Will Power survived an afternoon of restarts, strategy gambles and high-profile casualties to win the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
With a proliferation of yellows forcing teams to rethink their fuel mileage on the fly, Power stuck to the most conventional battleplan. He was toward the front of that group all day, ultimately getting ahead of polesitter Ed Carpenter with the help of quicker pit stops, but a late yellow left the Australian fourth in line with the three off-sequence cars of Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey ahead of him, and just 11 laps to do something about them.
He found a way past Servia, but at the same time, Wilson made a move on Harvey for the lead and both briefly opened a small gap over the Penske driver. Power was working on reeling them in when both swerved into pitlane for fuel with three laps to go.
From there, it was just a matter of navigating the lapped car of Charlie Kimball, and counting down the final laps.
“Man, I just can’t believe it,” said an emotional Power in Victory Lane. “I changed my attitude a lot after Barber, [I’ve] been very positive, had a great month… I can’t describe it. I feel like collapsing. I want to cry!
“[On the restart] I’m just… ‘I have to get these guys, I don’t know how much fuel they’ve got, but this is the restart of my life.’ With one to go, I’m screaming ‘I’ve got this.’ Unbelievable. I was wondering if I would ever win it. I’ve had so many wins, so many poles, but everyone always talks about the 500… I never thought I’d win in front of so many people. The 500 is incredible. I love it.”
A disappointed Carpenter was left to settle for second, crossing the bricks 3.1s in arrears.
“Not totally sure what happened,” he said. “We lost the lead in one of the pit sequences. The first restart, I think I could have passed [Power], but I decided to sit there and save fuel. Then we had all those yellows and it wasn’t a fuel race anymore. It’s one of those races where you kick yourself – I should have gone for track position. In a couple of days I’ll feel better.”
Scott Dixon did the best job of making a strategy switch work, making an off-sequence stop under yellows on lap 161 to top up on fuel. The late yellows helped get him to the finish without needing a final splash-and-dash, but he was a further 1.4s behind Carpenter in third.
Alexander Rossi was fourth, stealing a little of the spotlight along the way with a superb pass around the outside of Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to jump from fifth to third in one move, and end the day a full 28 positions further up from where he started. Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five.
The race played out in two distinct parts: the first 48 laps when nothing happened, and the final 152 that brought one incident after another. Last year’s winner Takuma Sato brought out the first yellow when he drove into the back of a slow James Davison at Turn 4, and that marked the start of a busy couple of hours for the safety crews.
Barely 10 laps after the Sato/Davison crash, Ed Jones snagged the inside curb at Turn 4 and swung up into the wall; 11 laps after that, the book shut on one of the great pre-race subplots when Danica Patrick lost the rear of her ECR car and ended her career against the Turn 2 barriers.
Sebastien Bourdais was next, washing out in dirty air and walling it in Turn 4, followed not too long afterward by Helio Castroneves hitting the barrier in the same corner.
“I got a good move on Ryan [Hunter-Reay],” said Castroneves, who was fifth at the time. “The rear just gave out. I was not expecting that. I saw an opportunity; I just misjudged the tires a little bit. Please Roger [Penske], I’ve got to come back!”
Turn 4 claimed Sage Karam next, and it was a minor miracle that the DRR car was the only one eliminated – Servia was very nearly caught up in it, and a rear wheel bounced across the track without hitting any of the pack of cars plowing toward it.
Next, it was Tony Kanaan’s turn. The Brazilian had already had an eventful afternoon – he’d run strongly at the front early on before a puncture sent him deep back into the field, and his contact with the wall at Turn 2 came just as he was mounting a spirited resurgence. It was this caution that set up the final run to the finish.
Elsewhere, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden wound up eighth when Penske elected to split its strategies as insurance against a yellow, sending the reigning series champion from the lead pack into the midfield.
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