Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. His win in the No. 26 Honda continued this season’s tradition of having a different winner for each race. We’ve had six events with six winners that represented four teams. This victory is the second of Sato’s IndyCar career, and the first with Andretti Autosport. His new team has won the ‘500’ five times total, with three of the wins coming to them in the past four attempts.
This win wasn’t an easy one, as Sato had some serious competition at the front of the field. Helio Castroneves (No. 3, Team Penske) took possession of the lead a few times in the last round of green flag action, fighting hard for his 4th Indianapolis 500 victory, but it wasn’t his turn to make history at the Speedway. He did however, collect his 41st runner-up position of his career. You know you have a legendary career when even your 2nd-place finishes are in the record books. Only Mario Andretti had more, with 56.
This second-place record could be looked at as a negative, but take “the bridesmaid effect” into account for the Indianapolis 500 specifically: This is the third time Castroneves has finished in P2, joining six other drivers to have done as such. One of those six drivers is Al Unser, a four-time winner of the race, and whose footsteps Castroneves is working very hard to follow. Looks like he’s definitely on the right path.
The only full-season rookie in the 2017 IndyCar field is Ed Jones, piloting the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. He’s had an insanely impressive first season to date, kicking things off with a P10 finish in St. Pete, a P6 in Long Beach, and finishes in the teens for the next 3 rounds. Yesterday, in his first Indy 500 attempt, he started in Row 4 from P11, in and of itself a huge accomplishment. But that wasn’t enough for the 2016 Indy Lights Champion, he wanted more, and he showed that he’s the real deal by moving his way up in the field, in a smooth and relatively unnoticed method reminiscent of some of the best dark horses in this series, like veteran driver Scott Dixon. It wasn’t long until everyone took note and wondered if we might see a rookie on the Borg two years in a row?
Things didn’t play out in Jones’ favor to that extent on Sunday, but his skill earned him his first IndyCar podium (even though we don’t do a podium ceremony for the Indy 500) with a P3 result, and the best finish at the ‘500’ for Dale Coyne Racing. Jones didn’t achieve this without incident, in fact he could have been out at the quarter-way mark when he ran through debris from the Dixon-Howard accident. The debris created a hole in the floor and damaged his rear wing. But they fought hard, played it safe but smart in traffic, and took the benefits of how the late yellows fell. The No. 19 admittedly lacked pace to get a legitimate run on Helio or Sato, but they have absolutely nothing to be upset about.
Jones is now within the Top 10 of points, holding strong in ninth ahead of both James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 SPM Honda) and Max Chilton (No. 8 Ganassi Racing Teams Honda) who are tied for tenth.
The points race has actually become very interesting since the completion of Sunday’s race – which was entirely expected given the double points awarded and the additional qualification points from last weekend.
Helio Castroneves popped up to the top of the points chart, with teammate and reigning Series Champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 1, Team Penske), 500 winner Takuma Sato, and 500 polesitter Scott Dixon (No. 9, Ganassi Honda) in a three-way tie for second place, just 11 points behind Castroneves. Last year’s 500 champion Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Andretti Autosport Honda) is in fifth, and Tony Kanaan (No. 10 Ganassi Honda) runs sixth with Team Penske teammates Will Power (No. 12 Chevy) and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Chevy) tied for seventh place.
The level of competition in the current IndyCar series is undeniable. This weekend marked a record for the most leaders in a ‘500’ with 15. There were 35 lead changes – one of the top 6 of all time. Cool fact? Those top 6 were all set over the past 6 seasons with the most changes being 68 in the 2013 event!
One more cool record-breaker this weekend was in relation to the former winners in the field. They broke a 24-year-old record when 6 of them (Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Alexander Rossi) led laps at this year’s 500. The previous record was set with 5 former winners leading the 1993 event.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series event is the double-header weekend on Michigan’s Belle Isle: the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. Two practice sessions on Friday, followed by a morning qualifying session and race on both Saturday and Sunday will fill the busiest on-track weekend on the series schedule. Stay tuned to Live Full Throttle social media (links below) for details and reminders throughout the weekend about on-track sessions, livestream links, articles from the event, and broadcast information.
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Feature photo credit: IndyCar – Chris Owens, Mike Harding, Joe Skibinski