Unless you’ve been hiding under a motorsports rock for the past few days, you know that American Rookie Alexander Rossi won the 100th running of the Indy 500 for Honda on a fuel mileage run Sunday.
You also probably know that Honda dominated qualifying for the event.
And you may know that this is something of a surprise given how badly Honda has been performing against Chevrolet in Indycar this season and last.
Rather than going over all of that, I thought I would point out a few things that you may not know and correct some misconceptions about the results, the race, and recent history of Honda in Indycar, etc.
Point 1: Honda and Rossi were lucky to win. NOT TRUE . This implies that Rossi had not been fast during the race and had not been competitive. And that the only way he could have won was with this off-base strategy.
In particular, Chevy’s Josef Newgarden, who finished third behind Rossi’s Andretti-Honda teammate Carlos Munoz, was downright angry that Rossi won the way he did and implied that this inferior strategy took the race away from him. So let me point out a couple of things:
- Munoz followed Newgarden’s strategy and had the measure of him the last few laps. In fact, Munoz finished 4 tenths of a second ahead of Newgarden, so there is no guarantee that Newgarden would have won had Rossi not.
- Rossi had his share of fast laps and fast sector times. He hung around between 7th place and 14th place most of the race. He was keeping his nose clean. A couple bad pit stops dropped him back to 30th at one point, but he raced his way up to 7th with 30 laps to go and moved up from there.
Clearly, Rossi is no slouch. If the race had been won by Brian Clauson, then Newgarden might have an argument. But Rossi has a bright future in Indycar if he wants it.
Point 1a: Rossi was the only one trying to play the fuel mileage game. NOT TRUE . In fact, at least two other drivers tried the same thing – Ganassi-Chevy Driver Charlie Kimball and Penske-Chevy driver Will Power. They both pitted with Rossi on lap 164. Power came out in 8th, Rossi 9th and Kimball 10th. They all made it to the finish without pitting. But Rossi finished in first, 10.5 seconds ahead of Kimball (5th Place) and 21 seconds ahead of Power (10th) so Rossi and Honda were faster than the two Chevy’s trying the same strategy.
Point 2: Rossi was going 179.784 when he crossed the finish line. NOT TRUE . HE WAS SLOWER THAN THAT . Even 179 is a remarkably slow time considering that most cars cross the line during the race in the mid 220s. But looking at the video, I did not think he was doing anywhere near that at the line. And he wasn’t.
According to Indycar Timing and scoring, Rossi was doing 202.5 through turns 3 and 4. So you can assume he as doing 195-ish at the start of the front stretch headed to the finish line. In the last timing segment of the last lap he was doing 145.643. Assuming he started the segment at 195, he was doing well less than even 145 at the finish line. Likely in the 130s. For sure, Sam Schmidt was going faster in his Corvette last week than Rossi was in his Honda yesterday. Odds are there are street-going Hondas that could top that front-stretch speed on Rossi’s last lap.
Point 3: The Andretti family has bad luck in the Indy 500. TIME TO RE-EVALUATE THIS . Usually people are referring to the immense number of laps led in the race among Mario, Michael and Marco, without actually winning the race (Mario’s one win is the only one among the three drivers). But as an owner, Michael has been remarkably successful in the 500. I like to consider 2003 the start of the “Common Era” in Indycar racing. That was the year that most of the big, well-known CART teams joined the IRL full time. In that era, Michael Andretti’s teams (first Andretti-Green and then Andretti Autosport) have won as many Indy 500s as Team Penske (4) and more than Ganassi (3). Andretti also won the Rookie of the year award with four drivers in that time span: Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, Kurt Busch and Rossi. Since Michael has stepped away from the car, he has done alright at the 500.
Point 4: Chevy has beaten Honda like a drum since returning to the Indy 500 in 2012. FALSE . Honda has now won three Indy 500s (2012, 2014, 2016). Chevy has won 2. The drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships for the season-long series? That is another story and a sad one for Honda, which has never beaten Chevy for the Manufacturer’s title and has won only one Driver’s title.
Point 5: Has Honda turned a corner in competition with Chevy? QUITE POSSIBLY . For the first time in a while there was discussion during the race and after from the Chevy drivers that their engines were down on power compare to Honda. There were several reports of Chevy Drivers complaining that they were getting swallowed up on restarts by the Hondas.
Now, if you look at the final results, you may wonder about that. Sure, Honda finished 1-2, but Chevys were 7 of the top 10. But you have to look past that.
First, in qualifying, where top speed is everything, Honda had its best performance since the dawn of competition with Chevy in 2012. Honda had four of the top five and eight of the top 12 on qualifying day.
Second, race stupidity affected the top Honda teams much more than it affected the Chevy teams. Chevy lost Penske’s Juan Montoya to what looked like an unforced error early in the race. And though Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Will Power both suffered pit lane penalties, those were early in the race and they recovered. Helio Castroneves did have a fast car until JR Hildebrand hit him.
But Honda effectively lost both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell, the two fastest Hondas, to the same stupid pit lane incident. Both cars required repairs and spent the rest of the race laps behind.
Without that brain cramp, both of those cars likely would have been in the top five. Further, James Hinchcliffe (who finished seventh) was not the same after he lost his two tag-team partners.
My point is that Honda likely should have had four of the top five (Newgarden was the class of the Chevys and clearly would have been in the top five), and 6 or seven of the top 10.
Clearly, Honda now has a power advantage. Overall, the performance of the Indy 500 step engine should have the Chevy teams worried about the rest of the season. Chevy’s only salvation is that their aerokits are still better.
However, that is likely to change next season. Word around the paddock is that Indycar is likely to announce this week or next week that it will go to a new unified aerokit and drop the whole 'aero competition’ thing. Which will bring the competition back to where it started: Honda’s engine vs. Chevy’s engine. If the Hondas prove reliable, Chevy has some catching up to do.
The next two races are June 4 and 5 in Detroit. This will be run with the Indy 500 engines, by and large. It will be real interesting to see the practice and qualifying times.