INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – Alexander Rossi needed a splash of gas to get to Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’ll never be happier to have an unscheduled pit stop.
The rookie won the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and his first Verizon IndyCar Series race with an improbable run to the finish on a rapidly vanishing fuel load, turning a final lap of 179.784 mph in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.
He won by 4.4975 seconds over Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz (whose last lap was 218.789 mph), taking the checkered flag on the 36th lap after his last pit stop. The usual fuel window for Honda engines is about 32 laps.
“I have no idea how we pulled that off. We ran out in Turn 4 (at the end) and we were clutching it and coasting down the back straight,” Rossi said. “Ryan (Hunter-Reay, a fellow Andretti teammate) was unbelievable in helping me get to the finish. He was giving me a tow at the end and it’s an amazing result for Andretti Autosport.
“I am just so thankful to do this on the 100th Running.”
Josef Newgarden finished third, 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan was fourth and Charlie Kimball was fifth in a race that treated the sold-out crowd to 54 lead changes, the second-most in “500” history behind the 2013 race, which had 68 lead changes.
Rossi, a 24-year-old Indianapolis resident who raced in Formula One last year before coming to the Verizon IndyCar Series, became the 10th rookie to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001. He’s the first American rookie winner since Louis Meyer in 1928.
Also, Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 in 1911 when everyone in the field was a rookie, Graham Hill won the 50th race in 1966 as a rookie and now the 100th Running belongs to a rookie.
Rossi got a splash of gas from the Holmatro Safety Team after running dry on his cooldown lap, allowing him to get to Victory Circle under his own power to drink the victor’s milk and celebrate with co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta.
The win was Andretti’s fourth as an owner in the “500,” moving him to fourth all-time behind Roger Penske (16 wins), Lou Moore (five) and Chip Ganassi (five).
Herta scored his second win as an owner, the first coming in 2011 with the late Dan Wheldon. In Sunday’s pre-race ceremonies for the 100th, Herta drove Wheldon’s winning Dallara/Honda.
“This is unbelievable,” Herta said. “Man, it was so close at the end. For a rookie to drive with the poise he did in such a tough situation … I was telling him, ‘don’t let anyone pass you, but save fuel’ – and he did it.”
Kanaan led 19 laps in his fourth-place effort and moved to second all-time in Indy 500s led with 12, one behind A.J. Foyt. Three-time champion Helio Castroneves, who finished 11th, led 24 laps to move into a tie for third with leads in 11 different races. Four-time champion Al Unser and 1969 champion Mario Andretti have also led in 11 different years.
Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2015 champion, finished 33rd after a Lap 64 crash. He became the third winner to finish 33rd the following year, along with Jimmy Bryan in 1959 and Johnny Rutherford in 1977.