INDIANAPOLIS—“They knew we were here,” said A.J. Foyt after the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 concluded. For the first time since 2001 when Robby Gordon led 22 laps, a Foyt-owned car was pacing the field–not due to pit stop cycles but because of Tony Kanaan and the flat out speed of the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet.
Kanaan served notice from the drop of the green flag, charging from 10th to seventh on the opening lap. On lap 2 he moved into sixth which he held until the first round of pit stops on lap 30. The ABC Supply crew delivered a fast stop under green and Kanaan moved from sixth to second when the stops cycled out.
Through the next round of stops on lap 50, which were under caution, the crew again got him out in time to maintain his position behind pole sitter Ed Carpenter. Kanaan passed Carpenter on lap 63 for the lead but Carpenter took it back two laps later. On lap 73 Kanaan took the lead again and held it until the next round of stops on lap 90.
With another quick stop behind them, Kanaan was back on track moving through traffic when he reported, “There’s something wrong!” Tire sensors showed a problem with the right rear and Kanaan pitted again on lap 98. The tire was punctured from debris.
While Kanaan dropped to the back of the field and went a lap down, rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist was getting an education at 225 mph. Driving beyond his years, the 19-year- old rookie avoided cars that crashed in front of him and managed through several crazy restarts. He ran 13th for the first half of the race but then on lap 121 he moved into the top-10.
Leist stayed in the top-10 through several restarts after cautions until the one on lap 162, when he got chopped badly by a fellow competitor. As Leist gathered it up, the cars behind him pounced including his teammate Kanaan. Leist went from seventh to 14th and Kanaan went from 13th to 9th.
Kanaan was a man on a mission as he tried to gain ground on the leaders. With 11 laps left in the race, he lost the rear and spun in Turn 2. He incurred damage to his right side suspension and the nose assembly, but overall the damage was fairly light.
“Man, the Speedway, right?” Kanaan asked from the infield medical center where he was checked and released.
“We had a great day going and then we had a puncture that put us behind all day long, so I was playing catch up,” Kanaan continued. “It was not for lack of trying, we came back from all the way from the back of the pack to the inside of the top 10. Great restarts and…oh my God. So, it wasn’t our day. I mean we have a great thing going, this team is very promising so we will leave here with our heads up. We had great pit stops, and I mean it wasn’t our day and to finish ninth or last for me it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to make an excuse, I made a mistake trying and that for me, in my book, it’s totally fine. I’m looking forward to the future on this team.”
Foyt agreed with his driver who stopped to apologize for the single car accident. Foyt told him, “You don’t have to apologize for that. I understand it when you’re trying to get to the front. If you didn’t get that flat [tire] you wouldn’t have been in that situation. It’s racing but you gave them a show. They knew we were here.”
Leist soldiered on to finish 13th in the most grueling race of the season with temperatures in the low 90s. He stayed on the lead lap the entire race. During one caution period when Leist was in ninth, Kanaan radioed in, “The rookie is doing pretty good!”
Once the race concluded, Leist was greeted by his crew, family and friends; he looked none the worse for wear after the three-hour long race.
“First Indy 500 done,” Leist said with his megawatt smile. “I’m pretty happy with the performance – managed to complete the whole race and it was probably the most difficult race I’ve ever done, you know, pretty difficult, pretty tricky and the car was changing a lot from one stint to the other so it was a long day. I’m happy for the team, I think we deserved it, and I’m looking forward to the next race now.”
Larry Foyt, Leist’s race strategist and team president, weighed in, saying, “Matheus did a really nice job for his first time here. He really was top rookie most of the day and got caught out on a restart towards the end there and Wickens got him otherwise I think he would have been top rookie. He really drove a smart race and learned a lot I know. The crew did a great job in the pits and it looked like we had a solid top 10 but we’re just outside of it. I’m really happy for him, I know he learned a lot and this is a tough race. Everything he learned today is going to pay him dividends. He’s showing he’s the real deal and I’m real excited what the future holds for him and the team.”
James Davison, who ran the No. 33 Foyt/Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi Chevrolet, was running 20th in the first stint but then handling problems surfaced after the first stop. On lap 48, as Davison was dealing with the problems, he was tagged in Turn 3 by defending Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato who apologized afterwards.
“James had a problem with speed and there was too much closing speed between us and I couldn’t avoid him,” Sato relayed. “Once I realized, I backed off and even hit the brakes, but just once you get into an air pocket like that, you just get sucked in. It’s’ really an unfortunate situation for both of us and I feel really sorry for the team, the fans and supporters. Robert (Wickens) and I were catching the front of the train, the pack we were in. Once he got it, I could see two cars side by side. At the time, maybe James was too much in trouble and he had to back off and get in the grey. The speed differential was way too great between us. I tried to avoid it but unfortunately I couldn’t.”
Davison explained his situation saying, “We had an anti-roll bar jam on the car, so I just couldn’t change the balance. I had to do the best with the adversity I faced, if I tried any harder I was going to swap ends. I was getting plenty of warning signs there, if I was anywhere close to another car I was getting huge wiggles and snap oversteer. I just really feel for Takuma getting caught up in that, that’s not at all the situation that you want to drag someone else in to. That’s the Indy 500 though isn’t it, I’m still very proud of this Foyt/Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi team for the adversity we overcame and at least showing some kind of competiveness there in the first stint.”
Driving the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, Will Power won his first Indianapolis 500 in 11 starts while giving his team owner Roger Penske his 17th trip to victory lane here at the Brickyard. Carpenter finished second in his Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Third through fifth were Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The teams will be prepping their cars for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ only doubleheader, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix next weekend. The races will be broadcast live on ABC-TV at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3.