INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — There were 20 laps remaining in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and Arrow McLaren, the team that has emphatically upset the status quo in IndyCar, had managed to put Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward in position to fight for the win.
Everything unraveled for the papaya-colored cars in spectacular fashion.
Felix Rosenqvist was the first to fall, hitting the wall in Turn 1 before getting crushed from behind by Kyle Kirkwood, forcing the race to be red-flagged with 16 laps to go. On the restart, eventual winner Josef Newgarden shot to the lead, and O’Ward was side-by-side with Marcus Ericsson entering Turn 3 when they touched wheels and O’Ward hit the wall.
Just like that, Arrow McLaren’s two best chances at the Borg-Warner Trophy were out of the race.
Alexander Rossi wound up finishing fifth for the team, which was trying to win the Indy 500 for the first time since Johnny Rutherford carried its colors in 1976. Tony Kanaan came home 16th in what he said will be his final start.
“It really sucks to come away with a fifth when our cars were that good,” said Rossi, the 2016 winner and the last American to take the checkered flags before Newgarden’s victory for Team Penske on Sunday.
“The chaos started after Felix’s crash and it just — it was a lap, then a crash, a lap and then a crash,” Rossi said. “People in my mind were getting away with pretty crazy jumpstarts. I mean, it’s pretty disappointing.”
Last year’s race also ended in disappointment for Arrow McLaren when O’Ward chose to play it safe trailing Ericsson on the final lap. He finished second and Rosenqvist was fourth that day.
“I think that’s the phrase where ‘That’s racing’ goes,” Arrow McLaren boss Zak Brown said. “The drivers all did a great job, the team did a great job, we had three cars that were dialed in. We had three cars that could have won but it just wasn’t our day, and we’ll come back next year and try again.”
The Formula One mainstay initially struggled in its return to IndyCar several years ago, but the team has become a powerful contender. All four of Arrow McLaren’s cars made the Fast 12 in qualifying, and along with the quartet of cars from Chip Ganassi Racing — Ericsson one of them — the team’s contingent was heavily favored to contend for victory.
Arrow McLaren had other problems Sunday — O’Ward’s crew struggled to get a full tank of fuel aboard during stops, putting him off cycle. But the team made up enough ground that the wildly popular Mexican driver and Rosenqvist, that cool-as-they-come Swedish star, were at the sharp end of the field as the laps were ticking down.
O’Ward pitted for the last time with 20 laps to go and got back in line behind Ericsson and Rosenqvist on the track. He passed his teammate two laps later, then got around Ericsson for the lead with 17 laps remaining.
Rosenqvist was running third when Newgarden passed him, and the resulting turbulent air hit the No. 6 car. Rosenqvist touched the wall in the short chute, then slid back across the track with his steering broken. Kirkwood launched off his rear tire and into the fence, sliding upside-down in a shower of sparks as a tire flew over the grandstand and into a parking lot.
“I got on the wrong side of the wake and it pushed, pushed, pushed,” Rosenqvist said later. “I almost got it but the rear came out before the exit of the corner. I tried to stay up there but something broke and I came across the track and Kyle hit me as well.”
The race had just returned to green when O’Ward was shuffled from first to third. He was running next to Ericsson, the defending race winner, when they touched wheels entering Turn 3. That sent O’Ward into the wall and out of the race.
“I was a little too nice there,” O’Ward said. “I just feel so bummed for the team. We had four very fast race cars. Now there’s only two in the race. There was seven laps to go. I was going to be going for it. I was way too nice.
“I got onto the apron to give him room,” O’Ward added, “and I got squeezed. And yeah, I won’t forget that.”
It was an unforgettable day for Kanaan for entirely different reasons. The winner of the 2013 race wiped away tears during driver introductions, then wept again when the track showed a video of other IndyCar drivers wishing him well in retirement.
During the race, Kanaan showed some of his flair for the dramatic with a pass through the grass down the backstretch.
“Grass was spot-on,” he said with a laugh. “Whoever cuts that is pretty good.”
Kanaan wasn’t in contention to race for the win. But that didn’t seem to matter to the crowd of more than 300,000 people that packed the speedway on a pristine day for racing. They showered him with applause when he crossed the finish line.
“It was either going to be a win or, anything apart from the win, we were going to celebrate regardless,” Kanaan said. “Helio (Castroneves) and I battled for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead. It was like, ‘Who’s playing pranks with us?’ We both went side-by-side on the backstretch after the checkers and we saluted each other, and I just told him actually, I dropped a tear because of that. And he said, ‘I did, too.’”