by Mary Champion
Speedway, Ind. – It was the biggest event in the106 years of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The weather was beautiful, the crowd was enormous and the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 was totally unexpected.
A 24-year-old rookie driver who had run only five IndyCar races in his life, never led a lap in an IndyCar race until today, ran out of fuel on the last lap and still managed to win the perhaps the biggest IndyCar race in history.
Alexander Rossi, from Nevada City, Calif., who had raced in Europe from 1998 until this year, driving a Honda entered by Andretti Herta with Curb-Agajanian, outlasted his competitors in a fuel-mileage duel to win the 2016 Indianapolis 500.
Behind Rossi in second at the finish was Andretti Autosport driver, Carlos Munoz. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden was third and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams drivers Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball were fourth and fifth, respectively.
The race began with a spirited duel for the lead between pole sitter James Hinchcliffe and fellow front row started, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay led the first lap, but Hinchcliffe took the lead on the second lap. The pair subsequently traded the lead, often running side by side, and trading the lead a couple of times within the lap.
This went on until Lap 25 when Newgarden passed Hinchcliffe for second while Hunter-Reay led.
At this point, a cycle of green flag pit stops began. Hinchcliffe’s stop was slow due to a problem with the fuel hose, dropping him back in the running order.
By Lap 33 the first pit stop cycle was complete. Hunter-Reay was back in the lead by 2.2 seconds over Simon Pagenaud. Newgarden took second from Pagenaud the next lap and began to close on Hunter-Reay.
Townsend Bell passed Newgarden a lap later and began to close on Hunter-Reay, taking the lead while the field was working Lap 42.
Bell was leading when the first yellow of the race came out on Lap 47 for debris on the backstretch.
The pits opened the following lap and most of the field headed in for service.
The green came back out on Lap 54 with Hunter-Reay leading, Pagenaud second, Bell third, Newgarden fourth and Hinchcliffe fifth.
A number of penalties were assessed for infractions during the pit stop sequence. Will Power made contact with Tony Kanaan while leaving pit road, costing Power a penalty of being sent to the back of the field for an unsafe pit release. Oriol Servia was also sent to the back of the field for a pit speed violation. On the green, Buddy Lazier was given a drive-through penalty for an improper pit exit.
With the return of the green flag came the return of three-wide racing as Hunter-Reay, Bell and Hinchcliffe all vied for the lead.
Juan Pablo Montoya brought the yellow back out on Lap 64 when he spun and hit the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier, with the car coming to a rest on the backstretch.
Under the yellow, the majority of the field went into the pits, giving Power the race lead.
Hinchcliffe was first out of the pits and lined up behind Power who was followed by Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and Bell.
With the green on Lap 75, Power led the field into Turn 1 and was passed by Hinchcliffe before the end of the lap.
For the next 19 laps, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay put on a fierce battle for the lead, frequently trading the top three positions.
On Lap 94, Sage Karam went outside of Bell when fighting for position. Karam lost control and made hard right side contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1 and made secondary contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier.
When the pits opened on Lap 96, most of the field pitted for four tires and fuel. Bryan Clauson did not pit and led the next three laps until he pitted, relinquishing the lead to Castroneves.
Rossi’s crew used a strategy of pitting for fuel only on Lap 99 and topped off the fuel on Lap 101.
On the Lap 104 green Castroneves led but was quickly passed by Hunter-Reay.
A spirited battle for the lead between Castroneves, Hunter-Reay and Kanaan continued until Lap 115 when Mikhail Aleshin spun and hit the wall between Turns 1 and 2. Conor Daly spun to avoid Aleshin but hit Aleshin’s car and the wall. Daly was able to continue around the track to the pits with damage to the front wing and tow of the car.
The majority of the field pitted after the pits were opened on Lap 117. Alex Tagliani elected to stay on the track and took the race lead.
Coming out of the pits there was contact between the cars of Castroneves, Bell and Hunter-Reay. Castroneves was in the outside lane while Bell come out into the inside lane. Hunter-Reay’s crew sent him out directly into Bell, who pushed Castroneves into the wall outside pit wall.
Both Bell and Hunter-Reay were stopped at pit out and had to be pushed back to their respective pits by their crews to have their cars checked over following the contact.
Bell was issued a stop and go penalty for an unsafe pit release.
On Lap 121, Tagliani led the field to the green. For the next several laps, Rossi and Tagliani swapped the lead.
On Lap 135, Tagliani pitted for fuel and tires, relinquishing second place behind Rossi to Kanaan. When Rossi pitted on Lap 138, Castroneves took the lead.
Castoneves and Kanaan then ran first and second until they pitted on Lap 149, giving the lead to Munoz.
On the same lap, Buddy Lazier lost a wheel while coming out of the pits, bringing out the yellow.
The pits were subsequently closed as Lazier was stopped on the pit exit lane.
Several drivers had to stop for a splash of fuel so as to not run out until the pits were opened and would have to pit again when the pits were opened. Spencer Pigot ran out of fuel on the warm-up lane and had to be pushed to his pit.
The drivers who had to stop for a splash and then pit again that were required to restart at the back of the field were Max Chilton, Graham Rahal, Pagenaud, Bell and Clauson.
Kanaan was in the lead when the Lap 158 green came back out but was quickly passed by Newgarden. The pair fought for the lead until Takuma Sato made “light contact” with the outside wall at the exit of Turn 4 to bring out the final caution flag of the day..
Under the yellow, the lead lap cars pitted for fuel and tires. JR Hildebrand did not pit and assumed the race lead, holding it when the green came back out. However, Kanaan passed him for the lead on the following lap.
The pair swapped the lead until Lap 190 when Munoz joined the pair and took second from Kanaan. Munoz assumed the lead on Lap 194. On Lap 195, Munoz was ahead of Rossi by 13-plus seconds.
The following lap Munoz pitted, allowing Rossi to assume the lead while Sebastien Bourdais ran second.
On Lap 198, Bourdais pitted from second place, leaving Rossi 16.6 seconds ahead of Munoz who had been running third.
As the field took the white flag, Munoz was closing on Rossi while Rossi was trying to stretch his fuel. However, he ran out and slowed in Turn 3, but was still able to hold onto a 4.4975 second lead over Munoz as he went under the checkered flags to win the 100th Indianapolis 500.