By: Tanner Watkins
May 24, 2019 | 3:00 PM
While it didn’t start perfectly, Miller Lite Carb Day was a success. The unofficial pre-race party for the Indianapolis 500 saw big crowds, big speeds, a thrilling finish and some great music ahead of the 103rd Running.
Storms plagued the morning with rain falling between 8:00 and 9:30 AM – even prompting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to temporarily close the entry gates at 8:30 after they had already been opened. Lightning was visible in the area and it wasn’t until about 9:00 AM when spectators were allowed in the venue once again.
After the rains passed, though, the track drying process was incredibly quick. The revolutionary Air Titan track drying machines were on-hand once again for “500” weekend, making quick work of the drenched surface. With final practice scheduled for 11:05 AM, fans were only delayed by 10 minutes before the stars and cars of the NTT IndyCar Series had their turn.
Fan favorite Tony Kanaan led the way in the 90-minute session with a top lap speed of 225.517 mph. Two Indianapolis 500 rookies filled the top five with Santino Ferrucci (P2, 225.486) and Jordan King (P4, 225.337) making their mark before Sunday’s 200-lap race.
The 2017 race winner Takuma Sato was sandwiched in between the rookies as third-quickest (225.468) and Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi with Dale Coyne Racing driver James Davison rounded out the top five at 225.314.
A total of 1,755 laps were turned in the final practice session and no drivers had a significant moment – though Graham Rahal did cut it close on the exit of Turn 2 while running in traffic at the session’s midpoint. With 60 laps under his belt, Ferrucci completed the most trips around the 2.5-mile oval out of all 33 drivers.
When the final “500” practice session concluded, the stage was set for the crown jewel race of the Indy Lights championship: the Freedom 100. A race often filled with back-and-forth passing for the lead, today’s 17th running of the event did not disappoint – except if you are Chris Windom.
After tumbling down the front stretch at the Indiana State Fairgrounds last night during the final Hoosier Hundred, Windom was involved in a first-lap crash during today’s ‘Lights race when BN Racing driver David Malukas lost control of his car on the entry to Turn 4. The contact between the two cars sent Windom for a wild ride into the fourth turn SAFER Barrier, though both drivers walked away under their own power.
Following the early caution – which did bring out a red flag to repair the wall – there wasn’t another yellow period until Lap 30. The time in between saw 11 official lead changes at the start/finish line, but perhaps another 10 unofficial lead changes on the backstretch as Ryan Norman, Rinus VeeKay and Oliver Askew all grabbed the top spot.
On Lap 30, Andretti Autosport’s Robert Megennis and Team Pelfrey’s Toby Sowery got together on the exit of Turn 1 when Sowery’s car understeered into the No. 27 car. Megennis, after being turned completely sideways, somehow saved the car from wall contact and straightened his machine out at the end of a 150-yard four-tire slide.
That two-lap yellow flag period would represent the final stoppage of the day, but the lead didn’t officially change hands again until the last lap.
Coming off of Turn 4 on Lap 40, Andretti Autosport teammates Norman and Askew were at the head of the field. As the field snaked down the front stretch for the final time, Norman looked to have just enough of a gap to hold off Askew – until the Jupiter, Florida native popped out and took the win for himself right at the final moment. Askew won the race by 0.0067 seconds, another thrilling end to the Freedom 100.
Finishing third was the Dutch prodigy VeeKay while the upstart Sowery came home fourth. Aaron Telitz, starting the race on short notice for Belardi Auto Racing, finished 5 laps down after enduring an axel failure during the pace laps.
Capping off the day was the MotoGator Pit Stop Competition. After finishing second in the event for the past three years, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports exacted some revenge by winning today’s edition with rookie driver Marcus Ericsson.
The No. 7 crew for Ericsson – led by Bob Jansen (chief mechanic and inside right front tire changer), Ryan Marzec (outside rear tire), Keith Beck (airjack), Brendon Cleave (outside front tire), Timothy Lane (fueler) and Nic Kaminski (inside rear tire) – defeated Scott Dixon and the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team in a best two-out-of-three final round.
The 11.794-second pit stop for Ericsson’s crew to close the day was the fastest stop of the competition. On the way to victory, Ericsson defeated a pair of Team Penske drivers in Josef Newgarden and Will Power, plus Dixon.
Closing the day were concerts by Kool and the Gang plus Foreigner. Indianapolis 500 weekend continues tomorrow with Firestone Legends Day, headlined by the Public Drivers Meeting, a full-field autograph session in the Pagoda Plaza and a country concert featuring Zac Brown Band and Clayton Anderson.
Header image by James Black/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.