A bold gamble to pit first and trade Firestone’s rain tires for slicks before the other 26 drivers jumped Colton Herta from 14th to first allowed the Andretti Autosport driver to control the majority of the Indianapolis Grand Prix as non-stop crashes, spins, and clashes on the wet road course delivered more drama in one afternoon than the NTT IndyCar Series has brought all season.
At least eight drivers faced major adversity across the eight full course yellows. The problems weren’t over after Herta crossed the finish line with a 3.0s margin over Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud and 7.1s over Team Penske’s Will Power as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard crashed into the pit wall.
“That might have been the toughest race I’ve ever done,” Herta said.
For Pagenaud, it was an epic performance, coming from 20th to second, and for Power, his steady hands not only brought his first podium of the year but also vaulted him into the lead of the Drivers’ championship. Herta and Pagenaud combined to break Chevy’s stranglehold on the season by giving Honda a 1-2 finish.
Rounding out the top six were Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson who charged from the back of the field to fourth, Conor Daly who started fourth and made his way back to fifth after dropping like a rock when he was asked to slow and save fuel early in the race by his Ed Carpenter Racing team, and Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist, who was taken out by his teammate Pato O’Ward and had to fight back to sixth.
IndyCar’s little team that could, Juncos Hollinger Racing, produced its best-ever result by taking seventh with Callum Ilott.
AS IT HAPPENED
Delayed by rain, the Indy GP was declared a wet race by IndyCar, which meant the entire field was required to start on Firestone’s rain tires.
Christian Lundgaard went off at Turn 1. Power fell to fourth on the back straight as Alex Palou grabbed to the lead. Will Power knocked teammate Josef Newgarden onto the grass as Pato O’Ward took P1 from Palou at the end of Lap 1. Newgarden fell from P3 to P8.
O’Ward pulled out 2.6s clear of Palou. Rosenqvist passed Palou to take P2. Power came back to P4 after running off track. Herta pitted on Lap 3 for alternate tires. Graham Rahal, Marcus Ericsson and Lundgaard went off in the grass and / or spun.
The leaders kept running 1m26s laps while Herta struggled to keep the car straight doing a 1m39s lap on cold dry tires. O’Ward and a few others pitted for dry tires and Herta got by by O’Ward after catching a huge slide. The rest of the field then pitted for dry tires.
Palou and Kirkwood sent themselves flying off course. Palou stalled the car and gave us our first caution on lap six. The championship leader resumed last in P27.
Having, Herta jumped from P14 to P1 with his early tire gamble.
The race restarted with Herta up front, O’Ward in P2, Rosenqvist in P3, Power in P4, Daly in P5 and Newgarden in P6. Dixon was up from P21 to P15. Ilott fell from P7 to P14.
By lap 11, Herta’s lead over O’Ward was 1.1s and 2.1s over Rosenqvist. Lap 12, Newgarden took P5. Daly got trained and fell to P12 by the end of the lap, saying he’s saving fuel. P15 for Daly on lap 14. Herta’s lead soared up to 3.3s. Lap 15 saw Kirkwood go off in the grass for a second time.
Rossi and Harvey hit Newgarden on lap 16 as they ran three-wide, flattening Newgarden’s rear tires and causing him to stop on the circuit — second yellow of the day. Newgarden’s day was done. Marcus Ericsson pitted to have his damaged rear wing replaced. Harvey’s left-front wing, which made contact with Newgarden, appeared to be partially broken.
The lap 21 restart saw Sato take P4 from Power entering Turn 1 and, once through, contact between Ilott and VeeKay sent VeeKay onto the grass. He spun while returning to the track and was hit in the right-rear by Devlin DeFrancesco, an innocent bystander.
The lap 25 restart saw Herta get a good jump on O’Ward with no changes up front as rain was approaching the track. On lap 30 Jack Harvey took P5 from Rossi. O’Ward was not far from Herta, staying within 0.7s per lap. Daly fell down to P23.
Power relieved Rossi of P6 on lap 32. Herta pitted at the end of the lap as O’Ward inherited the lead. O’Ward pitted at the end of lap 33. We were about to see how the in and out laps from Herta and O’Ward played out. O’Ward had to hold for an extra second or so, to wait for Rossi pitting in front of him, before leaving. Rosenqvist stopped at the end of lap 34 from the lead.
Herta barely squeaked by Rosenqvist while they leapt past O’Ward. Rosenqvist wound up in P2. Ilott went off track on lap 36 and continued as Dixon coasted into pit lane, out of fuel. long while, the third caution appeared.
Ericsson and Kirkwood, both having had adversity to deal with, opted to say out and moved to P1 and P2 ahead of Herta, Rosenqvist, O’Ward and Harvey.
Palou then pitted and took rain tires. Rossi did as well as the rain started to fall again. Big rain was almost here.
The race restarted again on lap 42 and a mess occurered as O’Ward tried to pass Herta in Turn 1, didn’t, spun, then was hit by teammate Rosenqvist who stalled and lost big. Sato also spun. Yellow again. O’ Ward sunk down to P11. Kirkwood pitted for rain tires on lap 45, surrendering P2.
The lap 46 restart saw Dixon unlapping himself and Herta taking the lead from Ericsson. Lap 47 — Ericsson fell to P5. Rossi, on wets, was 24 seconds off the lead; down to P10 by Lap 48; 47 seconds down by lap 50. Rossi finally pitted for dry tires on lap 51. The gamble didn’t pay off.
Grosjean tried to get by Harvey for P4 and Harvey fed him a wheel sending Grosjean spinning down to P12. It appeared like Harvey hit Grosjean at least four times with side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel action. Ilott went up to P7 . Pagenaud was running P3!
Rahal hit Kirkwood from behind and spins him on lap 56.
Herta pulled 6.8 seconds on McLaughlin as we went yellow for Jimmie Johnson’s spin and stall.
The field all stop at the end of lap 59. Rains or slicks? McLaughlin beat Herta out of pit lane for P1, both on slick alternates. Lap 61 — VeeKay spun. Rahal spun as well. Time for wets. Dixon, Rossi and Palou Herta and most of the rest of the leaders pit. McLaughlin, O’Ward, Ilott and Grosjean stayed out on slicks. Harvey was ordered to the back of the field for making contact on pit lane. Ilott pitted for rains and fell to P15.
Behind McLaughlin, O’Ward and Grosjean, the rest of the leaders on wets were led by Herta, Pagenaud and Power. McLaughlin spun under caution as they were coming to green. O’Ward led.
The new restart order was: O’Ward, Herta, Pagenaud, Power, Grosjean and Daly.
The race then became time-certain, and on the lap 66 restart Herta took the lead from O’Ward in Turn 1. McLaughlin spun and stalled, bringing out another caution. Rossi, Calderon and Dixon were forced off track in avoidance. McLaughlin dropped from P1 to P20.
On lap 68, under caution, O’Ward spun on slicks, falling from P2 to P4.
The race restarted on lap 70 as O’Ward and Grosjean pitted for wets and Herta streaked away to a 2.0s lead. Rosenqvist got up to P8. Ericsson took P4 from Daly on lap 71 with 3m45s left to run. Herta extended his lead to 3.5s clear of Pagenaud.
Montoya crashed out of a great finish with 1m30s left. Caution flew and the win went to Colton Herta.