The 2013 Indianapolis 500, the 97th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, brings an era of American open-wheel racing to a definitive close. There won't be another 500 like this one, in several respects, and the generational change that has been bearing down on the veterans is all but complete.
The 2014 IndyCar Series introduces aero-kits to the team's toolbox of tweaks, and with one fell swoop the competition will change--likely toward faster cars and a bigger gap between the winners and losers. If you enjoyed the many lead changes of this year's race be prepared: it's unlikely to happen again anytime soon.
The teams that successfully manage the aerodynamics challenge will find ways of punching a much smaller hole in the air than the huge opening the factory chassis is producing now. With that single change outright speed will certainly increase, perhaps returning to the glory days of a new track record for Indy pole year after year.
The introduction of Chevrolet power into the racing equation has already put Honda back to the drawing board to find more horsepower because the current engine is simply not as capable as the Chevy. That cat's out of the bag: you can't win on speed with the Honda anymore.
We saw this past week two Honda's break into flames as they were pushed to the maximum of their performance envelope. The results of the 500 find the first four finishers running American motors, and only two of the top ten driving Honda's.
Chevrolet dominated qualifying the same as it did the race. It's only proper that the fastest 500 on record was yesterday, and it was produced by a bevy of Chevrolet engines at the head of the field.
The traditionally powerful duo of Penske and Ganassi have both struggled to adapt to the new Dallara DW12 chassis as well. Only Andretti Autosports seems to have fully figured out the way to make the car go extremely fast consistently, with the red cars and the black and white cars trailing in their wake.
Consider that neither a Penske nor Ganassi entry has won a race this year: that is an unprecedented dearth of trophies for the Big Two of the Big Three. More importantly, two of the smaller, less prosperous single-car teams on the grid topped pole day and the race itself. Tony Kanaan, this year's winner, had a great laugh at the thought that he won this magnificent race on half the budget of his former employer.
Someone pointed out at the winner's press conference that every single original Andretti Autosports driver now has won an Indianapolis 500: Dario Franchitti three times, Bryan Herta (as owner), the late Dan Wheldon twice, and now Kanaan. "The boys," as Franchitti would say, have done well, very well.
Having said that a new face, that of upstart rookie Carlos Munoz, made headlines all month long a surprising first row start and a remarkably steady Indianapolis 500 (finishing second in his first try).
AJ Allmendinger finished seventh, immediately behind teammate Castroneves, in his first return to open-wheel racing. Both true rookies, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly drove well and were running at the end. Vautier was even on the same lap as the winner at 200 laps.
Pre-race it was hard to find anyone predicting a non-Andretti driver winning the event, and though Kanaan took this very special round, his chances of regaining the title as IndyCar champion seem fairly slim on a team whose future is not entirely certain.
Marco Andretti holds the current points lead, followed by Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato. The sole representative in the top five from the Big Two is Helio Castroneves in third place, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosports in fourth and fifth respectively. It's entirely possible Castroneves can win the championship, but Helio has his work cut out for him against the younger guys.
There is also some significance in the fact that TK will become the 100th man whose engraved image appears on the famous silver Borg Warner trophy. A century's worth of names have come and gone in the years since 1911, and a new century mark is ready to be assaulted.
Finally, it's safe to say that with the biggest nose on the planet now adorning it, the six-foot sterling masterpiece that represents the best of the best at Indy is now forever changed as well.