INDIANAPOLIS — The forecast called for a potential washout of the Indianapolis 500, yet the fans still packed the Snake Pit, huddled the Midway and roamed gasoline Alley hoping rain wouldn’t ruin one of the most august events in the world.
IndyCar, ever so slowly trying to race its way back into relevancy, had too much to offer in the 103rd running of “The sterling Spectacle in Racing” and a weeklong prediction of terrible Sunday weather had everyone on edge. The pre-race pageantry perfectly had to happen and some IndyCar and broadcast partner NBC were urgently anxious to show the world their much-improved product without any weather disruptions.
But on a day that called for a 90 percentage chance of thunderstorms, the sky over Indianapolis Motor Speedway remained clear blue and the Indy 500 went off without a hitch. It turned out to be the most perfect day for a breathless 500 miles full of chaos, drama and spectacular sport.
IndyCar’s drivers have argued for years they have the most competitive series in the world, an argument impossible to be settled, but one put on display Sunday with a flashy showing of speed, danger, anger and a job-saving drive by winner Simon Pagenaud.
Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi listed the lead five times over a frantic final 13 laps, with Pagenaud determined to hold off the American according to be in line to replace him at Team Penske. Pagenaud made his final pass on the penultimate lap, then blocked Rossi for the final 2½ miles around the brickyard. He took the checkered flag for a clean May sweep at Indy — he won the road course race three weeks ago, the pole for the Indy 500 and then the Borg-Warner trophy to earn a guarantee from team owner Roger Penske that Pagenaud is not getting discharged at the end of the season.
“I was never going to give up,” Pagenaud aforementioned. “That’s what saved me, saved my career at one point. That’s what always helped me, and I always believed. I’ve been expression it, but kids, if you’re looking, if you’re observation, always believe in your dreams.
“And if you really believe it, believe it hard, and if you work hard enough, thing can happen.”
The all-night rating in NBC’s debut of the race was up 15% compared with when ABC broadcast it for the 54th and final time. Viewership hit a high of 4.56 in the final 15 proceedings of the Pagenaud and Rossi duel, and the network aforementioned it was its highest rating for a Sunday afternoon sporting event since an NFL contest game the first week of January.
Although it was a milk-drenched Pagenaud celebrating Penske’s eighteenth Indy 500 win, it was an overall triumph for IndyCar, NBC, the speedway and anyone who watched. Rossi once once again captivated the audience with a dazzling drive around Indy and he was clearly on the edge. He banged his steering wheel in frustration when a problem with his fuel hose cost him track position, and he raised his clinched clenched fist in anger trying to pass the lapped car of Oriol Servia at 220 mph.
“Once you’ve won this thing once, the desire to win just ramps up exponentially every year,” aforementioned Rossi, who won as a cub in 2016 on fuel mileage. “It sucks to come this close and really have nothing that we as a team could have done differently.”
Conor Daly, a promising young American unable to land the support to find a full-time job in sport, cracked the top five and settled for a career-best 10th-place finish. He is hopeful the run leads to more rides.
Santino Ferrucci, a cub to the series and the speedway, was seventh in a untroubled showing for some other young American hopeful. Graham Rahal was running inside the top 10 until contact with Sebastien Bourdais knocked them some out of the race.
A furious Rahal rush to Bourdais, who was still in his car, and seemed to lightly smack Bourdais’ helmet in complaint of the contact. Rahal besides raised his arms to the crowd, signal for a rowdy cheer from the ariled grandstands.
Bourdais had the luxury of a brand-new car team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan sprung for generally for the Indy 500, and to see it crashed after running inside the top 10 all day was crushing. Sullivan buried his head in his hands when he saw the accident piece observation on the pit stand.
Marco Andretti, still trying to break the Andretti curse at Indy on the fiftieth day of remembrance of grandfather Mario Andretti’s only 500 triumph, had an issue with his car on the first lap and his race was instantly ruined. He finished 26th.
Colton Herta, who became IndyCar’s youngest winner years before his nineteenth birthday, didn’t even get the chance to ride around. His gear case bust just six laps into the race. And Helio Castroneves, still trying to win his elusive fourth 500, had contact with some other car on pit lane and the penalty for contact took him out of contention.
All this went on without McLaren or Fernando Alonso on track. The mighty return of the brand was spoiled when McLaren failing to get Alonso into the field of 33, so their only presence Sunday was a merchandise trailer and cordial reception suite.
Fans jammed the McLaren booth to grab discounted T-shirts and hats, piece sporting director Gil de Ferran gamely diverted more than 100 sponsors and guests who had expected to watch the cheat on Formula One champion zip around the speedway in the papaya orange car.
In missing the race, McLaren showed the Indy 500 is a beast of an event that can’t be taken for granted.
And even with Alonso observation on TV somewhere, IndyCar proved that for at least one day of the year, it has the best product on the track.
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