Honda-powered Ryan Hunter-Reay won Sunday’s 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, edging Helio Castoneves by six hundredths of a second in the second-closest finish in “500” history.
After running for the first 300 miles at the fastest pace in “500” history, a late-race red flag set up a six-lap shootout to the finish, with Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and the Honda-powered car of Marco Andretti in contention for the victory.
Hunter-Reay and Castroneves traded the lead repeatedly in the final six laps, with Andretti stalking less than a half-second behind. Charging into the first turn at the start of the final lap, Hunter-Reay swept past Castroneves on the outside of Turn One in a thrilling maneuver. The pair ran nose-to-tail throughout the final three corners, but Castroneves was unable to find the speed needed to complete the pass before the checkers.
Hunter-Reay’s victory was the first Indy 500 triumph in his IndyCar career, but the second for Honda in the last three years. Honda’s last win was in 2012 with Dario Franchitti. Honda has now won 10 Indianapolis 500s since 2003 – four (out of a possible six) times with multi-manufacturer competition; and six as sole engine supplier to the series from 2006-2011.
Andretti, Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate, led for 20 laps and finished just 25 hundredths of a second behind the winner. During the closing laps, the third-generation racer twice challenged for second, but fell back after each attack as Castroneves successfully defended.
Carlos Munoz, the rookie star of the 2013 “500”, and NASCAR star Kurt Busch made it four Honda-powered Andretti Autosport machines in the top six at the finish. But front-row starter James Hinchcliffe was eliminated in a multi-car accident on Lap 175. Grand Prix of Indianapolis race winner Simon Pagenaud ran solidly in the lead pack during the first 100 laps, but had his efforts blunted by a cut tire, leading to an unscheduled pit stop.
After starting 14th, Justin Wilson was running seventh on Lap 191 when Townsend Bell crashed exiting Turn 2, which resulted in race officials stopping the race while the track wall was repaired. Debris from Bell’s car damaged Wilson’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda, taking him out of contention.
The race ran at a record-breaking pace of more than 212 mph for the first 425 miles, and also set a new mark for completing the first 150 laps without a caution flag. Although there were a total of five caution flags in the final 50 laps – and a red flag on Lap 192 to set up the final dash to the checkers – the 21 laps run under caution tied a record for fewest yellow-flag laps, set in 1976. Even with the late-race cautions and 10-minute red flag period, Hunter-Reay’s winning average speed of 186.563 mph is the second-fastest in Indianapolis 500 history, bested only by Tony Kanaan’s winning average of 187.433 set in last year’s race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 Andretti Autosport Honda) 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner: “It’s a dream come true, man. I can’t even believe it. [about the battle with Castroneves at the end] There was no practice for it. We never really ran those lines all month and it was all new. Everything everyone was doing at the end [of the race] was all new. Winning it under green [flag conditions] like that was just a fantastic finish. We all raced each other clean, but really hard. I think that was a fantastic race. I hope the fans loved it because I was on the edge of my seat, for sure! Thanks to my team. I love driving for these guys and thanks to Honda, we had an awesome engine today.”
Marco Andretti (#25 Andretti Autosport Honda) Finished 2nd: This is as competitive as IndyCar has ever been. We were close, but never really dominated. Every time we got to the front we got shuffled back. I think we did what we could, but congratulations to Ryan [Hunter-Reay].”
Kurt Busch (#26 Andretti Autosport Honda) Finished 6th: What an unbelievable experience. I’m sure I had a top-five car. I was on the edge after those two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find [clean] air. All in all, I’m very pleased. To be able to post a sixth-place finish was beyond my wildest expectations.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race win: “What a fantastic day, and an incredible finish. I hope all the fans loved it as much as we did. The entire HPD organization worked so hard to achieve this result – not just today, but starting months ago and all through the weeks here at Indianapolis. Their effort has been outstanding, and today’s victory is a reward for all of their hard work. This is not just an HPD victory, but a victory for all Honda associates. This is our third win in a row, starting at Barber last month and the Grand Prix of Indy two weeks ago, and it feels like we are on a roll. So we’re really looking forward to extending that streak to four- and five-in-a-row at the doubleheader in Detroit next week!”