“Who thought it was a good idea that our first oval race is Indy?” said one disgruntled driver after seeing Ed Carpenter make it three flipped cars in five days during practice for the 99th Indianapolis 500.
Some shared this sentiment, but others suggested that with eight straight days of practice, the Speedway was the ideal venue for testing and experimenting with the new-for-2015 aero kits.
That didn’t look so smart once Helio Castroneves (Wednesday), Josef Newgarden (Thursday) and Carpenter (Sunday – qualifying day) had spun and, while traveling backward, flipped upside down.
The other common theme between these shunts was that all three had occurred to Chevrolet-powered cars. One Honda driver, aggravated by Chevy’s pace advantage in the season thus far, suggested that was because the Bowtie brigade were cornering faster. I think he was only joking…
IndyCar delays qualifying on Pole Day, makes changes
Carpenter’s crash prompted IndyCar’s then-president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker, to delay qualifying for a few hours, lower the boost to non-qualifying levels, and regulate that cars must run in race trim. Honda teams were butt-hurt at this, feeling they were being penalized for their rivals’ problems.
“I’m not sure how that was interpreted as unfair – to make it the same for everyone,” Walker told me a couple months later. “You could say that this had only happened to Chevys, so it was up to them to fix it. But we hadn’t seen a Honda in the same circumstances of traveling backward at 200-plus mph. The spins had come because the Chevy was more critical handling-wise when running minimal downforce; but we had nothing to prove that if a driver overstepped the edge in a Honda that it wouldn’t do the same as the Chevy.
“So I made the decision across the board that cars would qualify in race downforce. A big deal was made about us supposedly “robbing” Honda of the chance to go for pole, but since that day in May, we have received the data that showed that had a Honda reached the same angles of yaw as the Chevy, it too could have flipped.…
“We had seen three drivers get out and walk away from flip overs; how long do you keep pushing the odds of, God forbid, hurting a driver?”
Hinchcliffe severely injured
The day after qualifying, one driver, James Hinchcliffe, did get very hurt. In fact, it’s not over-dramatic to say that the prompt reaction of IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team saved the life of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport driver, who had been (to use his own word) ‘kebabed’ by a suspension rod during his violent crash. Hinch’s subsequent recovery and readiness to resume racing in 2016 was one of IndyCar’s blessings.
After such a build up of bad blood and spilled blood, most people were just praying for a safe race on Memorial Day weekend: the fact that the 99th running turned into a classic was a bonus.
But assuredly Juan Pablo Montoya, Roger Penske and Chevrolet were not the only winners at IMS last May.