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Alexander Rossi makes history as rookie winner of 100th Indianapolis 500

by Mike Haag | Posted on Sunday, May 29th, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – On the biggest motorsports stage imaginable, Alexander Rossi picked the perfect day to make unimaginable history before a sellout crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a worldwide television audience tuned in.

Alexander Rossi after winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil -- Photo by: Chris Owens

Alexander Rossi after winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil — Photo by: Chris Owens

The 24-year-old Californian and Verizon IndyCar Series rookie literally coasted across the finish line to win the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in most memorable fashion.

Driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, Rossi stretched his last tank of fuel over the final 36 laps around the hallowed 2.5-mile oval, running dry of Sunoco E85R as he entered Turn 4 on the final lap. The car’s momentum was enough to carry Rossi across the finish line 4.4975 seconds ahead of teammate Carlos Munoz.

In the process, Rossi became the 10th rookie in Indianapolis 500 history to win the race and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001. He became a Verizon IndyCar Series winner in just his sixth race and the first to win a race in his debut season since Carlos Huertas in 2014.

Alexander Rossi with a cold shower of milk in Victory Circle following his win in the 100th Indianapolis 500 -- Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

Alexander Rossi with a cold shower of milk in Victory Circle following his win in the 100th Indianapolis 500 — Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

“I have no idea how we pulled that off,” a stunned Rossi admitted in Victory Circle after drinking and then pouring the celebratory bottle of milk over his head. “We struggled a little bit in the pit stops but Bryan (Herta) came up with an unbelievable strategy. I can’t believe we’ve done this!”

In yet another thrilling Indianapolis 500 that saw 13 drivers swap the lead 54 times – the second most changes in Indy 500 history (68 in 2013) and seventh most for any Indy car race – Rossi led just 14 laps. The majority of the field, including Rossi, stopped for fuel and tires on Lap 164 during the caution period caused when Takuma Sato’s No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda made light contact with the Turn 4 wall.

Rossi sat seventh on the Lap 167 restart and bided his time as those ahead of him began to peel off for a splash of fuel in the final 10 laps. When race leader Munoz had to stop four laps from the completion of the 200-lap event, Rossi inherited the lead and nursed his car home with help of a tow from another Andretti teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Rossi’s final lap averaged 179.784 mph, nearly 40 mph slower than the charging Munoz, but he had cushion enough to coast across the famous yard of bricks by the largest margin of victory since the 1996 race.

Alexander Rossi takes the twin checkers to win the 100th Indianapolis 500 -- Photo by: Walter Kuhn

Alexander Rossi takes the twin checkers to win the 100th Indianapolis 500 — Photo by: Walter Kuhn

“This is unbelievable,” said Herta, whose team merged with Andretti’s this year to form Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian and field Rossi, who left the American open-wheel junior ranks for Europe and made five Formula One starts in 2015 before returning to race on home soil.

“Man, it was so close at the end,” added Herta, Rossi’s race strategist. “For a rookie to drive with the poise he did in such a tough situation – I was telling him, ‘Don’t let anybody pass you but save fuel’ – and he did it.”

Rossi’s deal with Andretti Herta wasn’t formalized until a few weeks before the 2016 season opener. His best finish before today was 10th at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 14. Now Rossi is an Indianapolis 500 champion and he continues a trend of rookies winning landmark Indy 500s started by Ray Harroun at the first race in 1911 and Graham Hill at the 50th in 1966.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Rossi said. “In February I wasn’t even thinking about Indy car, and now we’ve just won the Indy 500. Thanks to an amazing group of people who gave me an opportunity to come here this year.”

The Indy 500 win was the fourth for Andretti Autosport (Dan Wheldon, 2005; Dario Franchitti, 2007; Hunter-Reay, 2014) and the second for Herta (Wheldon, 2011).

“After that last pit stop, I knew that Alex was going to try it,” co-owner Michael Andretti said. “We knew then, all right, if he’s going to try it, we’re going to try different strategies. It really worked out. We had two cars that had a shot at winning with two different strategies.

“To be a part of history, to win the 100th running, to win it with a 1-2 finish is incredible. I’m a bit speechless.”

For Munoz, it marked his second runner-up Indy 500 finish in four tries. The Colombian placed second to Tony Kanaan in 2013 to earn rookie of the year honors.

“I was really disappointed when it comes to fuel (strategy) and you lose the race because of that,” the 24-year-old said. “I was really disappointed to get second. Half a lap short, that’s what it took.”

Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“Today’s gut-wrenching just because I think I had a winning car,” Newgarden said. “And when you know you have a winning car and you know you can win the thing and you go for it and it doesn’t happen because of a strategy call, it’s kind of tough.”

Kanaan was fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, leading 19 laps. It was the 12th Indy 500 that Kanaan has led, second only to A.J. Foyt’s 13. Charlie Kimball, also driving for Ganassi, finished fifth in the No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet.

Defending Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya finished 33rd after crashing his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on his own on Lap 64. Montoya became just the third reigning winner to finish last at Indy, joining Jimmy Bryan in 1959 and Johnny Rutherford in 1977.

“I started making up some ground again and the car was actually pretty good,” said Montoya, who started 17th. “I went into (Turn) 2 with a big push and, when I got on the gas, it just came around. It’s just disappointing. Our Verizon Chevy was really good. Just a tough day.”

Hunter-Reay led a race-high 52 laps but had his bid for victory stifled following an incident on pit lane. Teammate Townsend Bell ran into Helio Castroneves on pit road and Bell’s car caromed into that of Hunter-Reay, who finished 24th.

Championship leader Simon Pagenaud finished 19th to end a three-race win streak. The Team Penske driver saw his points lead trimmed to 57 over Scott Dixon, who finished eighth. With double points awarded for the race in addition to qualifying points, Pagenaud has 292 to Dixon’s 235 after six of 16 races.

Castroneves failed for the seventh time to become a four-time Indy 500 winner, finishing 11th and retaining third place in the standings with 224 points. Newgarden vaulted from eighth to fourth in the championship with 211 points.

The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, featuring the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2016 calendar. The June 4 and 5 races air at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Results Sunday of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1.  (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
2.  (5) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 200, Running
3.  (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
4.  (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running
5.  (16) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 200, Running
6.  (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
7.  (1) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running
8.  (13) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 200, Running
9.  (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 200, Running
10.  (6) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11.  (9) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12.  (10) Oriol Servia, Honda, 200, Running
13.  (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
14.  (26) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
15.  (22) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 200, Running
16.  (31) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 200, Running
17.  (33) Alex Tagliani, Honda, 200, Running
18.  (25) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, Running
19.  (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 199, Running
20.  (21) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 199, Running
21.  (4) Townsend Bell, Honda, 199, Running
22.  (27) Matt Brabham, Chevrolet, 199, Running
23.  (28) Bryan Clauson, Honda, 198, Running
24.  (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 198, Running
25.  (29) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 195, Running
26.  (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 163, Contact
27.  (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 126, Contact
28.  (30) Stefan Wilson, Chevrolet, 119, Electrical
29.  (24) Conor Daly, Honda, 115, Contact
30.  (32) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 100, Mechanical
31.  (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 98, Mechanical
32.  (23) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 93, Contact
33.  (17) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 63, Contact

Race Statistics
Winners average speed:  166.634
Time of Race: 3:00:02.0872
Margin of victory: 4.4975 seconds
Cautions: 6 for  46 laps
Lead changes: 54 among 13 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Hunter-Reay 1 – 2
Hinchcliffe 3
Hunter-Reay 4
Hinchcliffe 5
Hunter-Reay 6 – 8
Hinchcliffe 9
Hunter-Reay 10
Hinchcliffe 11
Hunter-Reay 12 – 13
Hinchcliffe 14 – 16
Hunter-Reay 17
Hinchcliffe 18 – 23
Hunter-Reay 24 – 27
Newgarden 28 – 29
Munoz 30
Karam 31 – 32
Hunter-Reay 33 – 41
Bell 42 – 48
Hunter-Reay 49 – 56
Bell 57
Hunter-Reay 58
Hinchcliffe 59 – 60
Hunter-Reay 61 – 66
Power 67 – 74
Hinchcliffe 75 – 77
Hunter-Reay 78 – 80
Hinchcliffe 81 – 84
Hunter-Reay 85 – 87
Hinchcliffe 88 – 91
Castroneves 92 – 96
Clauson 97 – 99
Castroneves 100 – 103
Hunter-Reay 104 – 108
Kanaan 109
Hunter-Reay 110 – 112
Bell 113 – 116
Tagliani 117 – 121
Rossi 122
Tagliani 123 – 128
Rossi 129 – 137
Castroneves 138 -148
Munoz 149 – 153
Castroneves 154 -157
Kanaan 158 – 160
Hinchcliffe 161
Kanaan 162 – 163
Hildebrand 164 – 167
Kanaan 168 – 178
Newgarden 179 – 181
Kanaan 182 – 183
Newgarden 184 – 190
Munoz 191
Newgarden 192 – 193
Munoz 194 – 196
Rossi 197 – 200

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: 1. Pagenaud 292, Dixon 235, Castroneves 224, Newgarden 211, Hinchcliffe 205, Rossi 203, Munoz 199, Kanaan 192, Kimball 189, Montoya 187.

Story and photos courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.