There have been other Indy 500s where Team Penske driver Will Power had the car to beat, the momentum, and seemingly the mojo—until he didn’t. The Australian, whose early career was marked by a vocal distaste for ovals, always seemed to find a way to lose the Indianapolis 500 even when at his best. Pit speed violations come to mind.
But not this time. After opening Indy’s two and a half week long “Month of May” with the Grand Prix pole and win in the the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power drove a flawless 500 to claim the one that’s eluded him. Power won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by 3.1589 seconds to etch his name into Indianapolis 500 history. It made him the first Australian winner of the race and the first driver to sweep both Verizon IndyCar Series races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the same year.
“On the white flag lap, I started screaming because I just knew I was going to win it,” Power said of the final 2.5-mile trip around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. “Unbelievable! Never been so excited.”
Clearly ecstatic in Victory Lane, by the time Power got to the press room he sounded like a guy who’d only completed a job he was expected to do, a job he’d expected himself to do, a job that deep down he knew he should have been completing for at least the second time. Maybe it was just the heat, but Power was mostly relieved.
“This month was one of the best months I’ve had,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “Very relaxed, in tune with my engineer, just working really well. It just came together.”
Power led 59 of the 200 laps Sunday and outlasted a trio of competitors—Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey—who unsuccessfully tried to stretch fuel loads to the finish. Running fourth on the final restart from a caution period with seven laps to go, Power quickly passed Servia (who like Alexander Rossi made excellent use of an invisible outside groove) and then delighted in watching as Wilson and Harvey both had to stop for splashes of ethanol with four laps remaining.
“They both pit. It’s like the gates opened,” Power said. “It was amazing.”
Power’s first Indy 500 win was also the 34th victory of his 14-year Indy car career, tying the 37-year-old with Al Unser Jr. for eighth place on the all-time list. It also marked the 17th Indy 500 win for Team Penske and 201st Indy car triumph for the storied team—both records.
“He won this race today because he was the best,” said team owner Roger Penske, who then went on to give what sounded a bit like a retirement speech for Power. “This closes the book for what he wanted to accomplish in IndyCar: win a championship (2014), now is tied for winning the most races as an Indy driver for the team (31), and the Indy 500 is something that he wanted to do from the very beginning. He’s in a different world right now, which is important.”
Want to add fuel to the fire that Power’s stint at Penske is winding down? “Someday he might drive for me,” Ed Carpenter said in his own post-race interview.
Pole sitter Carpenter led a race-high 65 laps before finishing second in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. It’s Carpenter’s best Indy 500 result in 15 starts. “I’ll feel pretty good about this in a couple days, I think,” said Carpenter, the only current owner/driver in the series.
“It’s been a few years since I had a top 10 finish, so this feels good. The team really did a great job all month long, all day long, really. Pit stops were really good. It was almost like being out front early probably hurt us a little bit, just because guys started saving fuel a little earlier. We got behind on the fuel save.
“Track position was everything we thought it was going to be coming into the day. You heard the drivers talk all week. Just couldn’t quite get it back from him. We were saving fuel through the middle part of the race when everyone was essentially trying to cut out a stop. That was a little odd. You never know how these races are going to unfold.
“I thought for the most part the team executed well. I thought there’s only a couple little things that I can reflect on in the short term right now that maybe could have made a difference. All in all, I thought Will won the race and we ended up second, and we’ll be happy with that. We’ll come back stronger next year.”
Unlike last year, I don’t recall a Honda leading the field by virtue of outright speed, but that doesn’t mean that the brand wasn’t racy and that several were in contention at the end of a day that saw Honda’s CEO Takahiro Hachigo make a rare trip to the race.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon led a trio of past Indy 500 winners—and Honda drivers—who finished third through fifth, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi (fourth place) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (fifth place). The race tied the record established a year ago for most drivers to lead the event: 15.
“We were trying to save fuel at the end and we knew we had to take a gamble with the PNC Bank car,” said Dixon, who found himself in a few sketchy situations throughout the day . “We just didn’t have the top speed today and the restarts were tough. That was all due to my team though. They made that great strategy call and all I did was get the fuel number they gave me. Huge congrats to Will Power. I know he’s been very hungry for this and congratulations to him.”
“I feel like we did what we could, and we maximized what we had,” said Rossi. Alex was clearly the day’s most aggressive driver, starting 32nd and nearly losing it to a huge wiggle in turn 2 on lap 2. That exact spot spun so many into the Fuzzy suites wall but Rossi kept it under control. Restart after restart, Rossi thread the needle between traffic and wall, making daring banzai outside passes in that otherwise invisible outer groove.
“The NAPA Know How Andretti Honda team did everything right,” continued the erudite Californian. “I don’t look back on anything and wish we’d done anything different. It was a good day from a championship perspective. We didn’t have enough to win, but congrats to Will [Power].”
Robert Wickens earned $424,979 for his ninth-place finish in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, including $50,000 for being named Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Wickens, who led two laps, was the highest-finishing rookie among the four drivers making their first Indianapolis 500 starts this year.
“It was an emotional roller coaster today,” Wickens said after the race. “I thought we had a great car, but we just couldn’t progress. We would make some moves forward with the strategy, and then we would get a yellow that would put us at the back again.
“Hats off to the Lucas Oil SPM boys – we had great pit stops all day. Finally, at the end we could let loose and pick people off, and we went from 19th to ninth in the last 10 laps.
“Today was a lot of fun. I’m leaving here feeling like I want more, but a top-10 finish as a rookie in the Indy 500…it’s hard to complain.”
Several veterans found conditions treacherous in a race that was nearly the hottest Indy 500 on record. The official high temperature at nearby Indianapolis International Airport, 91 degrees Fahrenheit, was a single degree shy of the record set in 1937. Seven cautions slowed the pace for 41 laps, with all but the first resulted from single-car incidents. It must be said that after each incident, the Speedway staff did an excellent job of quickly cleaning up the mess and getting the race back under green.
Defending Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato ran into the back of a slower James Davison to bring out the first yellow on Lap 48. “James had a problem with speed and there was too much closing speed between us and I couldn’t avoid him,” said a graceful Sato. “Once I realized, I backed off and even hit the brakes, but just once you get into an air pocket like that, you just get sucked in. At the time, maybe James was too much in trouble and he had to back off and get in the grey. The speed differential was way too great between us. I tried to avoid it but unfortunately I couldn’t. It’s’ really an unfortunate situation for both of us and I feel really sorry for the team, the fans and supporters.”
“We had anti-roll bar jam on there, so I just couldn’t change the balance,” said Davison. “I had to do the best with the adversity that I faced. If I tried any harder, I was going to swap ends, so I was getting plenty of warning signs there. If I was anywhere close to another car, I was getting huge wiggles and snap oversteer.
“I just really feel for Takuma for getting caught up in that. That is not at all the situation that you want to drag someone else in to, but that’s the Indy 500 isn’t it? Feel very proud of this Foyt /Bryd/Hollinger/Belardi team for the adversity we overcame and showing some kind of competitiveness there in the first stint.”
Ed Jones crashed into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on Lap 58 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, complaining of head and neck pain, was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he was examined and released. Jones will be re-examined by INDYCAR medical officials before being cleared to race.
Danica Patrick, in what she says will be the last race of her career, spun and crashed in the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet exiting Turn 2 on Lap 68. “I’ve had a lot of good fortune here and still had some this month. It just didn’t come on race day,” said Patrick, 36.
“The car was a little bit positive today and turning more than I wanted it to. I was just having to chase it a lot. Turn 2 did seem a little bit more edgy than the other corners, but I can’t say that in that point in time that I was on edge or felt like I was. It just swung around as soon as I recommitted back to the throttle again.
Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais had his race come to an end when he crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 139. “The Sealmaster Honda No. 18 was pretty good, but on a couple of restarts I got caught out and wasn’t aggressive enough, so I got chewed up by a bunch of guys,” reported Bourdais. “I was trying to make up for lost ground and picking them off one by one. The stint before was really strong, the car felt very good, so when I left the pits I was trying to get ahead of (Alexander) Rossi. I got a good run on him coming off of Turn 3 and tried to stay in and make the pass. The car unloaded and I tried to dive through the understeer. The front hooked a little bit and snapped out on me and that was that. I gave it my best shot and, unfortunately, those things were really tricky today with the heat. The downforce was really low and it was very difficult to be flat. I’m just disappointed for the Dale Coyne Vasser-Sullivan guys. They worked so hard all month and we lost a chance on some valuable championship points.”
The same happened to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves on Lap 146. “The car was actually handling good, I couldn’t get too close to other guys. I guess when I went to pass Hunter-Reay on the outside, maybe got a little debris on the tire,” Castroneves said. “My worry was actually Turn 1, not so much in Turn 4, so I felt a little bit movement but I was feeling that most of the time. But this time, unfortunately the rear just over-rotated. Yeah, I think we were just learning the car. obviously, I mean you can see some other cars be able to run a more little closer without an issue. Myself, for example, when I had the opportunity, I went for it. Maybe with older tires, maybe it wasn’t the time to do it, but I felt everything was going to momentum. It’s a shame. It caught us by surprise. We will learn a little more and hopefully can convince RP (Roger Penske) to bring me back.”
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 189, bringing out the final caution to set up Power’s drive to victory. “Man, the Speedway, right?” said Kanaan. “We had a great day going and then we had a puncture that put us behind all day long, so I was playing catch up. It was not for lack of trying, we came back from all the way from the back of the pack to the inside of the top 10. Great restarts and…oh my God.
“So, it wasn’t our day. I mean we have a great thing going, this team is very promising so we will leave here with our heads up. We had great pit stops, and I mean it wasn’t our day and to finish ninth or last for me it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to make an excuse, I made a mistake trying and that for me, in my book, it’s totally fine. I’m looking forward to the future on this team.”
Power earned $2,525,454 from an overall purse of $13,078,065 for his victory.
With the Indy 500 paying double race points, Power vaulted into the championship lead after six of 17 races in 2018. He leads Rossi by two points, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden by 10 and Dixon by 25.
Results Sunday of the 102nd Running of Indianapolis 500-Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any) and prize money earned:
1. (3) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $2,525,454
2. (1) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $911,504
3. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running, $587,129
4. (32) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running, $454,804
5. (14) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running, $419,804
6. (2) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $419,804
7. (21) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 200, Running, $254,005
8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $400,654
9. (18) Robert Wickens, Honda, 200, Running, $424,979
10. (30) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running, $401,229
11. (27) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $225,305
12. (12) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running, $364,129
13. (11) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $357,129
14. (22) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $315,305
15. (23) Stefan Wilson, Honda, 200, Running, $212,330
16. (31) Jack Harvey, Honda, 200, Running, $200,305
17. (26) Oriol Servia, Honda, 200, Running, $211,105
18. (15) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $300,305
19. (13) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 199, Running, $339,354
20. (6) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $346,154
21. (33) Conor Daly, Honda, 199, Running, $200,305
22. (20) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 198, Running, $300,305
23. (25) Zach Veach, Honda, 198, Running, $334,129
24. (28) Jay Howard, Honda, 193, Running, $200,305
25. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 187, Contact, $346,954
26. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 154, Contact, $203,305
27. (8) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 145, Contact, $205,305
28. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 137, Contact, $348,829
29. (17) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 110, Mechanical, $205,805
30. (7) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 67, Contact, $208,305
31. (29) Ed Jones, Honda, 57, Contact, $338,129
32. (16) Takuma Sato, Honda, 46, Contact, $300,305
33. (19) James Davison, Chevrolet, 45, Contact, $200,305
Carpenter, Ed 1 – 30; Newgarden, Josef 31; Pigot, Spencer 32 – 34; Carpenter, Ed 35 – 50; Claman De Melo, Zachary 51 – 55; Carpenter, Ed 56 – 62; Kanaan, Tony 63 – 64; Carpenter, Ed 65 – 72; Kanaan, Tony 73 – 89; Carpenter, Ed 90 – 91; Power, Will 92 – 94; Servia, Oriol 95; Bourdais, Sebastien 96; Rahal, Graham 97 – 105; Claman De Melo, Zachary 106 – 107; Power, Will 108 – 128
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 129; Bourdais, Sebastien 130 – 132; Newgarden, Josef 133 – 134; Rahal, Graham 135 – 137; Munoz, Carlos 138 – 140; Power, Will 141 – 170; Carpenter, Ed 171 – 172; Rossi, Alexander 173; Pagenaud, Simon 174; Munoz, Carlos 175; Servia, Oriol 176 – 177; Wickens, Robert 178 – 179; Servia, Oriol 180 – 192; Wilson, Stefan 193 – 195; Power, Will 196 – 200
Winner’s average speed: 166.935 mph
Time of Race: 2:59:42.6365
Margin of victory: 3.1589 seconds
Cautions: 7 for 41 laps
Lead changes: 30 among 15 drivers
story and photos by Tim Hailey with help from IndyCar and team reports