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Winners and Losers: 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones

The 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 did not disappoint, widely regarded as one of the greatest races in the history of the event dubbed ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’. It was decided by a last-lap pass from Josef Newgarden on Pato O’Ward in Turn 3, earning the Team Penske driver his second Indy 500 crown in as many years.

The disparity in emotions between the top two was emblematic of the extent of the highs and lows at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). And there were certainly a number of winners and losers emerging from the Speedway in 2024…

Winner: Josef Newgarden 

Josef Newgarden and Team Penske’s Month of May was about as perfect as can be. They swept the front row for the first time since they did so in 1988. Newgarden’s No.2 team broke the record time en-route to Pit Stop Competition success. And they ultimately took home the big prize for the 20th time. 

It was a historic victory for Newgarden - the 30th of the 33-year-old’s IndyCar career. He became the 11th two-time winner and one of only six drivers to win the Indy 500 back-to-back - the first to do so since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

Heading into last year’s event, Newgarden had let go of the idea of winning the Indy 500. But after a 12-year wait, he ended his winless run to cement his legacy as one of IndyCar’s greats and possibly the greatest-ever oval driver. And he is now only one of six drivers in history to have won two championships, two Indy 500s and 30 races. 

The fashion that Newgarden won the race in was fitting of his achievement. For the second year in succession, it was a last-lap pass that secured the victory. This time it came after a long green-flag stint rather than in a one-lap shootout, and he started third as opposed to 17th, but it still took a decisive move with only two corners remaining.

His overtake on Pato O’Ward was the most apt of ways to cap off one of the most tightly-contested Indy 500 races of all-time. It was the boldest of moves into Turn 3, launching himself around the outside and executing the move cleanly. It was only the fourth last-lap winning pass of all time - Newgarden now has done so twice.

While he led 26 laps in the end, it was a supremely methodical drive from Newgarden, who was willing to drop into the lower end of the top 10 to manage the race before cycling to the front when it mattered most. 

The fact that Newgarden had the car beneath him to have the confidence he would be able to get to the front spoke to the work that Penske put into their build quality across the year - evidenced month-long. And this was again pivotal to allow him to pull off his race-winning pass.

It was a spectacular drive from Newgarden and similarly bulletproof execution from his back-up strategist Jonathan Diuguid and acting race engineer Raul Prados. It spoke to the depth in the Penske ranks following key suspensions after the recent push-to-pass saga.

And after a tough last month, Newgarden has done his talking on the track.


Winner: The spectacle 

The Indianapolis 500 has been, is, and always will be ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ and it once again lived up to that title in 2024. With concerns over weather looming all day, when the green flag finally fell, four hours late at 16:44 ET, we were treated to one of the best Indianapolis 500’s in recent memory.

This race has only ever been decided by a last-lap pass four times in history. And yet, we’ve had the privilege to witness it two years in a row. That will steal the headlines, but the 199 laps before that were just as action-packed, entertaining, dramatic, and all the storylines that the Indianapolis 500 is about.

The four-hour wait was frustrating, however, it was certainly worth the wait. The later times saw cars running at sunset, which did pose a challenge from a visual standpoint with the sun glaring at drivers down the backstretch. Pato O’Ward described the ‘sunset racing’ as ‘badass,’ before alluding to his interest at the event being hosted at night.

But crucially, the TV numbers also reflected this. NBC has given a provisional number of 5.344 million viewers on average, an 8% increase on 2023, and a 10% increase on 2022. That number would peak at 6.46 million, when Newgarden and O’Ward would duel for Indianapolis glory. NBC stated it was the most streamed IndyCar race ever, across Peacock and all other NBC digital platforms - a huge result for the series, particularly when the rain delay factor is taken into account.

How much of this comes down to Kyle Larson? Easily the biggest Indianapolis 500 rookie since Fernando Alonso, maybe even longer ago. Larson-mania has truly hit Indianapolis, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion bringing in a new wave of fans, autograph queues almost miles long. And considering the peak viewership clashed with NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Larson has brought a crucial narrative to follow throughout the month. Yes, his attempts at ‘The Double’ did not go his way, weather ending his plans in both Indianapolis and Charlotte. But, Larson’s performance is not to go unnoticed, qualifying 5th and running very respectably over the 500 laps. Neither Larson, McLaren or Hendrick are satisfied at the outcome, and when Larson was asked if he’d do the race next season, a rye smile appeared on the Californian’s face. Whether you like it or not, Larson is absolutely critical for IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500, and bringing in new fans to the series.

Whatever the spectacle is, the on-track product, the sunset racing, Kyle Larson, after many legal troubles over the last year against the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500 certainly certified that status on-track. With viewership as high as ever, it’s time for IndyCar to ride that wave for the rest of the season.


Winner: Recovery drives 

There were a number of heroic recovery drives throughout the field on Sunday, whether drivers who started low down the order or were pegged back by issues in the race.

Considering Honda’s seeming deficit and Chip Ganassi Racing’s qualifying struggles, Scott Dixon’s drive from 21st to third was nothing short of spectacular. He executed another excellent strategy from his No.9 team and was left delighted with the fact he maximised what was on the table to come so close to the leading two cars.

Callum Ilott faced as much adversity as anybody. He had to start from the back as opposed to 15th after pitting with an issue on the pre-race laps and had a stuck weight-jacker race-long. Despite being compromised heavily, plus having early contact and later being punted into the wrong pit box, he came home in an incredible 11th. 

Conor Daly gained the most positions of anybody to finish 10th for the ever-efficient Indy-only Dreyer & Reinbold team. A bold strategy, pitting under the opening caution, was executed perfectly. Daly led laps in his home race for the third time in four years and was behind runner-up Pato O’Ward on the same strategy at one stage. 

Christian Rasmussen finished as the highest rookie after gaining 12 places from 24th. He ran inside the top 10 at points and was one of the most aggressive drivers in the field, balancing boldness shown during practice with impressive maturity. It is a shame that the entertaining Rasmussen is not set for any more oval races this year.

Kyle Kirkwood started 11th but was dropped back with an early pit stop issue and later penalised with a drive-through for contact with Ilott in pit lane. But owing to a strong car, the prowess of Bryan Herta as strategist and Kirkwood quietly being one of the best budding oval drivers in the field, he cycled into the top five and finished a strong seventh.

Rinus VeeKay never had it the “boring” way he prefers this May. He started seventh despite an early qualifying crash and was forced to the rear of the field on Lap 63 in the race after contact in the pits. But his Ed Carpenter Racing team delivered a strong rebuilt car and a good strategy, with VeeKay - one of the best at IMS - making his way back to ninth.

A 15th-place finish for Graham Rahal may not sound spectacular. But after starting 33rd following another Bump Day appearance, a gain of 18 places - which could have been higher if not for a pit lane speeding penalty - is a huge upturn for a Rahal Letterman Lanigan team left searching after 2023. They had cars finish in 13th, 14th and 15th.


Winner: Pato O’Ward 

Pato O’Ward was criticised for being too cautious when competing for Indianapolis 500 victory in 2022. Pato O’Ward was criticised for being too aggressive when competing for Indianapolis 500 victory in 2023. Pato O’Ward got that balance spot on when competing for Indianapolis 500 victory in 2024, but yet, it still wasn’t enough.

For the third year in a row, O’Ward has been perilously close to claiming a first ‘500’ victory for a Mexican driver, but for various reasons, those haven’t quite happened, this year was his most frustrating to date. 

But once is all said and done, O’Ward can reflect on the event with great pride at the performance that he put in. O’Ward has felt like he has had an inherent car issue for the majority of the month, and he didn’t find it much easier on race day, but still found himself in a position to compete for victory.

It’s easy to forget the mind-blowing save that he made mid-race, where O’Ward seemingly lost the car twice on the apron, and still managed to keep it out the wall in a save that this race has never seen in it’s 108 years - certainly living up to his nickname of ‘Fast Hands.’

But his performance in the final few laps was truly admirable. O’Ward had been fighting fever all month - having several sleepless nights, and with a car he was not happy with, but still found himself in an excellent position through strategy and hard work. 

And although he’d come up short once again, never before has such support been given to a runner-up at the 500. Newgarden was particularly full of praise: “I don't think it works unless you're racing someone like Pato. It's not that Pato didn't race me hard, he just raced me clean. That move doesn't work unless you're racing someone like that. It just doesn't. It's very easy that that doesn't work out. So I think he's a tremendous champion. He could have easily won the race himself. He was very capable of that with his team. For us, it worked out. He drove me excellently. I'm very thankful for him and the way that he drove.”

O’Ward cycled throughout the pack, throughout the whole day. With a car that was loose all day, and seemed just desperate to throw itself on the wall, O’Ward held on with a maturity that he has maybe lacked in the early few years of his career. That maturity was ever present on the final lap. Many believe O’Ward’s time will eventually come, but he can leave Indianapolis with his head held extremely high.


Loser: Pato O’Ward

But, on the flip side of the equation, finishing runner-up at the ‘500’ is never easy, particularly when you’ve come so close on so many occasions. And after yet another Indianapolis 500 has fallen out his grasp, particularly with two corners to go, Pato O’Ward’s seemingly inevitable Indianapolis 500 crown has to wait once again.

As O’Ward noted post-race: ‘You don’t know how many opportunities like that you have.’ This was his best opportunity yet, despite the 199 laps prior to the story that’ll steal the headlines. ‘It’s always a heartbreak when you’re so close, and not for the first time.’ And as Scott Dixon noted: “As I've said many a times, finishing second sucks. It's horrible. You'd rather finish last I think almost at this place and be out of the race early.”

But maybe O’Ward can take comfort from the fact that Arrow McLaren sporting director, Tony Kanaan had such a similar experience at his early years at the race, not winning until his 12th attempt, having four top five finishes prior. That number is the same as Josef Newgarden, and look at where he lies now.

You don’t get in contention for the race victory five years in a row through pure luck at this place. Yes, you might get one or two where you magically cycle to the front, but for O’Ward to be so competitive at this event year-on-year suggests that his time will come, however long the heartache will continue for.

The tears dripping down the Mexican’s face in his immediate post-race interview maybe tell you the whole story of what you need to know. O’Ward’s time will surely inevitably come, but at this moment in time, his wait for an Indianapolis 500 victory has to continue.


Loser: The eight crashers

Eight drivers saw their Indy 500 come to an abrupt end with crashes, causing six of the eight cautions deployed during the race. It took almost half-race distance for a caution in 2023 but mere corners in 2024.

Three drivers’ races ended before two corners had even been completed as the first opening-lap caution since 2015 was triggered by Tom Blomqvist. The Meyer Shank Racing rookie had been on record about finding traffic running the most difficult thing to adapt to in his first oval event. And in the dirty air, he got down too low and was sent into a spin.

Blomqvist was collected by the airborne-sent Marcus Ericsson, who had a similar incident in Turn 4 in the Thursday practice session of the opening week. Ericsson’s crash led to the chassis change that contributed to the 2022 winner and 2023 runner-up being so deep in the pack as he qualified only 32nd. 

Pietro Fittipaldi was the third car to retire in this incident as a result of the check-up, which caused contact with Callum Ilott. For these three drivers, it was the cruellest of fates to have their race ended on the opening lap after year-long preparation and a fortnight of on-track build-up.

Linus Lundqvist was the second rookie to crash - his second of the month - and caused the third caution inside 30 laps after not bailing from the inside of a four-wide situation in Turn 1. Along with Blomqvist and the mechanically retired Marcus Armstrong, Lundqvist will have to wait for his sophomore year at Indy for his first true race experience.

Two major pre-race contenders also crashed. Colton Herta found his way to the front and arguably had the best car in the field but devastatingly hit the wall in Turn 1 when running second to put him out of contention on Lap 86. Front row starter Will Power later ended a tough day with a heavy hit in Turn 1 after getting up high trying to pass Christian Rasmussen.

Between these two incidents, Ryan Hunter-Reay saw his day end after a collision with Scott Dixon, who faded across seemingly unaware of Hunter-Reay’s presence. The 2014 winner spun onto the grass on the back stretch with a dislodged front wing but showed remarkable car control to nurse his car to the pits and avoid contact with any wall or other car.

Marco Andretti felt he possibly had his best car in a decade but also exited the race early as he failed to save multiple wiggles in Turn 1 and backed into the barrier to become the third crashed Andretti Global car within 114 laps.


Loser: Andretti Global 

Even after a month of so much promise, the Indianapolis 500 statistics remain the same for Andretti. No victory since 2017, no podium since 2019, one top five since the turn of the decade. Once again, the team leave Indianapolis with nothing to show for it, and another month asking ‘what could have been?’

A particular shame when this year seemed like such an upturn compared to recent years. Colton Herta looked quick throughout the entire month - many believing the Californian to have the best race car. And after qualifying a slightly disappointing 13th, Herta did what everyone expected him to, and scythe through the field. He found himself second by the time Lap 86 hit.

And as we’ve unfortunately seen Herta do a few too many times in his career, he found himself careering out of a good position and into the barrier. It was a bizarre accident, and we’re still yet to have a full explanation - but the bottom line is Herta threw it away once again, despite having quite possibly his best race car at the ‘500’, and easily his best shot at a win.

Marcus Ericsson’s disaster month has been documented well, a crash on Thursday forcing him to the back-up tub, which saw him being forced to return in last-chance qualifying. And as soon as it seemed that they’d got Ericsson back on track, his race would end after one corner, after being the unfortunate victim of Tom Blomqvist’s accident.

It was a month with promise all round, Marco Andretti described his month as: ‘As happy as I've been in the last five to eight years honestly.’ But his race would end prematurely after having his own accident on Lap 113. At the time, Andretti was racing the likes of O’Ward and Dixon - we saw the position those both ended up in.

Maybe the one positive takeaway they’ll have is Kyle Kirkwood, who despite a drive-thru due to bumping into Callum Ilott on pit road, still recovered to an impressive seventh place finish. Once again, Kirkwood was the lead Andretti car, being the only one in the Fast 12, and the only one who was able to see the chequered again.

It’s a race that sums up the last few seasons at Andretti - so much promise, but so little to show for it. The gains they’ve made this month have been undeniable, and might put them in good stead in future years. But, you can’t leave the 500 year-on-year with good gains - you must start leaving with results.


Loser: Honda

Throughout the month, a lot was made of the engine battle between Chevy and Honda. The top eight starters were all Chevy-powered, though their qualifying weekend was marred by six ‘plenum events’ - essentially momentary engine cuts. It was a legacy of the manufacturer pushing tirelessly for gains over its competition, which did lead to the edge over Honda.

While Honda struggled to match the output from Chevy, they also had their own fair share of issues. It is creditable that the limits are being pushed but equally frustrating for a now sizable number of drivers that have had races and other sessions scuppered by failures.  And this started before the Indy 500 campaign.

At the start of the Month of May, opening practice for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw issues for the brand new Honda engines of Marcus Armstrong and Graham Rahal. Alex Palou then notably suffered a failure in practice for the Indy 500.

Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Kyffin Simpson were among those having engines changed around qualifying, with an anomaly for Rahal also leading to another motor change for him. And things only got worse for Honda in the race. Despite drivers having new engines, three appeared to fail inside the opening 56 laps. 

Armstrong’s maiden Indy 500 gut-wrenchingly ended before a racing lap was turned as his motor failed before the early caution had concluded. And the culprit for the second caution was Katherine Legge’s Honda having a seemingly similar issue as smoke poured from her No.51 Dale Coyne Racing entry, bringing an inspiring month to an early end.

Each of the issues are cruel for their own reasons, whether Armstrong not running a lap of his first-ever oval event or Legge seeing her day end early two years in succession after honourable qualifying efforts. But a Lap 56 failure for Felix Rosenqvist, who had been running inside the top 10 for Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), was maybe the worst of all.

Rosenqvist had qualified as the best Honda and was running around Pato O’Ward, who finished as runner-up, at the time of his premature retirement. It draws to an end his impressive all-top-10 record for 2024 in his new situation with MSR. 

Limits are there to be pushed. But maybe things have gone a little far.



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