INDIANAPOLIS (May 29, 2016) — Helio Castroneves sat helplessly in his car, fuming as his chance at a record-tying fourth win vanished Sunday at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell were no happier about the collision that knocked the two Andretti Autosport teammates out of contention on Lap 117.
Josef Newgarden and Carlos Munoz both played it safe by pitting with five and four laps left for a splash of fuel, only to watch rookie Alexander Rossi’s late gamble put him in victory lane.
Turns out, the historic 100th race wasn’t won in the pits — it was lost there.
“That was everything. I mean, that was everything,” Hunter-Reay said, still agitated that what appeared to be the strongest car on the track lost his shot at a second Indy title. “The front wing broke and we went a lap down trying to fix it. We went another lap down trying to replace the rear. But we definitely had the car to win, and I’m not sure how it would have panned out with the fuel race there at the end.”
It was a rugged day for many of the pre-race favorites.
Points leader Simon Pagenaud and 2014 series champion Will Power, Team Penske teammates, saw their chances fade away after being penalized for unsafe pit releases early in the race. Power finished 10th while Pagenaud’s three-race winning streak ended with him in 19th. .
Hunter-Reay and Bell led a combined 64 of the first 116 laps until Bell cut off Hunter-Reay as he tapped the inside wall on pit road. Both cars were pushed back into their pit stalls and repaired, but neither led another lap. Bell finished 21st while Hunter-Reay was 24th.
It wasn’t entirely Bell’s fault. Castroneves, who also drives for Penske, acknowledged he and Bell touched wheels hard enough to break a piece of Castroneves’ car that didn’t affect its handling.
“We got off the stand and they sent me,” Bell said. “I went to go around Ryan and then Ryan was sent and I tried to make room, but I think it was three cars in two spaces.”
When those two faded, Castroneves jumped into contention — until J.R. Hildebrand ran into the back of the Brazilian’s car, damaging his left rear wheel pod. Castroneves’ crew, which won the pit-stop challenge this weekend, spent nearly 40 seconds replacing the broken part. By the time he returned onto the 2.5-mile oval, his chance was over.
Castroneves wasn’t upset with his crew.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said of his thoughts during the seemingly interminable wait. “I was beside myself in there. Normally I’m pretty controlled in that situation, but I had the car to fight for win and when you see your chances taken away like that. We lost the race because someone doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
But it was just as tough for the drivers in contention at the end.
One by one, they headed to the pits over the final 10 laps.
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 race winner who was tapped by Power early in the race, pulled onto pit lane with eight laps to go for fuel and four tires. He finished fourth.
Rossi inherited the lead when his teammate, Munoz, pitted for fuel with four laps left. Munoz, of Colombia, wound up second.
Newgarden, the American driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, handed the lead to Munoz when he pitted for fuel with five to go.
As it turned out, Rossi made the right call by staying in the safest place all day — on the track — and finished the final 36 laps without stopping. He had enough momentum to complete almost one full lap after his car started sputtering.
Everyone else, headed to the pits where they found nothing but trouble.
“What I wanted was an opportunity to try to race these guys at the end,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t get that. That’s no fault to my guys. I think that’s just how the race fell.”