INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Palou was the one to beat early in Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He had led 47 of the 1st 68 laps on a sun drenched afternoon at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then, rookie Callum Ilott found the Turn 2 SAFER barriers which essentially ended Palou’s race winning chances.
When Ilott crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 68, Palou was coming down to pit lane. Unfortunately, Ilott’s crash sparked a quick caution light which in turn closed pit road. Palou wasn’t fully on pit lane yet which caused him to have to pass on by. Unfortunately, his No. 10 Dallara-Honda was out of gas and he’d have to pit again a lap later while the pits were closed. That was a penalty. That’s why they took an emergency service and would pit again when the pits opened. 3 pit stops in a 4 lap span took him down to 30th. He would rebound to finish 9th but it was a day of what might have been for him too.
That handed the race back to his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Scott Dixon. He and Palou set the pace early and now it was up to Dixon to control it by himself. He’d do just that too in leading 95 of the first 174 laps in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda.
That’s 142 of 174 laps led by Dixon and Palou at the time of Dixon coming down pit road for his final stop. He was unfortunately speeding.
“It’s heartbreaking, to be honest,” Dixon said. “I came into the pit and had to lock the rears and kind of locked all four. I knew it was going to be close; I think it was a mile an hour over or something. Just frustrating. I just messed up.”
That handed everything over to the Chevrolet camp. Pato O’Ward was not the favorite as he was running second at that time. The thing is, his Arrow McLaren SP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist pit later than O’Ward and would inherit the lead among them as a result.
“When we got done with that last pit stop, Felix undercut us, then when I pitted and started catching up to him,” O’Ward said.
The thing is, while the Ganassi duo of Palou and Dixon were out of race winning contention, their teammates weren’t. Marcus Ericsson and Tony Kanaan were coming and doing so quickly.
“Marcus (Ericsson) out of nowhere just came out with insane speed,” O’Ward said. “Got by me like I was standing still. Got up to Felix (Rosenqvist) I think within two laps, passed him like he was standing still, left him. I got to Felix finally. I passed him. I had nothing for him. I said, I need a yellow to try and have a shot.
“Tony was also really quick coming behind me. I know he was catching me faster than what I was catching Marcus. When the restart happened, I said, I have one shot, I have to go flat, and still wasn’t enough.”
Ericsson took the lead and set sail. He was gone. O’Ward was not doing everything in his power to hold Kanaan off for 2nd.
“I think we did a really good last pit sequence,” Ericsson said. “The car was fast. Got some free laps around that. Came out third and caught Felix and Pato and passed them, pulled a gap. I was hoping that was the race-winning move. Had that three-second gap. We had it covered. The only thing that could stop us was a caution, and of course that caution came.”
That was via his teammate Jimmie Johnson from a crash on Lap 193 and the subsequent red flag. It gave everyone a chance again.
“It’s not supposed to be easy to win the 500,” Ericsson said. “Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life probably, thinking what to do, thinking that I’m leading the biggest race in the world, and I’m that close to win it.”
“It went red. Well, I think I can restart this thing. I have a lot less to lose than those guys,” Kanaan said.
That was short lived. Ericsson and O’Ward pulled away quickly on the restart with it being a duel between the Ganassi and AMSP drivers for the win.
“From then on I knew, two laps to go, unless they had a hiccup like Dario and Takuma, it was not going to be for us,” Kanaan continued.
Ericsson snaked hard and closed the door. O’Ward couldn’t get him with Sage Karam crashing on the final lap in Turn 2 bringing a premature end to the race.
“I knew Pato was going to have a run on me because up front we’ve seen all month it’s really hard to defend when you’re up front,” said Ericsson of the final restart. “I was actually sitting during dinner here at the Speedway on infield last night talking with Dario about this type of scenario, if I’m leading when it’s towards the end of the race the last couple laps, what to do, how to break the tow of the car behind, how to place the car. We had that very conversation last night. That was in my mind when I was sitting there during that red flag.
“I just tried to go out and execute that plan I had made in my head. Pato had a really good run on me. I wanted to put him on the outside because I knew it was going to be hard to go around my outside. I was not going to lift. There was no way I was going to lift. I just kept my foot down and that was the race-winning move.
“I was not going to put him in the wall, but he had to work hard to get around me there. I knew I could hold my line. I was going to go flat. He was going to have to go two-wide through one to get there. He obviously didn’t do it, so…
“But, yeah, that was my plan, to put him on the outside. I knew if I went on the inside into one, I could keep my foot down. I was hoping I could keep my foot down. That was my plan. It worked.
“He made me work for it, for sure.”
Even in saying that, O’Ward said he had nothing for Ericsson too.
“Too fast in the straight,” O’Ward said of Ericsson. “Maybe if I would have timed it a little bit better. I really don’t think I could have done it much better. I did enough to what we had been doing all race.
“But, yeah, at the end I was surprised with how much more pace they had in a straight line with quite a bit more downforce. I was just trying to time it as good as possible.
“Obviously the weaving helped him. Staying on the inside helped him. I got alongside him, but we all know how that ends up in the last lap. No way he would have backed off.”
O’Ward said that the only way that he could have beaten Ericsson in the end was to go even freer.
“Yeah, especially this last stint, the car was hairy out of a few moments. That was the only way for me to have a shot. That was the only way for me to have a shot because I knew they were going to pull out something from their back pocket. I knew it.
“I think we were one of three cars that was really trim. Yeah, like whenever we practiced and we put the wicker on with everybody else, I said, no, this is turtle slow. We need to trim out and we risk it. I will make sure I don’t put the car in the wall.
“But it was hairy. At the end it was tough. The red flag really helped me cool down the rear tire.
“You go flat and you hope to God the car doesn’t snap.”