INDIANAPOLIS – For more than half of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Ryan Hunter-Reay sure seemed like he was piloting the car to beat.
Starting third in the No. 28 DHL Honda, the 2014 Indy 500 winner led a race-high 52 laps today. Andretti Autosport teammate Townsend Bell wasn’t far behind.
However, disaster struck in the pits on Lap 117. As Bell was exiting his stall, he made contact with Helio Castroneves’ No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. Hunter-Reay, leaving from the pit in front of Bell, was the collateral damage collected when Bell’s car ricocheted into his.
“Ryan and Townsend were running really good up front. We thought they were going to be the guys to beat in the end,” team owner Michael Andretti said. “I couldn’t honestly believe when I saw them take each other out. But we still had three bullets left in the gun.”
Fortunately for Andretti, one of the bullets, rookie Alexander Rossi, wound up victorious thanks to the team's decision not to pit for fuel in the final laps. Teammate Carlos Munoz finished second.
"Something out of our control happened,” Hunter-Reay said. “They said, 'Go, go, go (on the radio).' It looked like Townsend got into Helio and bounced into me.
“The car was so strong,” he added. “The only time we ever spent any time (running slower) was because I was saving some fuel. Other than that, it was a rocket ship. Such a shame when you have a car like that. The car was great. We could have won this thing today."
Bell, in what has become an annual one-off ride in the Indy 500, was just as disappointed. He had just taken the lead from Hunter-Reay prior to the fateful pit stop.
“All of a sudden I'm leading when I come in,” said Bell, whose 12 laps led today upped his career Indy car total to 13 – all in the Indy 500. “We pit, I get out before Ryan and he starts going, so I'm going around him outside and I didn't know a car (Castroneves) was coming down.
“I guess the three of us were trying to occupy space for two cars. It took me and Ryan out. I'll look at it but I don't know what I could have done differently. "
Bell was issued a stop-and-go penalty for an unsafe pit release and making contact with another car. He finished 21st in the No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda. Hunter-Reay placed 24th in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
The Hunter-Reay/Bell mishap was the most damaging of several pit-lane transgressions in the race.
Points leader Simon Pagenaud, who began the month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning the Angie’s List Grand Prix from the pole position on May 14, was sent to the back of the field for a Lap 75 restart after making contact with Mikhail Aleshin on pit road.
“There was no violation, so we don’t know even know why we got penalized to this point,” Pagenaud said. “Whatever. We still came back from (30th) to 11th in a handful of laps. The car was beautiful. To me, we had a big shot at the win or at least contending for the win because you never know what’s going to happen.
“The engine misfired from Lap 97 to the end so we had not much power,” said Pagenaud, who finished 19th in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevy. “The biggest disappointment is how good the car was. When you have such a good car, you are shooting for the win. Luck went the other way.”
Will Power, Pagenaud’s teammate, made contact with Tony Kanaan leaving pit road on Lap 49. Power was also sent to the back of field for a restart but recovered to finish 10th.
“We were on the same strategy as Rossi but he was getting better fuel mileage and quicker lap time,” Power said. “It was really tough trying to save fuel those last 15 laps and keep our speed within the traffic. We made it as best we could. Despite the penalty, we still made it back to the front, but it just didn't go our way towards the end."