It’s been the kind of year where nothing has gone quite like it was expected to go, so why should the Indy 500 be any different?
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’s 104th run was already postponed for months due to concerns about the pandemic. Even once it finally got running, the circumstances were unlike any in the race’s history: Drivers were racing around the track to the sight of empty stadiums, not the usual throngs of people cheering them on.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had announced in June that it was only going to allow about 50% of the stands to be filled, which meant limiting the attendance to about 125,000 people. By July, IMS had revised its decision, limiting the stands to 25% capacity. By the time the first week of August rolled around, rising COVID-19 infection rates in the area forced IMR to take the unprecedented step of closing the track to fans altogether.
A Few Early Crashes Eliminated Some Hopefuls
There were a few early wrecks that created a bit of tension and drama throughout the race. James Davison hit the wall early in the race, on Lap 5 and his right front tire caught fire. Swede Marcus Ericsson’s bid to win was over after he did something similar in Lap 26. Although both drivers were more rattled than hurt, the wrecks did spell the early end of their adventures.
Scott Dixon, the IndyCar Series points leader, had been heavily favored (among the betting sort) to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing’s 104th run — and, for a while, it looked like he might pull it off just a little too easily. A crash by Indy 500 rookie Dalton Kellett in the north chute during Lap 84 and the full-on caution, however, helped erase Dixon’s early (and massive) lead.
In Lap 93, Conor Daly and Oliver Askew collided. Daly spun out after making contact with the concrete rumble strips on Turn 4, and Askew overcompensated in a bid to avoid the spinning car and hit the wall. That threw his vehicle back into Daly’s with spectacular force. Both drivers, luckily, escaped serious injuries.
Late-in-the-Day Wrecks Turn Into Game-Changers
On Lap 122, rookie Alex Palou looked set to finish in an impressive 9th place or better. While attempting to make a run on Josef Newgarden, however, Palau drifted out of the groove and hit the wall, ending his day.
Alexander Rossi had been running close to the front and even briefly held the lead until he was hit with a (possibly unfair) pit road penalty and forced to start from the rear of the field in Lap 145. His anxiousness to make up the distance may have led to his contact with the wall on Turn 2 and the end of his bid for the win.
By that point, Dixon’s win was definitely in question. While Dixon had managed to retake his lead, the comfort zone he had in the early part of the race was gone. Former Indy winner Takuma Sato was fighting hard to take the lead away from Dixon, and second-generation racer Graham Rahal was breathing down both of their necks.
Then Takuma Sato pulled ahead. Even as the number of laps left to go ticked down to single digits, however, nobody was counting Dixon out: There was every possibility that the drivers would change positions yet again — perhaps several times — before the race was finished. The win was definitely still up for grabs, and watchers were holding their breath as they waited for a climatic finish.
Then, everything changed.
Another Wreck Ends the Race on a Caution
With only a few laps to go, Sato had a very thin lead, but the win was still there to take by Dixon or Rahal. Josef Newgarden and Santino Ferrucci were not far behind. The excitement was definitely high and the tensions were mounting.
In Lap 195, Spencer Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights champion, spun out, struck the outer barrier, skidded back to the inside and ended up in a violent, high-speed crash against a barrier at the entrance to the pit road. While Pigot was able to climb out of the wreckage on his own and was ultimately okay after a brief hospital evaluation, the debris from the wreck ended the race on a caution.
Takuma Sato got his second Indy 500 win, putting him among only 20 drivers who can make that claim. The victory was decidedly bittersweet, however. It was anticlimactic to be led down the track as yellow flags waved. Sato’s first Indy 500 win, in 2017, was also under caution.
The final rankings for the 2020 Indy 500 are:
- Takuma Sato
- Scott Dixon
- Graham Rahal
- Santino Ferrucci
- Josef Newgarden
- Pato O’Ward
- James Hinchcliffe
- Colton Herta
- Jack Harvey
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Helio Castroneves
- Felix Rosenqvist
- Marco Andretti
- Will Power
- Zach Veach
- JR Hildebrand
- Max Chilton
- Charlie Kimball
- Tony Kanaan
- Rinus VeeKay
- Fernando Alonso
- Simon Pagenaud
- Ben Hanley
- Sage Karam
- Spencer Pigot
- Ed Carpenter
- Alexander Rossi
- Alex Palou
- Conor Daly
- Oliver Askew
- Dalton Kellett
- Marcus Ericsson
- James Davison
While a lot of fans (and most of the drivers) probably felt disappointed with this year’s race, it’s smart to remember that the Indy 500 has endured for more than 100 years — and it continues to do so despite all of the challenges 2020 has brought. We have no doubt that it will be back in 2021, better than ever!