, after he came from left field to emerge as a strategic contender in the dying minutes of the race, while most of the attention focused on race leaders Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden, and Tony Kanaan.
"I have no idea how we pulled that off," said Rossi following the rookie's historic win.
"We struggled a bit in the pit stops, but Bryan [Herta] came up with a brilliant strategy. The car was fast from the beginning. It did a good job in getting us here, and I just can't believe we've done this.
New Zealand's Scott Dixon eventually finished eighth, after being as high as sixth in the closing laps of the race, having been unable to showcase race-winning pace all race in his Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet.
Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe was the quickest starter, taking the lead of the race heading into turn one. He and Ryan Hunter-Reay and their battle for the lead was the main talking point of the first phase of the race. The pair swapped the lead 12 times in just the first 20 laps.
The amount of position swapping between Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay was a sign of what was to come, as the lead of the race became a hot potato frequently traded between drafting drivers.
Another talking point was the agression being shown in pit lane by a number of drivers. The first sign of this came following lap 47's caution for debris, with Australian Will Power clattering into Tony Kanaan as he exited pit lane. Power incurred a penalty minutes later.
A larger incident took place a few caution periods later, when three challengers for the race, Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, and Helio Castroneves all made contact in pit lane. Bell shot across from his pit bay straight into Castroneves' path in the fast lane, colliding with the former Indy champ before bouncing back into the path of Hunter-Reay. Though Castroneves was able to race on, Bell and Hunter-Reay lost laps to the field and their shot at an Indy 500 win. Bell, like Power, incurred a penalty.
Castroneves would eventually have his own problems, after minor contact with J.R Hildebrand partially dislodged his left-rear wheel cover. As the cover flapped in the wind, Castroneves' Penske team had to remove his whole rear wing assembly at the next caution flag, sending him to the back of the grid.
Meanwhile, Dixon had endured a largely quiet and uneventful race, save for minor scuffles with the likes of Graham Rahal. But after holding down 10th for quite some time, he progressed to sixth with 40 laps to go, as his Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan tried everything he could at the front of the field to win his second Indy crown.
Up to this point, there had only been a few caution periods. The biggest was caused by a large crash for young up and comer Sage Karam, who crashed at turn one on lap 94 while he was battling for a top-five with Bell.
Scott Dixon struggled to find the form needed to run in the top five. Photo / IndyCar
Kanaan led with 24 laps to go, tailed by Josef Newgarden, with Hinchcliffe, Hildebrand, and Carlos Munoz rounding out the top five. Newgarden took the lead with 21 laps to go on the front straight, though, like the moves between Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay in the early laps, the lead continued to swap between the two. Newgarden appeared to eventually take the advantage, holding the lead into the final 15 laps.
The next factor for the leaders to consider was whether to pit for a splash or dash, or not. Newgarden was instructed by his team with 14 laps to go to try and complete the race without making an extra stop - his team instructing him that he was within 2 laps of having his fuel allocation being enough for him to make the chequered flag. The suggestion eventually subsided.
Newgarden's main worry was the fast closing Munoz, who had dispatched Kanaan. Then with 10 laps to go, he took the lead off Newgarden at turn one. Kanaan, and Dixon, both meanwhile made their final stops for both fuel and tyres with eight laps to go. This put Hinchcliffe in third, and the Ganassi pair back down in 13th and 16th.
The first of the duelling leaders to pit was Newgarden, doing so with five laps to go. Hinchcliffe did the same in his car. Then, on the next lap, Munoz pitted, surrendering the lead of the race to Alexander Rossi. Munoz became the first car of those to have splashed and dashed, and he sat in second ahead of Newgarden.
Flying completely under the radar was Rossi, who commenced the last lap on a complete economy run, saving as much fuel as he could by effectively idling his Napa Autoparts Andretti Herta Autosports entry around the circuit. But, despite the hard push from the likes of Munoz, Rossi's fuel salvaging tactics worked, and the GP2 Series graduate won the Indianapolis 500 on his debut.
"I didn't know [we'd make it]," he said.
"It starts off with Andretti Autosports giving me the opportunity to come here. They've been strong all month — I'm driving for the best team in IndyCar right now. This is unbelievalbe. This is for all of them.
"I'll cherish the fact that at one point we were 33rd, and we rolled the dice and we came through to make it happen.
"It will change my life for sure."
Munoz and Newgarden completed the podium; Munoz completing an Andretti 1-2. Kanaan, Hildebrand, and Hinchcliffe rounded out the top seven, while Dixon eventually crossed the line in eighth, 15-seconds off the eventual winner.
1. Alexander Rossi 2. Carlos Munoz 3. Josef Newgarden 4. Tony Kanaan 5. Charlie Kimball 6. JR Hildebrand 7. James Hinchcliffe 8. Scott Dixon 9. Sebastien Bourdais 10. Will Power