The month of May is now less than three months away as IndyCar’s biggest race — the 500 — is coming into sharp view.
Nearly nine months on from Josef Newgarden claiming his first victory at one of the world’s greatest races, controversy over how the race finished still rumbles on.
In the final 20 laps of the race, three red flags got thrown as the closing stages turned into a mess.
The first red flag was brought out because of an unfortunate racing incident. Felix Rosenqvist hit the wall as his Arrow McLaren washed up the track thanks to the loss of clean air as Josef Newgarden passed him. With the Swede unable to control his car as it came back up the track following sliding down it initially after the wall contact broke his steering, he collected Kyle Kirkwood and the American driver ended up going down the track upside down. Luckily both drivers were absolutely fine.
A second red flag had to be thrown with 8 laps left as Pato O’Ward crashed after making contact with Marcus Ericsson as the Mexican attempted to make a pass into turn 3. Pagenaud was also hit by McLaughlin as the caution came out. Canapino was also a victim. The Mexican, Frenchman and Argentine were all out.
Then another red flag was required after the penultimate restart as Pedersen, Lundgaard, Carpenter, Rahal and Andretti all got caught up in an incident on the home straight.
On the final restart that was a last lap showdown, Marcus Ericsson’s aggressive weaving tactics from 2022 returned as he attempted to fend off Josef Newgarden.
On the long straight between turns 2 and 3, he went so low that he had all four wheels outside of the track. Newgarden managed to pass him, however. The Nashville native then pulled off his own stunt by aggressively weaving towards pit road to break the tow. It paid off as he won by a fraction.
Following the announcement that they will be driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the 2024 edition of the Indy 500 [providing they qualify], Ryan Hunter-Reay and Conor Daly shared their thoughts on the current situation.
Hunter-Reay has his concerns and the 2014 winner of the iconic race believes drivers need to start showing each other more respect.
Aside from the incidents mentioned above, drivers have been tending to push their direct competitor towards the grass when they’re side-by-side on occasions, too.
“I mean, I think Conor and me are in agreement. We talked about it a little bit at one point.
“There needs to be a higher level of respect amongst the drivers in superspeedway racing. We are out there doing 230, 240 [miles per hour], whatever you want to call it.
“There was a lot of moves last year that were very road course like, street course like. Especially on restarts, things like that.
“I think as a group, it needs to be brought up and we need to be conscious of it. Yeah, then you have the unknowns, some new drivers coming in again. We’ve always had that. We’ve always had an influx of some new drivers to the Speedway, the 500. You kind of deal with that as it goes.
“Definitely there were some questionable points in the race that we need to address that as a group.”
Intriguingly, Conor Daly suggested that if moves like Newgarden’s occurred again this year, there is going to be different calls up at race control.
“Like after attending the drivers meeting in December, there’s definitely going to be some adjustments to how things are called, right? Josef Newgarden snaking down the straight below the pit lane entry, I think that’s probably going to go away.
“I think the drivers are always pretty unified in what we want to see on how many moves you can make down the back straight if you’re trying to snake down the back straight, stuff like that.”
Daly went on to explain that it is more difficult to follow and set up a pass these days compared to years gone by as it has become more difficult to follow and get by relatively quickly.
“It is tougher to pass these days than it has been in the past. Aero kit era, the racing, it was less difficult to get a run. The cars are certainly a challenge to drive in traffic.
“When you do get an opportunity to make a move, not only do you not want to give that space up if you’re the one defending, but you have to get that position if you somehow get a good-enough run.”
This in turn has led to some of the desperate driving seen in recent seasons at the 500 and other venues.
“Everybody becomes a little bit more desperate. That’s kind of the era we’re in. There needs to be consequences for making some overly aggressive moves. Sadly at Indy, you’re not going off in the grass and getting back on the track, you’re hitting the wall really hard.
“I’m curious to see what happens.”