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Rookie Rossi Rolls to Stunning Indy 500 Win

Photo Credit: Dana Garrett

For the 100th time, the event proclaimed "The greatest Spectacle in Auto Racing" allowed drivers, teams and some of the more advanced vehicles on the planet to compete on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's famed 2.5-mile rectangle. The 200-lap open wheel racing classic known as the Indianapolis 500 has only gained in prestige as names like Ray Harroun, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Dario Franchitti represent a few of the challengers of the great 500-miler whose success at the track added a treasure trove of moments. The history of races dating back to 1911 and the promise of a vibrant 100th running of the open wheel competition was marked by sellout audience for the 2016 Indianapolis 500.

In the 99 previous events, 67 drivers have gained the distinction for being an Indy 500 champion. Once the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS pace car piloted by Roger Penske stormed towards pit road, the green flag that fell on the 33-car starting grid was left to decide if there would be an existing Indy 500 driver or a newcomer who would be immortalized on the Borg Warner Trophy.

On the Sunday prior to the 500-mile race, James Hinchcliffe claimed a momentous and emotional pole position after setting the fastest time in his Honda-powered Dallara fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. With the Indianapolis 500's 200-lap distance differing greatly from the four-lap run used by the Oakville, Ontario native to take top honours in qualifying, it was a relief for the fans of 'Hinchtown' to see the #5 car wheeled by the Canadian had race pace to stay at the front. On the first lap, Ryan Hunter-Reay's #28 Andretti Autosport car would immediately take the lead from James Hinchcliffe but the position was heavily contested in the early distance of the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Up to lap 24, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe traded the top spot on 12 occasions.

Photo Credit: Jim Haines

While the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car proved fast, James Hinchcliffe's lost contact with the lead on the first pit stop. During the lap 28 stop, a fueling issue for the #5 car resulted in a pit stop 4-5 seconds longer than typical. The long pit stop dropped Hinchcliffe to 6th place running position but a set of solid pit stops by the #5 car's pit crew and some hard driving by the Canadian insured their efforts of capturing the Indy 500 win were still very much alive.

The first caution flag used to slow the Indy 500 field was deployed on lap 47 for debris. On lap 64, the second caution came as a result of single-car crash resulting when reigning race winner Juan-Pablo Montoya lost control of his Team Penske machine out of turn 1. Montoya's misfortune concluding in a last-place finish is the third time in Indy 500 history that a defending winner of the event came back the following year to finish 33rd. A total of six cautions was used for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 with the only yellow flag shown for a multi-car incident shown on lap 115. Aside from the incident resulting in the caution, the period was also marked by a pit road collision in which two Indy 500 winning hopefuls were effectively defeated. As most leaders pitted for tires and fuel, the scramble back to the track turned tight. Emerging as a potential contender after the first quarter of the race, Townsend Bell driving the #29 car for Andretti Autosport had led for 12 laps. Leaving his team's pit stall on lap 117, he brushed the side of Penske driver Helio Castroneves. Bell's car slid towards the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports while also trapping Ryan Hunter-Reay's exit from his pit causing a collision, The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pit crew had just completed a stop for driver James Hinchcliffe's car resulting in one crew member having to make a quick move to avoid danger. Both drivers of Andretti Autosport machines suffered minor damage but both were able to continue running though neither were able to match their pace from earlier in the event.

By the end of the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay led the most laps in the race with 52 circuits while James Hinchcliffe recorded the second-highest total laps at 27. Despite their strength through the first half distance of the 2016 Indy 500, both drivers would be denied victory. Due to the positioning of the last race caution on lap 163, it was believed that almost all the front runners would need to make a late stop for fuel. Within the last 10 laps of the race, quick pit stops provided a necessary means to reach the chequered flag. However, one team pulled off a daring gamble that greatly altered the way almost anyone would have seen the race end. The #98 NAPA Auto Parts Dallara-Honda fielded by Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian team surfaced to the top position on lap 197 in the hands of rookie American driver Alexander Rossi. It turned out Rossi and his team made a plan to travel the remaining distance on the fuel left in their vehicle's near-empty tank. Recording some extremely slow late laps, the American's average lap speed on lap 198 was 202.650 miles per hour (roughly 10 miles per hour slower than his previous lap). Despite losing his last fumes of E85 blended fuel before approaching the start/finish line, Alexander Rossi's momentum was enough to claim the 2016 Indianapolis 500 by a 4.49-second margin over Carlos Munoz.

Photo Credit: John Cote

The 24-year-old's first IndyCar Series win coming at the most coveted venue for an open wheel victory was a surprise to almost everyone. “I have no idea how we pulled that off. We struggled a little bit in the pit stops but Bryan came up with an unbelievable strategy. The NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda was fast in the beginning. I can’t believe we’ve done this. I didn’t know (if I could make it to the finish).", said Alexander Rossi who had only competed in five IndyCar races prior to his Indy 500 victory. Despite running the full 2016 IndyCar Series, Rossi is still retained as reserve driver for the Manor Racing Formula 1 team. His Formula 1 organization posted this tweet following Rossi's triumph:

Alexander Rossi's two main team owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta have never won the Indianapolis 500 as drivers despite successful, long tenures in open wheel racing. However, both former drivers become multiple winners as car owners. The 2016 victory is Andretti Autosport's fourth win at the Brickyard while Bryan Herta revisited the winner's circle for the second time following the late Dan Wheldon's unexpected 2011 Indy 500 win. “This is unbelievable. Man, it was so close at the end. For a rookie to drive with the poise he did in such a tough situation – I was telling him, ‘Don’t let anybody pass you but save fuel’ – and he did it. A tribute to Alex (Rossi), Michael Andretti and the whole team. We worked so well together this month.”, said Herta in post-race.

Ever since his rookie year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014, Carlos Munoz has been a speed demon on the 2.5-mile track. Emerging importantly near the end of the race, the Columbian driver stood ready to take the win if Alexander Rossi would not have been able to coast his way across the line. Also driving for Andretti Autosport, the Munoz's second place is the second top-5 finish in only 3 Indy 500 attempts.

The highest finishing Chevrolet-powered entrant at the 2016 500-mile classic was driven by Josef Newgarden. Competing for Ed Carpenter Racing, an organization that the driver/team owner sat on the Indy 500 pole position twice, Newgarden gave his Ed Carpenter Racing team their best finish after racing 200 laps. The Ed Carpenter Racing #21 car finished ahead of the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball. With the retirement of Juan-Pablo Montoya and the Only two drivers finishing in the top-10 at the Indy 500 were former event winners. Beside the fourth place for Kanaan, Scott Dixon crossed the line in 8th place.

 Photo Credit: Forrest Mellott

Finishing behind 2011 Indy 500 runner-up J.R. Hildebrand was the pole sitter of the 2016 race. Starting at the front just a little more than 3 hours before the Indy 500 ended, James Hinchcliffe was riding an unbelievable high. Not only was the 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole the first for the popular Canadian pilot on the Verizon IndyCar Series, it came at the same track that almost cost him his life in 2015. Conquering the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in qualifying, the race started well for Hinchcliffe and his #5 Arrow-sponsored lost some pace in the latter part of the event. "We were super strong the first half and definitely had one of the cars to beat. It was really just track temperatures that caught us out there. We started losing grip as the temperatures came up late in the afternoon and the last two stints were a real struggle when we tried to make the tires last.", said Hinchcliffe. James Hinchcliffe crossed the line in 7th place. In the grander scheme of the Verizon IndyCar championship, the double-point accumulation does allow Hinchcliffe to jump to fifth place overall.

Entering the Indianapolis 500 as a dominant force in the 2016 IndyCar Series after winning three consecutive races on the tour including the road course-based Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud found the 500-mile to be the trickiest challenge of the year so far. Having finished no worse than 2nd in five races, the Frenchman struggled with a misfiring engine through the second-half of the 200-lap event to claim 19th place. Still the point leader in the 2016 overall drivers' championship, Pagenaud has lost ground to Scott Dixon and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Photo Credit: Jim Haines

Alex Tagliani, the second Canadian running in the 2016 Indianapolis 500, started 33rd and finished as the last vehicle on the lead lap in 17th. While the result seemed less-than impressive, Tagliani driving for A.J. Foyt Racing actually accomplished two special feats. First, starting from last place and leading on lap 117, the Canadian became only the third driver to go from 33rd to 1st. Alex Tagliani also joins Rick Mears as a driver who has led six consecutive Indianapolis 500 events.

2016 IndyCar Series
Indianapolis 500
Race Results

Pos # Driver Car # Engine
1 Alexander Rossi 98 Honda
2 Carlos Munoz 26 Honda
3 Josef Newgarden 21 Chevrolet
4 Tony Kanaan 10 Chevrolet
5 Charlie Kimball 42 Chevrolet
6 JR Hildebrand 6 Chevrolet
7 James Hinchcliffe 5 Honda
8 Scott Dixon 9 Chevrolet
9 Sebastien Bourdais 11 Chevrolet
10 Will Power 12 Chevrolet
11 Helio Castroneves 3 Chevrolet
12 Oriol Servia 77 Honda
13 Marco Andretti 27 Honda
14 Graham Rahal 15 Honda
15 Max Chilton 8 Chevrolet
16 Jack Hawksworth 41 Honda
17 Alex Tagliani 35 Honda
18 Pippa Mann 63 Honda
19 Simon Pagenaud 22 Chevrolet
20 Gabby Chaves 19 Honda
21 Townsend Bell 29 Honda
22 Matt Brabham 61 Chevrolet
23 Bryan Clauson 88 Honda
24 Ryan Hunter-Reay 28 Honda
25 Spencer Pigot 16 Honda
26 Takuma Sato 14 Honda
27 Mikhail Aleshin 7 Honda
28 Stefan Wilson 25 Chevrolet
29 Conor Daly 18 Honda
30 Buddy Lazier 4 Chevrolet
31 Ed Carpenter 20 Chevrolet
32 Sage Karam 24 Chevrolet
33 Juan Pablo Montoya 2 Chevrolet


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