Dre’s Race Review: The 108th Indianapolis 500

Josef Newgarden defeats his oval nemesis Pato O’Ward to take his second Indy 500 and cement his status as an American great. Dre on an epic 500-mile story.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 9 mins

“We were so fucking close.” – Pato O’Ward

Hey folks, I hope you all appreciated my thorough review of the Monaco Grand Prix yesterday. If you missed it, check it out, it’s a DRR classic. In the second part of this loaded tripleheader weekend, we *eventually* got the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 after a four-hour-long rain delay for a rain and lightning storm passing through Indiana itself. But when we did get underway, we were treated in a ruthless, aggressive 500 that was well worth the wait. Let’s get into it.

We all knew this was coming. Meteorologists are very good at what they do and days out the predictions didn’t look good for the race with a big storm passing over the track right around the scheduled start time. By 6am on Sunday, IMS President Doug Boles was already talking about potential evacuation plans for the Snake Pit and the Grandstands – 300,000 people. 

The usual eight-mile lightning range had to be pushed out even further in the best interests of safety. IndyCar hired the air titans from NASCAR to have a 75-minute turnaround to dry the track… and they needed it. The storm was hellacious for a couple of hours, and the start was delayed, but at least we got fans racing around the concession stands to pass the time. I’m not sure how that features into a “personal safety plan” but that kinda thing feels redundant when there are 300,000 people around. 

Four hours later than planned, we finally got a race start, but with a new wrinkle. Originally Boles said they could race until 9pm local time for sunset, but to maximise safety, a hard limit of 8:15pm was set to ensure everyone could leave and get home safely. So with a start time of 4:45, we were racing to 200 laps, or three and a half hours, whatever came first. Not a huge deal given you technically only needed 101 laps to call a result there and then and NOT have to come back tomorrow (Which you don’t want because the race would be moved to cable TV and the local blackout was lifted too), but time limits always make things more interesting and it showed.

This was the most aggressive Indy 500 I’ve ever watched. It’s a race that normally has a feeling-out process for the first 150 laps as drivers get a feel of their cars, the aero wash and the conditions. Not this time. The drivers, knowing cautions were going to drain the clock, decided to pass hard, get to the front and try to stay there, consequences be damned. Scott McLaughlin, who led 64 laps (More than anyone else), was incredible off restarts. We had cars riding the kerb on Lap 1 – this was a mistake, as Tom Blomqvist found out when he ended up sideways in a wreck that collected Marcus Ericsson and Pietro Fittipaldi1

The first 50 laps of this race had me watching with my head in my hands because the amount of risk being taken so early on was startling, and I’m still one of the newer IndyCar fans in the world. I can’t say it wasn’t dramatic though, especially with Honda’s failing left and right, like Katherine Legge’s Dale Coyne car and Felix Rosenqvist’s Meyer Shank car too. Scott Dixon turned into Ryan Hunter-Reay in the middle portion of the race, and even Captain America himself was stunned over the contact, especially from a man he’s raced for 20 years. 

But I’ve danced around this long enough, let’s talk about the ending. 

It seemed like maybe six cars were in with a chance down the stretch—Scott McLaughlin, who led more laps than anyone but faded towards the end. Alexander Rossi who got stronger and stronger as the race went on, Alex Palou who had sneakily crept his way into the Top 5 as the race went on, Josef Newgarden, whose front-running wasn’t anywhere near a surprise second time around, and out of nowhere, Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward running off sequence came into play during the penultimate round of pitstops. Dixon and Palou’s Honda’s just didn’t have the legs in the final stages, it quickly became the two McLaren’s vs Newgarden at the front.

Both McLarens were determined to tandem draft off each other to try and lock Newgarden out, but they just couldn’t deny how fast his car was and he kept getting in the way. Pato O’Ward’s car across the entire two-week period never truly felt like a winner, especially with Rossi’s great speed and the hype of Kyle Larson in their camp. But Pato finds a way. If you haven’t seen his Lap 100 save coming out of Turn 2, find it, he’s at opposite lock at 210mph so save the rear end of his race car. I hate how frequently the commentary box uses “Ninja” and “Fast Hands” to describe Pato’s heroics because it comes off as forced, but sometimes… I get it. 

Rossi couldn’t stay in the fight with three laps to go, and it came down to Newgarden and O’Ward. We’ve been here before. You’ve already seen the rating of this review, right? Well, the last 10 I gave out was at Texas in 2023, and that too was a race headlined by a Newgarden/O’Ward fight. Without a doubt, these are the two oval drivers in the world, and they showed it with another incredible final fight. 

Pato deliberately holding off on Turn 3 this time with two laps to go, learning from his 2023 crash and then attacking into Turn 1 on the final lap was brilliant. Josef didn’t panic and pulled off an even more difficult version of the move he made to beat Marcus Ericsson last year. Side-by-side, 225mph around the outside of Turn 3, refusing to lift as he beats Pato the long way around, with the aero wash sealing the deal through the final corner. Sensational. Ridiculous. He took the biggest gamble of the race to win it and he got it.

It’s been a turbulent season for Newgarden this year. We all know why, his disqualification from St Petersburg which he enabled by an itchy push-to-pass button has been followed up by rough luck at Long Beach and poor showings at Barber and the Indy Road Course. 

And that’s before the public referendum on his on character, with journalists getting bitchy in their mailbags about what he has and hasn’t done outside of the car, while some of the very fans he’s created through all his promotional efforts rushed to defend the man who’s become one of the faces of the series. Last year, a poor season by his standards was masked by that first 500 win. His actions in the off-season say to this writer that 2023 did something to change the man’s approach to the series.

But when he won that 500 last year, he screamed on the radio about demanding respect, finally winning at his twelfth attempt, a man who had to wait longer to get than almost anyone in history. A year on, he goes back-to-back to become the first man to defend the title since Helio Castroneves in 2002. And with it, a $440,000 rollover bonus for the 22 years since it happened, likely taking Josef’s total purse to over $4m if the projected $17m prize pool holds up. Not bad for a man who’s a free agent at the end of the season. 

Where you sit in the court of public opinion of Newgarden is ultimately down to you. But a couple of things I’m dead certain of – When he jumped into the stands again, he got plenty of cheers. There are still many, many people who love and appreciate him and what he’s done for the series and were hyped as shit to see him double up (My brother included). The other is that if there was any doubt as to who the best oval driver in the world is, it’s Josef Newgarden. He isn’t just elite in IndyCar now. With two 500 wins, and as many overall as Rick Mears, he may be THE American open-wheel driver of his generation. 

And on the other side of the coin, another crushing defeat for Pato O’Ward. A man who too is going through a year of confusion. Yes, he won at St Petersburg but it felt inherited given Newgarden’s dominance on the track. He hadn’t led a lap all season until yesterday and didn’t even get into the Top 10 until this race. Heck, the road course race had a famous Pato radio rant after a race where he just couldn’t get anything going. 

This was his greatest chance yet to take the sport’s biggest prize, and McLaren’s ultimate goal since returning to the series. In 2022, it was snatched away from him by Marcus Ericsson. Last year, a rush of blood to head cost him a golden chance to take it on fresher tyres and 7 laps to go, ironically on Ericsson again. And now, beaten by Newgarden fair and square by half a second. He broke down after the race, floods of tears and was barely able to keep it together as he was interviewed for his second Indy 500 runner-up finish. 

He’s one of the most popular drivers in the series for good reason, he’s the textbook stereotype of what so many call the “true racer”. The man leaves it all on the table, even when he bets it all on red and the wheel lands on black. He’s a three-tool driver who can win on anything, the only driver that’s been able to give Newgarden a headache on ovals for the last two years. The reason I may have been harsh in evaluating Pato and his recklessness at times is because this race was another example of just how good he can be. He’s far, far too talented to not win one of these one day. There are a couple of drivers in the field in that club, but Pato leads that class. I hope this a sign of his growing maturity. I’m not fully convinced given how his 2024 has been so far, but the talent has never been in doubt.

What a race, and what a story it was.

Said it during qualifying, and will say it again – Kyle Larson is a brilliant talent. An excellent first effort with Top 6 speed for the majority of the running, a shame it was marred by speeding in the pitlane in his first green flag pitstop. 18th doesn’t do his pace justice and a shame that not one but TWO rain delays ultimately derailed his Hendrick 1,100 mile double attempt. Hope he’s back next year. 

He won’t be my vote for Rookie of the Year though, that goes to Christian Rasmussen. I said in my season preview in February that the man was sneakily fast on ovals and his LMP2 form at Daytona was sensational. I’m glad he finally had the car to show it, finishing 12th and was in the Top 10 for a significant amount of time. Great effort. Shoutout to Conor Daly for getting back in the Top 10 as well, a really solid performance, Dreyer & Reinbold know how to get their cars together for this race. 

Chip Ganassi Racing were right all along. They focused on race pace and were rewarding with Scott Dixon going from 21st to 3rd with a genuine shot at the win. And let’s not forget, Alex Palou is treating fifth as the floor right now in the series. His 20th Top 5 finish in his last 25 starts.

I know it wasn’t to be for Katherine Legge in the end, but a salute to her as ever, and a salute to ELF Cosmetics, who had one of the best and most empowering brand activations I’ve ever seen at the 500. Young women are the biggest untapped market left in sports marketing, and a new partnership with the series itself could be a game-changer for getting young girls into Motorsport. 

Andretti… Oh, man. Kyle Kirkwood got the 500 finish he deserved from last year with an excellent seventh, but Herta spinning from the podium spots, and Marcus Ericsson being whacked at Turn 1 of the race sums up another brutal month for the aspiring F1 outlet. Remember, they allegedly paid three million bucks for Marcus to be the stable, 500 specialist and his Month of May consisted of hitting his title-contending teammate on the Road Course, wrecking in 500 practice and bumping his way in, all for his 500 to last 15 seconds. Not a great return on the investment so far. 

And then there’s Will Power. The Penske man just didn’t have the race car to match his sensational qualifying pace, falling down the order in the pack and eventually spinning into the wall for the race’s final caution with 55 to go. The first real body blow landed in the title race with the Australian now 36 points back as we enter the rounds that Palou’s strongest around (Detroit, Road America, Laguna Seca next)

Free Christian Lundgaard. That is all. (Nice 13th place)

  1. And of course, who do we interview on the day job for this race? Marcus Ericsson and Pietro Fittipaldi. I’ve been told there’s an “Autosport Curse” at work, and now I’m inclined to believe it. ↩︎

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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