Anyone who considers themselves a fan of auto racing and didn’t like the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 or the Pay Less Little 500 is not a true fan of racing.
For the third consecutive year, the outcome of the Indianapolis 500 was not determined until the closing laps. Even those in the media room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had their buzz on about Sunday’s race.
A record number of lead changes, record number of different drivers leading the race and a record race speed are just the highlights of the day.
If you had a ticket overlooking Turn 1, you had an extraordinary day. It seems like on every lap there was a new leader emerging onto the short chute, and in many instances the lead would change on the back straight and again entering Turn 3.
The tight side-by-side racing not only was taking place at the front of the pack, but throughout the field.
Two years ago, J.R. Hildenbrand crashed on the final lap in Turn 4 giving the late Dan Wheldon the victory. Last year, Takuma Sato had an accident in Turn 1 on the final lap allowing Dario Franchitti to record his third win.
Until the caution flag waved on Lap 192, when Graham Rahal crashed, Sunday’s event was a three-car race for the lead between Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz.
On the final restart, those three were joined by Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves to battle for the win. Kanaan made the 68th and final lead change of the day entering Turn 1 on the restart, and Franchitti’s accident with two laps remaining brought the excitement to an end.
The roar of the crowd when it was evident that Kanaan would finally get his Indy 500 victory was ear-splitting, even in the enclosed media room. It was a popular win among the fans and competitors with the IZOD IndyCar series.
The question is how does the Indy 500 top the past three years?
The Pay Less Little 500 was determined with four laps remaining. Crawfordsville driver Jacob Wilson took the lead from Shane Cottle in the late stages of the race when Cottle was blocked by the car of Chet Fillip.
Cottle was glued to the tail tank of Wilson lap after lap. Everyone at Anderson Speedway was wondering when Cottle would make his move for the lead. That opportunity disappeared when Cottle’s Contos Racing entry erupted in smoke on Lap 496.
In what might have been the closest finish in Little 500 history, Wilson won by 7 seconds over pole-sitter JoJo Helberg, with Eric Gordon finishing third. Four drivers completed all 500 laps, with Warsaw’s Tony Elliott finishing fourth followed by Fillip, who was two laps off the pace.
In an interesting twist, it used to be drivers that found success in the Little 500 in the 1950s and 1960s would land a ride in the Indianapolis 500. That changed this year with Bryan Clauson, who competed at the Indy 500, making his first start in the Little 500. Clauson finished 18th after completing 422 laps.
Gordon, a nine-time winner of the Little 500, announced earlier this would be his final race. Just to have the opportunity to watch Gordon work his way through lapped traffic and the strategy employed by the team was worth the price of admission.