Maybe several years down the line we’ll think of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 for something other than “the year Fernando Alonso consumed all media”, but for now that was definitely the story all month. Every day Alonso was on the track in May race fans were subjected to countless. . .what’s the plural of analysis?
(“You couldn’t even prepare for the first paragraph?” – The Spotter)
At any rate, it got to a point that by race day even the drivers not named “Fernando” were sarcastically asking “What, no questions about Alonso?” and yet, once Green flag few our new buddy Fred looked as solid as any other racer. Right up until his Honda blow’d up. Welcome to Indy, pal.
What was also fascinating was the anti-Alonso crowd, who sometimes publicly lamented that a possible Alonso win would somehow diminish the Indy 500 by making it look easy to Formula One drivers. Well, uh, News Flash: the last THREE winners all came from Formula One. Juan Pablo Montoya*, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato all had made F1 starts prior to their recent wins at Indy, as had Max Chilton, who led the most laps (50) of any driver on Sunday. And yet, even with all of these F1 drivers making it look easy (har har) it’s still “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.
(*yeah, I know, JPM also won The 500 before he went to F1. Please don’t let facts get in the way of my story.)
For now, before memories get hazy, let’s remember that the ultimate story line from this finish was not Alonso’s near-perfection but rather (said in Jack Arute voice) Sato’s redemption, because, quite frankly, that’s the kind of stuff that can make a grown man cry. Had Sato stuck the Turn One pass of Dario Franchitti five years ago we might be talking about a different career arc for Mr “No Attack, No Chance,”. but he didn’t, and we aren’t. Collectively we’ve waited for him to crash out of races like Toonces the Driving Cat, as he certainly has in all too many events. But despite, well actually because of the crash damage, he has solidified his reputation as a guy who is always going for the win, which made his efforts on Sunday all the more special.
He was on the same team with the same equipment as Alonso, previous winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, and the current driver who has led the most laps at Indy without winning – Marco Andretti – and yet, likely because of his history of bending metal, he was by no means considered a favorite to win. But through strategy, skill, and the fate of random blown motors, Sato was the Andretti Autosport driver left in the best position to make a milk run, and after successfully executing a daring pass of Helio Castroneves with 3 laps to go, Sato held on. He did not crash. Insert massive cheering from the IMS paying customers. Now he’s probably going to be a Disney movie.
On the one hand I feel badly for Castroneves, who for the second time in four years has come within a second of winning #4 (or #5 even!) at Indianapolis. But on the other, thinking about how he managed to avoid disaster from two separate accidents ahead of him and drive an underpowered Chevy nearly to the win, it’s amazing how much magical luck this guy continues to have at this track. He pretty much is his own rabbit’s foot. More importantly: whether or not he ever wins another Indy 500, he’s going to be considered among the greatest to ever drive The 500.
And speaking of luck: winning the pole is good fortune, getting robbed at gunpoint on a taco run is bad fortune, but. . .how in the world did Scott Dixon LITERALLY WALK AWAY from that crash? Yes, there have been numerous safety enhancements to protect drivers, but that he suffered no serious injuries is joyfully mind-boggling. Perhaps the most lucky aspect about that crash is that Dixon’s Dallara went airborne towards the inside of the track, not the outside where there were thousands of fans in the stands.
Speaking of safety advancements, Townsend Bell had a thought. after seeing Dixon’s roller coaster ride.
Halo anyone? Yes please
— Townsend Bell (@townsendbell) May 28, 2017
Honorable mentions for the 101st running:
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has turned into quite the outside line restarting monster. If you attend an Indycar race on an oval, he’s one of the drivers you should definitely watch.
Oriol Servia, who seemed to be advancing position all race, once again providing fuel for flapping gums to say “why doesn’t this guy race all the time?”
The Dale Coyne duo of Ed Jones and James Davison, who before Davison’s accident with Servia were both running in the Top 5 in the waning laps of the race. That had to be difficult to watch for Sebastien Bourdais, because, come on, he would have been battling Sato and Helio for the win.
Gabby Chaves, who with a first time Harding Racing team in a Chevy took 9th place. Anytime you finish ahead of 3 of the 4 Team Penske regulars at Indy then you’re living right.
Final Lap: Thinking about drivers who have won in recent years, Sato now has more Indy 500 wins than Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, and Josef Newgarden combined. Because the track picks you.