Rookie Alexander Rossi wins 100th Indy 500
In the best Indy 500 ever, Alexander Rossi turned the fastest race lap (225.288 mph) and then nursed his car to the start-finish line on fumes to win the 2016 Indy 500. His car didn’t even make it back to pit road, having run out of gas before he crossed the Yard of Bricks.
Teammate Carlos Munoz finished second with Josef Newgarden finished third. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top-five.
But the big story was Rossi who started his career with an eye on F1, ran out of money, and switched to IndyCar only to win the biggest race in the world on his first try.
On the biggest motorsports stage imaginable, Alexander Rossi picked the perfect day to make unimaginable history before a sellout crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a worldwide television audience tuned in.
The 24-year-old Californian and Verizon IndyCar Series rookie literally coasted across the finish line to win the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in most memorable fashion.
Driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, Rossi stretched his last tank of fuel over the final 36 laps around the hallowed 2.5-mile oval, running dry of Sunoco E85R as he entered Turn 4 on the final lap. The car's momentum was enough to carry Rossi across the finish line 4.4975 seconds ahead of teammate Carlos Munoz.
In the process, Rossi became the 10th rookie in Indianapolis 500 history to win the race and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001. He became a Verizon IndyCar Series winner in just his sixth race and the first to win a race in his debut season since Carlos Huertas in 2014.
"I have no idea how we pulled that off," a stunned Rossi admitted in Victory Circle after drinking and then pouring the celebratory bottle of milk over his head. "We struggled a little bit in the pit stops but Bryan (Herta) came up with an unbelievable strategy. I can't believe we've done this!"
Rossi sat seventh on the Lap 167 restart and bided his time as those ahead of him began to peel off for a splash of fuel in the final 10 laps. When race leader Munoz had to stop four laps from the completion of the 200-lap event, Rossi inherited the lead and nursed his car home with help of a tow from another Andretti teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Rossi's final lap averaged 179.784 mph, nearly 40 mph slower than the charging Munoz, but he had cushion enough to coast across the famous yard of bricks by the largest margin of victory since the 1996 race.
"This is unbelievable," said Herta, whose team merged with Andretti's this year to form Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian and field Rossi, who left the American open-wheel junior ranks for Europe and made five Formula One starts in 2015 before returning to race on home soil.
"Man, it was so close at the end," added Herta, Rossi's race strategist. "For a rookie to drive with the poise he did in such a tough situation - I was telling him, 'Don't let anybody pass you but save fuel' - and he did it."
Rossi's deal with Andretti Herta wasn't formalized until a few weeks before the 2016 season opener. His best finish before today was 10th at the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 14. Now Rossi is an Indianapolis 500 champion and he continues a trend of rookies winning landmark Indy 500s started by Ray Harroun at the first race in 1911 and Graham Hill at the 50th in 1966.
"I don't even know where to begin," Rossi said. "In February I wasn't even thinking about Indy car, and now we've just won the Indy 500. Thanks to an amazing group of people who gave me an opportunity to come here this year."
The Indy 500 win was the fourth for Andretti Autosport (Dan Wheldon, 2005; Dario Franchitti, 2007; Hunter-Reay, 2014) and the second for Herta (Wheldon, 2011).
"After that last pit stop, I knew that Alex was going to try it," co-owner Michael Andretti said. "We knew then, all right, if he's going to try it, we're going to try different strategies. It really worked out. We had two cars that had a shot at winning with two different strategies.
"To be a part of history, to win the 100th running, to win it with a 1-2 finish is incredible. I'm a bit speechless."
For Munoz, it marked his second runner-up Indy 500 finish in four tries. The Colombian placed second to Tony Kanaan in 2013 to earn rookie of the year honors.
"I was really disappointed when it comes to fuel (strategy) and you lose the race because of that," the 24-year-old said. "I was really disappointed to get second. Half a lap short, that's what it took."
Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.
"Today's gut-wrenching just because I think I had a winning car," Newgarden said. "And when you know you have a winning car and you know you can win the thing and you go for it and it doesn't happen because of a strategy call, it's kind of tough."
Kanaan was fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, leading 19 laps. It was the 12th Indy 500 that Kanaan has led, second only to A.J. Foyt's 13. Charlie Kimball, also driving for Ganassi, finished fifth in the No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet.
Defending Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya finished 33rd after crashing his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on his own on Lap 64. Montoya became just the third reigning winner to finish last at Indy, joining Jimmy Bryan in 1959 and Johnny Rutherford in 1977.
"I started making up some ground again and the car was actually pretty good," said Montoya, who started 17th. "I went into (Turn) 2 with a big push and, when I got on the gas, it just came around. It's just disappointing. Our Verizon Chevy was really good. Just a tough day."
Hunter-Reay led a race-high 52 laps but had his bid for victory stifled following an incident on pit lane. Teammate Townsend Bell ran into Helio Castroneves on pit road and Bell's car caromed into that of Hunter-Reay, who finished 24th.
Championship leader Simon Pagenaud finished 19th to end a three-race win streak. The Team Penske driver saw his points lead trimmed to 57 over Scott Dixon, who finished eighth. With double points awarded for the race in addition to qualifying points, Pagenaud has 292 to Dixon's 235 after six of 16 races.
Castroneves failed for the seventh time to become a four-time Indy 500 winner, finishing 11th and retaining third place in the standings with 224 points. Newgarden vaulted from eighth to fourth in the championship with 211 points.
The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, featuring the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2016 calendar. The June 4 and 5 races air at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
I grew up in Indy. Indy 500 drivers were my heroes, even more than the ABA basketball players. It’s not like I’m prone to hyperbole – I’m a card-carrying members of the Cynic club. But I must say, this will go down as the best Indy 500 ever. Let me explain....
When the race restarted, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell engaged in a classic duel at the lead, with Hinchcliffe stalking their every move. Finally, Hinchcliffe moved to the lead for a couple of laps on lap 58, only to have Hunter-Reay overtake him on lap 60.
On lap 94, Sage Karam went high into turn 1 trying to battle while running sixth and battling with Townsend Bell and Josef Newgarden. Prior to this they were running 3-wide until Josef thought better of it. A few moments later former IndyCar driver (and current NBCSN commentator) Paul Tracy tweeted that Townsend “stuffed it in balls deep” to send Sage high. Bell indeed drove the car like he stole it all day, and if not for a quirk of fate (more on that later) that seems to happen at Indy, he would’ve been a contender for the win. Karam was uninjured and finished 32nd.
When the flag flew, the usual suspects were at the lead – Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Townsend Bell. And when the yellow flew for a Mikhail Aleshin spin on lap 115, they all pitted together (more on that in a second). On track Aleshin collected Conor Daly. Both were okay, but Daly’s day was done and he finished 29th. Aleshin – who had fast all month – made repairs and finished 27th.
During the pit stops, the lead trio of Castroneves, Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together exiting pit road. The Brazilian continued on, but the Andretti duo of Bell and Hunter-Reay were forced to make repairs. Both lost laps and would never contend again. Bell th up 21st, and Hunter-Reay th up 24th.
Bell was found at fault for the incident, but it hardly mattered now.
And it’s good that Andretti Autosport had that good news. Not only did Bell and Hunter-Reay's mess ruin their Sat, but Marco Andretti’s car mysteriously got the wrong air pressure in his tires. A frustrated Marco was said to be screaming into the radio as he pitted. He finished 13th.
When the field went back to green on lap 167, Kanaan resumed his battle with Newgarden. Every couple of laps the lead would change as one would execute a drafting maneuver to slingshot around the other. The crowd was on its feet cheering, and then...
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: 1. Pagenaud 292, Dixon 235, Castroneves 224, Newgarden 211, Hinchcliffe 205, Rossi 203, Munoz 199, Kanaan 192, Kimball 189, Montoya 187.
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