2017 Indy 500 – UK TV Schedule

With all the excitement and buzz of Fernando Alonso competing in the Indianapolis 500 this year there may be a whole new audience tuning into the race for the first time.

First and foremost if you are in the United States the race will be live on ABC.

But as this is a UK blog let’s look at UK television.

How do you watch the 2017 Indianapolis 500 on British TV?

All races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indy 500, are on BT Sport. It will be on their ‘BT Sport ESPN‘ branded channel.

Practice sessions and parts of qualifying are live streamed on YouTube. They also have a handy ‘Race Control’ page embedding the YouTube stream with live timing. This page just shows live timing during the race.

When the US coverage is on a break during green flag racing BT Sport provide their own commentators to fill in the gaps. They might nip away for a break of their own during a Safety Car. Yes, we actually see more of the race than US fans! You can communicate with these guys using Twitter hashtag #BTSmotorsport.

BT Sport will also be mirroring the US coverage of Qualifying.

Most practice sessions have taken place at the time of writing (Thursday 18th May), I will list the remainder. There are 2 days of qualifying – Sunday is more important but if it rains Sunday then Saturday’s times will stand.

Indy 500 Schedule (2017)

All times are British Summer Time, 5 hours ahead of Indianapolis. 3 days of practice have already occurred.

Thursday 18th May
Practice   5pm – 11pm   (YouTube)

Friday 19th May  Fast Friday!
Teams switch to qualifying spec:  extra boost and less downforce means speeds increase and cars become harder to control.
Practice   5pm – 11pm   (YouTube)

Saturday 20th May  Bump Day
Practice  1pm – 1.30pm  Group 1   (YouTube)
Practice  1.30pm – 2pm  Group 2   (YouTube)
Practice  2pm – 2.30pm  Full Field   (YouTube)
Qualifying  4pm – 10.50pm  (YouTube until 9pm, then BT Sport ESPN)

Qualifying is on YouTube from 4pm to 9pm and then BT Sport ESPN from 9pm to 11pm. The stream will be switched off once TV coverage begins.

The grid is not set today – unless it rains Sunday. Saturday qualifying has 3 aims:
1)  Get into the ‘Fast 9’ which is roughly equal to Q3 in Formula 1. Only these 9 cars will get the chance to go for Pole tomorrow.
2)  Get into the field. There are 33 starting spots. If there are more than 33 entrants the slowest cars would be “bumped” out and would have to try to get back in, though this year there are no more than 33 entrants.
3)  Sets the qualifying order for tomorrow’s runs which determine the grid.

All cars are allotted 1 run from 4pm (11am local), the order for which was drawn by lots. After that they are free to run later for as long as there is time. Only one car can run at a time.

When there are no cars making a qualifying run, the track will open to all cars for free practice, which will be flagged off as soon as a car lines up to qualify. Timing will switch between practice & qualifying boards accordingly.

Sunday 21st May  Pole Day
Practice  5pm – 5.45pm  (Positions 10 to 33) (YouTube)
Practice  6.15pm – 7pm  (Fast 9) (YouTube)
Qualifying  7.45pm – 9.45pm  (positions 10 to 33) (YouTube until 9pm, then BT Sport ESPN)
Qualifying  10pm – 10.45pm  (Fast 9)  (BT Sport ESPN)

YouTube will show most of the first part. BT Sport ESPN will join with 45 minutes left of the first session and will show all of the shootout for pole.

Every car makes one run only. No repeat attempts. Cars will run in reverse order of Saturday’s results, slowest car goes first. Other than that Saturday times don’t count – unless Sunday is completely rained out, then grid will be set on Saturday times.

Championship points worth almost as much as a standard race are awarded on qualifying position (every other round only awards 1pt for pole). And then double points are awarded for the Indy 500 itself.

Monday 22nd May
Practice  5.30pm – 9pm  (YouTube)
Cars back in race trim. This is the last major practice session.

Friday 26th May  Carb Day
Practice  4pm – 5pm  (YouTube)
One final hour of practice for systems checks before the big day.

Indy Lights Race 5.30pm  40 laps   (YouTube)
The Lights race is worth watching, a few years ago there were three cars side by side at the line!

Sunday 28th May  Race Day
Monaco Grand Prix chequered flag should be at 3pm so there’s plenty of time for debrief or overrun.

101st Indianapolis 500   4pm  200 laps  (BT Sport ESPN)
Some listings show 4.30pm
Actual race start:  5.15pm – but tune in before that!

NOTE THE CHANNEL CHANGE!  BT SPORT ESPN – I had originally listed BT Sport 2, this is wrong.

strongly recommend turning on before 4.30pm, or as early as you can, for one of the most spectacular pre-race buildups in all of racing and to learn as much as possible – assuming BT Sport shows it! As long as they show these live, I’m happy:

4.35pm  Driver Introductions – You definitely want to hear how the crowd likes or dislikes each driver!
5pm  National Anthem
5.12pm  Back Home Again In Indiana – OK it isn’t a very good song, and it’ll take you a few years to recognise why it is important, but you have to have this, balloons floating away in the background. It means only one thing can follow…
5.14pm  Drivers Start Your Engines  – Time to race!

Note – Race day is a military holiday in the United States hence there’s an abundance of military tributes, which is fair. It does though come across as a celebration, which European & other viewers accustomed to more solemn commemoration and reflection may find a little culturally jarring.

The Rest of the Season

Most IndyCar races are aired live on BT Sport ESPN. Sometimes races may be on BT Sport 2.

You can subscribe to the TooMuchRacing IndyCar Google/iCal Calendar to remind you which week has a race!

Also IndyCar UK does a good job of keeping abreast of the weekly start times and channels.

Long Read: Thoughts on Fernando Alonso entering the Indianapolis 500

Wow.

That’s all I could think when I saw the news. Wow.

This never happens any more! It is a big enough story when a former Formula 1 driver contests the Indianapolis 500 or IndyCar Series. It is a huge story when an active F1 driver competes in another series in the same year. It is incredible that two-time champion Fernando Alonso, widely regarded as one of the best drivers in the world, let alone on the F1 grid, a man many say is ‘owed’ three more championship titles, would choose to do this while still racing in F1.

Crossovers

F1 drivers are supposed to be ‘out of touch corporate machines’ with bland personalities. They aren’t ‘supposed’ to race in anything else, the thinking goes, there are untouchable.

This is why I love crossovers. Through the 1990s and 2000s it was rare to see. It was a big deal when Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon did their ‘Tradin Paint’ car swap and that was a sponsor promotion. Same for Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart.

In the 2010s the trend changed. Kimi Raikkönen tried NASCAR and Rally during a F1 sabbatical, Robert Kubica famously injured himself in a lesser-ranked rally, Kurt Busch raced the Indy 500, Jeff Gordon the Daytona 24 Hours, Nico Hulkenberg won the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an active F1 driver. Now it is common for half the Formula E field to also compete in World Endurance. It seems the restrictions of the last 20 years are melting away.

Triple Crown

Fernando Alonso is a racer. He just wants to win. He also has an appreciation for the sport. He waved the French tricolore to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I thought he might take the start the following year with Porsche. I never thought he’d try Indy.

It is Juan Pablo Montoya I thought would be the next to attempt the Triple Crown, of Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24. He has already won Indy and Monaco, the only still-active driver to have won two legs of the three. He has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times and the buzz ramped up when he tested a Porsche LMP1 in 2015. Surely he would be the next to attempt it? Perhaps the chase of Alonso will spur him on!

The Triple Crown is an unofficial honour, there are no prizes. It is a mark of talent to take on three specialist disciplines and win. Few even attempt it. The events have been run for decades (Indy 1911, Le Mans 1923, Monaco 1929) yet only Graham Hill has won the Triple Crown. Only seven drivers, including Hill, have even won two of the three – Montoya was the first since the 1970s to get that far.

Some definitions replace Monaco with the World Drivers’ / F1 Championship, but I don’t buy that, you can’t mix events with championships in that way, to my mind.

Boat Anchor

There is context of course. The F1 Honda engine is visibly slower than the competition. At first it seems fine but you only need to watch a long straight to see the hybrid deployment runs out 300 metres before the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. It is like Fernando threw an anchor over the side.

The car doesn’t seem bad, in the twisty bits at Bahrain Alonso was more than able to hold his own against the Toro Rosso and the Renault yet two laps later they were ahead again.

The irony is at Monaco top end power is less relevant. No long straights here. A well-driven lower-powered car is able to hang on at this track. Ask Enrique Bernoldi and David Coulthard. If they can nurse the powertrain home, Monaco may present McLaren-Honda with their best opportunity for points so far this season.

Yet there is nothing to lose. Alonso is not throwing away a potential win. He might at best be throwing away points for 7th place. Fernando Alonso is a championship contender, he does not care about being 7th or 13th.

More likely, he is throwing away the opportunity to drive near the back for half the race before something breaks.

Going to Indy will be much more fun.

Super-Sub

From the team side, they DO care about being 7th or 13th because they badly need those points. The difference in Constructors’ Championship positions is worth millions of dollars. Thankfully they have Jenson Button, a hell of a super-sub. The sticking point – he will not drive before FP1 other than in the simulator. His first real world experience of wide-track 2017 F1 cars will be in free practice in Monaco. Yikes. Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice. Despite how cool the ’17 machines are, I don’t think JB wanted to race this particular car. I can’t say I blame him.

And obviously they have another entry, not that we’ve seen a lot of it. Poor Stoffel Vandoorne. Highly talented, McLaren was meant to be his big break. It could ruin his career. At the time of writing, after Bahrain but before Russia, he’d recorded one finish (2 laps down), one Did Not Finish (after 17 laps), and one Did Not Start. He is owed better.

How Does This Benefit IndyCar?

It cements IndyCar as being back on the map, or more exactly, the Indy 500.

The sport of IndyCar racing was dying a decade ago. ChampCar, itself a rescue of the old CART, folded after the 2007 season. The rival IRL, of which the Indy 500 was part, was propped up by handouts. In 2008 teams and drivers merged into the IRL, rebranded later to what we now call the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The echoes of the poisonous CART/IRL war lingered for years after. It has only been in last 3 or 4 years we’ve seen some real positivity. The poison is now gone. Everyone is looking forward. Growth, momentum, new talent, retained talent, increased viewership, events with date equity and an end to the line of badly-executed street races. The series itself really is on an upswing.

As for the Indy 500, in the early 2000s it was a faded star. Internationally it was nothing. Domestically it was struggling. That’s now changed. The merger and growth in IndyCar has prompted a resurgence in the great race. The 100th Edition last year saw full stands and a buzz like I’ve never seen, the sort of buzz the old timers always said the race used to have. It is now a landmark event, like it always was.

Landmark events draw big name drivers. And now a globally-recognised superstar! This is the biggest news on an international level, for IndyCar, since Nigel Mansell. A big NASCAR star would bring attention in the US and the US alone. A global star like Alonso may have less effect within the US, but it’ll be huge outside it. This is what the Indy 500 needs now.

Juan Pablo Montoya helped get them there. His rejoining the series helped boost the profile massively. To some extent Rubens Barrichello and Takuma Sato also played their roles, but only a little. Getting Fernando Alonso, Formula 1 World Champion and ex-Ferrari F1 driver, now that’s a big one.

IndyCar fans are divided. Some love the attention. Others say the series should worry instead about promoting the other races and promoting internal talent from the ladder series, such as Stefan Wilson, who’s seat Alonso has taken. I agree, they should do these things. But that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to push the profile of the biggest race ever forward. There’s been enough inward consolidation, now is the time to look outward.

North American fans can be fooled into thinking the 500 is as big outside the US as it is inside. This is not true. Most of the world doesn’t give two shits about the Indy 500 any more, hasn’t for a long time. This is gradually changing again. It needed a shock to push it along. It got one.

This isn’t aimed at the domestic audience. This will put this race back where it once was, as one of the pillars of world motor sport, a place where drivers from around the world aspire to race.

And in doing so it might even raise the level of the whole series.

The Right People

The Andretti Curse. Mario raced at Indy for eons and only won once. Michael raced several times, won championships, and is regarded as one of the best to have raced at the venue, but he never won it. And Marco, well his debut was fantastic but he can’t seem to get there either – even though Indy is his forté.

Andretti Autosport therefore is built around winning this damned race. They have four cars for the full season and routinely enter a 5th or 6th at Indy. This is a huge commitment but they’ve been doing it for over a decade either in current name or as Andretti-Green. And it works.

And they are a true team, evolved from the buddy club of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan who were the teams’ quartet in the mid-2000s. A true collegiate atmosphere where all data is shared, all help one another.

Herta went on to form his own team, a giant-killing one-car entry, which has since merged with Andretti Autosport and together last year it was his car which won the Indy 500. Herta may not have the most famous name, but you never counted him out as a driver, nor owner.

In 2016 all Andretti/Herta cars were fast and ran up front. Only pit fumbles sent some of them a couple of laps down, but those ran race-leading pace afterwards. And at the end the race came down to two team cars running different strategies:  Rossi on a fuel save, Munoz going full power trying to catch him.

AA has won the 500 on four occasions, including two with the current specification of car:  2005, 2007, 2014, 2016. As a car owner, Michael Andretti smashed The Curse to pieces.

NASCAR star Kurt Busch raced for Andretti in 2014 and finished 6th. They may race the same ovals but the difference between NASCAR and IndyCar is huge. This will be a tremendous confidence boost to Alonso, to Zak Brown, and to the Andretti Autosport team. These are the right people.

Alonso’s team-mates will be de facto team leader, 2012 series champion & 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco Andretti, whose head has been down for a few years but is a talented driver rebooting his career this season. Former F1 driver Takuma Sato is new to the team, fiendishly fast at the 500 and nearly finished 2nd had he not crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap. Alexander Rossi had enough of standing at the back of F1 garages and went and won the Indy 500 last year. And rookie Jack Harvey drives the Michael Shank Racing car, after finishing 2nd in Indy Lights points for two consecutive years. This is a high calibre squad.

Chances?
Honestly Alonso does have a great chance to win. Realistically I would expect a top ten. Equally I wouldn’t be surprised to see him a lap down or in the wall. For Alonso, a top ten on debut in a new discipline would be a great result, much better than the equivalent placing in Monaco.

The Challenge

200 laps of a 2.5 mile oval at speeds of 240mph on the straights and 200+ through the four turns, with 32 other drivers.

The race can be between 2hrs30mins and 3 hours long. The sun and the crosswinds change the track. The draft (slipstream) is strong in traffic and you need to be able to read it well, an art honed by practice.

And qualifying means running negative rear wing, making the car skittish and nervy and very, very fast. Ranked by a four-lap average based on speed, if there are enough entries you might not even make the race.

Indianapolis is not a high-banked oval such as Daytona. It doesn’t offer multiple lines. The four corners really are four distinct unique corners. You can’t cruise around turning left. You have to drive this course.

Turn 1 follows a blast through the canyon between grandstands and pitlane, you can only see a concrete wall ahead of you, have to turn in before you see the exit and trust the track will be there. Requires commitment.

Turn 2 should be easy as it opens out on to the back straight, but coming off the banking the crosswinds easily send the tail into a spin. Careful, steady hands, no heroics here.

Turn 3 is the opposite of 2, a fast run into a gradually tightening turn.

Turn 4 tightens some more, the sheer speeds dictating a single line. Get off ‘the groove’, the darker rubbered-in track, and you’ll find yourself heading to the outside wall.

This place is fearsome. It must be shown respect at all times.

Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice.

Greatest Spectacle In Racing

That’s what they call it. For the longest while I didn’t believe them. The old cars promoted single-file racing, waiting for pitstops which were often under Safety Car conditions. Familiar? It led some to say it is a ‘road course oval’, ‘like an F1 race’. A big event, a great sight, but not a spectacle. I would always argue 55 cars on the Mulsanne Straight was the greater spectacle.

That changed in 2012 with the Dallara DW12. The drivers now race incredibly hard. There is an art to it. Not just passing for the sake of it, but judging when to go and when to hold back, using the draft, knowing when to go inside to defend. This car makes it all possible. It certainly isn’t single file any more!

The first 150 laps is about positioning and fuel strategy, working the yellows, climbing through the field, tailoring your car to the conditions or to work in traffic or not. The last 20 or 30 laps it all goes haywire, the elbows go out and you fight. Some years it is a fuel mileage race, some years it is a flat out thrash. You have to be ready for anything.

In my opinion the Indy 500 now genuinely is the greatest race on the planet. Here’s why:

2014 Race Finish

A crash near the end caused officials to throw a red flag race suspension. At the restart with 6 laps to go, Helio Castroneves (Penske) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) and team-mate Marco Andretti fight it out. This is real edge-of-your-seat racing. Worth watching on to see the traditional celebration.

2015 Race Finish

Two years ago it was a straight battle between Penske team-mates Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, with two chasing Ganassi drivers Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon on their tails.

2016 Race Finish

And of course last year. This was a nail-biter for very different reasons. The timing of previous stops meant teams were trying to get the cars to last 4 or 5 laps longer than their fuel stint, it was never going to work, so they all started to pit. All except one man. Surely he would come in? Surely he would run out of fuel?

 

Remember, you do not go out and win the Indianapolis 500, you can only do your best to put yourself in position.

The Speedway, she chooses who wins.

Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

The over-use of the slogan ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ and that some appear to take it as a pre-ordained fact rather than the marketing slogan it is, instead of looking at each race objectively, has been a personal pet peeve of mine for some time.

That was until this year’s edition started. This year the race very much lived up to the branding and showed me and others just why the place is revered the way it is. I’ll take some more of the same next year, please!

Working the Air

After the race I saw it tweeted that the DW12 is a keeper. Too right. It may not be the most advanced and it may not feature the chassis competition many of us crave, but really, what a car. Nobody cares that it is slower than the old one now. It races so well at Indy, and what’s more, it didn’t come out of the box that way. The teams have had a lot of work to do to solve a lot of problems it had on ovals – problems that have been overcome and resulted in the best Indy 500 I have seen in six years of watching, and some of the far more experienced veterans were saying it was one of the best they’d seen in years.

Even before the exceptional drama of the last 20 laps which really made this race so nail-biting there had been overtaking and lead changes and drafting and all sorts. Okay granted, some of it was ‘fake’ lead changes as the Ganassi pair – and others – fought not to lead in order to save fuel and not end up as a sitting duck on the next restart. I don’t have a problem with such ‘fake’ or ‘scripted’ passes as they are part and parcel of the strategy of oval racing. Ganassi executed this strategy better than anybody else, with some of the Andretti drivers doing pretty well with it in the early stages as well.

Engines

What a turn around by Honda, Ganassi and RLL. Surely some of those teams were sandbagging in free practice! Very cleverly played if that’s the case, nobody had a clue. I suspect this had more to do with work done by Honda for these race engines, perhaps teams were using older less developed units in practice and qualifying knowing they’d get a ‘special’ for the race. Honda do like their specials, the Japanese department always used to bring out an uprated engine for the Suzuka F1 race.

I loved the unexpected dymanic between the two engine manufacturers. Chevy had run all season with engines which were both more powerful and more fuel efficient than those from Honda. The double-whammy. Race day rolls around and suddenly Honda has a significant fuel efficiency advantage (I’m not sure about power, they seemed roughly equal but if one was ahead of the other it was the Honda), enough of an advantage to allow them to pit a lap, two laps, even three laps later than the Chevy teams.  That was the race-winning difference right there.

The third manufacturer had both entries embarrassingly black flagged barely 10 laps into the event, shockingly early and far earlier than I had expected. Alesi and de Silvestro were running lap averages in the 200-205mph bracket while the leaders were up at 215-218. The eventual fastest lap was 220+. By the numbers it was the right decision but I can’t help feeling they should’ve been allowed to run more than ten minutes. Of course the leaders were bearing down on them rapidly and perhaps the sight of two Lotuses trundling around whilst Chevys and Hondas blew by 15mph per lap faster would’ve been even more embarrassing than simply disappearing whilst eyes were elsewhere.

Highs and Lows

Takuma Sato. What a guy, what a drive. He was passing people all day and he’d been working his way up, picking people off, until the one that counted – the pass for the lead. If it hadn’t been the final lap he’d have made it. As it was I suspect the red mist descended as it often does with Taku and he made the instinctive move to pass when the space wasn’t quite there. Probably lulled into it after making it past Dixon last time around, perhaps forgetting Dixon had left more room because Dario had just gone by him too. Still – good on him for trying! It was the final lap, there were no guarantees he’d get a chance at turns 3 or 4, he had to take it. Classified 17th, first of those a lap down.

Tony Kanaan. That cheer when he took the lead! Such a popular driver, I wish he could’ve won it. The place would’ve erupted. I wondered where he was for a while, then he appeared working his way forward. He made the most of the restarts, perhaps unfairly perhaps not. 3rd is a good result but still he chases that elusive Indy win. In a Q&A last week one journalist said to him he was more famous for not winning at Indy than he would’ve been had he won. True words. I really hope he does win before he retires.

Very pleasing to see James Hinchcliffe run so well early on, I felt for him later after he slipped back. Hunter-Reay and Andretti were up there too and an Andretti Autosport win looked a good in-race bet. RHR hit a mechanical problem and Andretti got a hot head (again), leaving Hinch as their remaining bullet. It wasn’t to be this time and I seem to recall that was due to a slow pitstop, but also down to some of the restarts where the midfield swamped those up front.

Oriol Servia somehow made it up to 4th. I still don’t know how – he was well back in the pack and just appeared from nowhere within the last 5-10 laps! There’s a team and driver glad they switched from Lotus to Chevrolet.

Justin Wilson was running up there too and finished 7th, after the awful season he’s had that’s a well-earned result.

Rubens Barrichello. No doubts about him on an oval now. Solid, consistent, aggressive when needed but mostly drove a careful defensive race, the perfect way to approach a debut oval event. 11th is a very respectable performance in a field this stacked.

Townsend Bell. Once again taking a one-off IndyCar entry to a good finish at the 500. Once again we ask why he hasn’t got a full time IndyCar drive.

Ed Carpenter. A great run came to a sad end when he got too low, clipped the paint and the apron/transition and spun. Frustation for the owner/driver.

Every one of the teams and drivers had an interesting story to tell.

Coverage

I usually find a hooky feed of the US broadcast but this year I was able to ditch the dodgy feeds altogether and watch Sky Sports 4. This might have been an error. I didn’t mind that the program started at half past, the race isn’t as big a deal as it is in the US so I can understand not giving it the full hour of pre-race particularly when the other races on the schedule sometimes seemingly don’t get any more than 10-15 minutes.

I did mind that it started 2 or 3 minutes after the scheduled time because they were showing adverts. It looked like the preceding event (rugby) had run very slightly over and they still needed to fit in their commercial allocation. This meant we missed driver introductions – a little annoying but okay.
It soon became clear the UK coverage was going to stick with the London studio discussion rather than show the pre-race festivities, including driver intros, all of the songs and anthems, balloons, flyover, practically everything. Even Dan’s car was shown in replay. By then I thankfully had the dodgy stream up again so I saw what a great tribute that was.
Part of the whole appeal of Indy is the way the pre-race builds – it has taken six years of watching for me to realise this – and Sky just had no idea that it was important at all.

I commend Sky for having Tomas Scheckter in the studio, he brought the much-needed perspective of someone who has raced many times at Indy. Jonny Kane’s input is always worthwhile but ultimately he is an LMP driver not an IndyCar driver so there is only so much he can relate to – I wouldn’t ask Helio to analyse Le Mans!

The other good thing about Sky’s studio was that when the international ESPN feed went to commercials, some of the time Sky would take their own break but other times they’d cut back to the discussion in London. It was a nice way to sum up the action so far. I just wish they’d not talked all the way through pre-race!

On the whole though, Sky’s effort here has been completely shown up by their own coverage of Formula 1. It really could use just 10% of that magic to liven it up a bit.

The ABC/ESPN portion was good, better than usual. They were very late coming back to show restarts on a couple of occasions but at least they didn’t miss them! The commentary was okay, I didn’t find it grating at all which is a good result for Reid & Co for me. Everyone has their own tastes and usually they aren’t mine but I thought the trio did a good job this time. The pit reporting was mostly very good, the glaring omission being that of Will Power and Mike Conway after their clash, it was a long time before we heard from either team let alone drivers.The number of ad breaks didn’t seem anything like as poor as last year, either they were fewer or better timed, or Sky going to the studio masked how many there were. On the whole the US feed was a vastly improved broadcast compared to 2011. I also saw many, many tweets praising their pre-race features which Sky also missed, I intend to look those up later in the week.

Result

1. Franchitti – Ganassi – Honda
2. Dixon – Ganassi – Honda
3. Kanaan – KV – Chevy
4. Servia – Panther/DRR – Chevy
5. Briscoe – Penske – Chevy
6. Hinchcliffe – Andretti – Chevy
7. Wilson – Coyne – Honda
8. Kimball – Ganassi – Honda
9. Bell – Schmidt/Pelfrey – Honda
10. Castroneves – Penske – Chevy
11. Barrichello – KV – Chevy
12. Tagliani – BHA – Honda
13. Rahal – Ganassi – Honda
14. Hildebrand – Panther – Chevy
15. Jakes – Coyne – Honda
16. Pagenaud – Schmidt/Hamilton – Honda
17. Sato – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
18. Viso – KV – Chevy  +1 lap
19. Jourdain Jr – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
20. Bourdais – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
21. Carpenter – Carpenter – Chevy  +1 lap
22. Legge – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
23. Beatriz – Andretti/Conquest – Chevy  +10 laps
DNF: Andretti, Newgarden, Saavedra, Hunter-Reay, Power, Conway, Clauson, Cunningham, de Silvestro, Alesi

Points

200 – Power (3 wins)
164 – Castroneves (1)
164 – Hinchcliffe
153 – Dixon
143 – Hunter-Reay
136 – Franchitti (1)
136 – Pagenaud
128 – Briscoe
113 – Kanaan
103 – Hildebrand
102 – Barrichello
100 – Sato
99 – Servia
97 – Rahal
96 – Kimball
etc.

Next Race

Sunday June 3rd at 8.30pm BST (GMT+1) – Detroit Belle Isle, a narrow course running through a park with concrete walls and a bumpy street track. It is a bit like Montreal or Melbourne but without usually being as interesting as the track is too narrow and twisty, save for the fast backstraight. It has been a few years since the last race here, I hope the new cars and engines spice things up.

2011 Indianapolis 500

Hot on the heels of one of the best Monaco Grands Prix for a few years, we saw one of the most best Indy 500 climaxes for a few years. It was on the same level as the year when Marco Andretti and Sam Hornish Jr raced over the last few laps to the flag, though this was dramatic for completely different reasons.

The build-up and pre-race festivities were as captivating as ever. The half hour leading up to the event, starting from the moment the drivers are introduced to the crowds, is one of my favourite periods in sports build-ups. Obviously nobody does preamble and build-up quite like the Americans but even this is something else again. As Steph, a Canadian, said in her must-read recap of the day at the track, that whole 30 minutes was enough to make you feel patriotic even if you aren’t from the US.

I was watching on a web feed because I can’t afford Sky Sports and IndyCar pulled their official live web stream this year, setting back their web presence by several years. My feed stuttered at the start so I missed it.. which was very annoying because I love the start at Indy.

I quickly learned from Twitter that the Dixon had got a bit of a jump start, apparently going before the green went out. I’m not sure if that’s true or if he just had better reactions, still, the race was green! Amazingly the full field of 33 squeezed through the narrow turn 1 and out of turn 2 without any great problem, it is always a nervous time waiting for a near-inevitable crash on any start or restart at Indy.

For the opening laps it was a joy to watch so many cars running so amazingly quickly, drivers ducking around to stay within the draft whilst cars ahead of them moved to break the tow. Every year I forget how that looks, how fast they are.

After a while things settled into the usual form for a long-distance oval race, pounding around making laps between safety car appearances – except this year they were very good, I was pleasantly surprised at the relative lack of yellows this year which meant we had a fairly fast race – it clocked in at just a few minutes shy of 3 hours when it can run 15 or 30 minutes beyond that, what with the speed of cleanups (or lack of it) at Indy.

When we did have yellows the drivers then faced the double-file restarts which most seemed to dread. They all trod carefully and somehow, somehow got through the first restart lap unscathed on all but one occasion. Many were expecting carnage and I commend the drivers for playing it safe yet still racing hard, that looked like the trickiest thing they had to handle all day. Indy wasn’t thought to be wide enough – okay it is a wide track by dimension but as the speed increases the more space the cars need, and at these speeds every minor movement moves the cars a lot, so a lot of space is needed. Hence the perceived narrowness. At 220mph it must feel like a narrow tunnel. There were some fraught, frenetic restarts.

We had some good racing during the green periods too which doesn’t always happen at Indy, or if it does the TV coverage misses it whilst they focus on the leaders (in this rase the Ganassi team were for the most part in control of the lead). ABC did their best to avoid showing us some actual racing but some of it did creep on to the screen and it was great to see. ABC were diabolical from the moment the race began. Pre-race? Fantastic. Post-race? Mostly good too. The coverage from flag-to-flag was largely awful. They missed some restarts. They cut away from battling drivers to show someone running alone seemingly sometimes just because they wanted to talk about the driver they cut to (tip: you can talk about someone without them being on the screen).  They played out too many commercial breaks, one even followed just 30 seconds behind another which is inexcusable. The entire team didn’t seem to be on their game which was disappointing.

However, I do give them credit for sticking with the final 20 minutes of the race without going to a break, I was so gripped by the closing laps I didn’t notice it was that long so thanks to those on Twitter who pointed it out. I also give them credit for, at long, long, last getting the flags of UK participants correct. For so long they’ve run a Scottish flag for Dario and a UK flag for everyone else, this time they ran Scottish and English crosses. You can’t have it both ways, either a UK flag for all or nation flags for all. Pet peeve of mine!

The culmination of the race was fantastic. A handful of cars ought to have made it without needing to stop again but they had to conserve fuel (Franchitti and Hildebrand). Others could stretch it to the end with a yellow flag if they saved fuel under green, but if it went green all the way a pitstop would be needed and their chance of a win would be over. One by one those hoping for yellow realised they wouldn’t make it. It became a game of chicken, how long do you stay out on a lean fuel mix, hoping for a yellow flag before giving in and pitting to give your driver a chance to make up lost time on full-rich with new tyres?

The field got mixed up through the final stops due to people mixing up their strategies, shuffling cars from the pack up to the front. So it was that we had Danica Patrick leading from Bertrand Baguette in the closing stages. First Patrick peeled off, some later Baguette did the same, and then were able to race hard without worring about fuel to claim 10th and 7th respectively.

Incredibly, the dominant Ganassi cars of Franchitti and Dixon had been short-filled! They’d held the advantage between them all race long, only to throw it away by gambling on a yellow.. or simply by making an error.

JR Hildebrand was left in the lead for the final run to home. I have to be honest, I hadn’t clocked he was good to the end at this point. I assumed he would be the next one to duck into the pits.. but the laps kept ticking down. 3 to go. 2 to go. White flag to signal the final lap, he’s going to do it! This was something special, a rookie in the series was going to win their biggest race, one of the big pillars of motorsport.

Except… he didn’t win. Charlie Kimball was minding his own business at the tail of the lead lap trying to make the end of the race. Hildebrand comes up behind him in turn 3, somewhat faster it must be said, and has to make the choice of holding back or passing him through turn 4. People had been lapping cars in turn 4 all day so he decides to make the move.. but goes too high, into the marbles, into the wall. To his credit he still mashes the throttle whilst his car is still at speed dragging along the wall, anything to get to the finish line! It nets him second position in his first Indy 500 which is still an incredible result.

As JR scraped along that wall a white car flashed by in between he and Kimball. For a few moments – which seemed much longer but can’t have been – nobody knew who had won, not on the TV broadcast, not on Twitter or anywhere else. Partly I suspect because the livery was unfamiliar, possibly because we hadn’t seen much of him all day despite having run in the top 6 for a lot of the race. Then it was announced:

Dan Wheldon won the Indy 500 in a one-off entry for Bryan Herta Autosport! A phenomenal result from a man who always runs well at Indy no matter what his fortunes are elsewhere, one of the ‘nice guys’ of the paddock, and that label also applies to his team boss Bryan Herta. I was a fan of Herta when he was driving and I’m so pleased he’s won this race as an owner, along with assistance from the team of the amazing Sam Schmidt.

Chaos ensued. I’ve seen fans at the Indy 500 that cheery and ecstastic once before and that was when Helio Castroneves won the race after acquittal at a tax trial which could’ve seen him jailed. Yet these fans seemed even louder and there were more of them! The place was jumping. Wheldon was crying on the radio and again on the podium. The US was denied a home winner at the last turn but nobody could argue against a Wheldon win, he puts so much into Indy and I sense the locals treat him as one of their own.

If you missed the race or want to relive it, do watch these 15-minutes of highlights from the official IndyCar YouTube channel. You just have sit through some abysmal commentary from the track feed, which is so poor it even makes IMS Radio (also included) sound professional when really it is tear-your-hair-out frustrating to listen to. The video is still worth watching.

What a race. After some lean years Indy is once again back where it belongs as one of the great pillars of world motorsport. Fantastic!

Result

  1. Wheldon (Herta)
  2. Hildebrand (Panther)
  3. Rahal (Ganassi)
  4. Kanaan (KV)
  5. Dixon (Ganassi)
  6. Servia (Newman/Haas)
  7. Baguette (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
  8. Scheckter (KV)
  9. M.Andretti (Andretti)
  10. Patrick (Andretti)

Driver Points

  1. Power 194 (14th)
  2. Franchitti 178 (12th)
  3. Servia 150 (6th)
  4. Kanaan 135 (4th)
  5. Dixon 129 (5th)
  6. Rahal 120 (3rd)

Amazingly both Power and Franchitti took a similar points hit, so there’s no change at the top.

The next event was the double-header Firestone Twin 275s at Fort Worth on Saturday 11th June, which I haven’t really seen yet. The next event after this post goes up is the Milwaukee 225 on 19th June.