Memorial Day weekend was a big one for race fans, with the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coca-Cola 500 (NASCAR) happening concurrently. This meant a busy weekend for the folks at TAG Heuer, who not only sponsored the Monaco GP, and the sport’s current top team, Red Bull Racing – but also the Indy 500, and driver Alexander Rossi. We saw the watch they released for the Monaco GP, and we were on hand with TAG Heuer to experience the Indy 500 live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It may have been open wheel racing, like the Miami GP we recounted earlier this month, but this was a very different experience, from the watch spotting, to the racing itself.
This year marked the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, and is up there with the likes of the 24 hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco GP in being a cornerstone race in all of motorsport. It is, well, 500 miles around a 2.5 mile oval, meaning 200 laps of near top speed with heavy banking connected by two long straights. Each see speeds north of 240mph, with blistering lap times just under 40 seconds. The speed is palpable and punishing compared to the scalpel-like F1 cars that dart between turns under heavy acceleration and braking (and a right turn every now and then). Unlike F1, there is no shortage of passing opportunities with these cars on this track, and we saw plenty of it.
TAG Heuer sponsors Alexander Rossi, who drives the Honda powered #27 car for Andretti Autorsport. Rossi won the 2016 Indy 500 after a year of Formula 1 racing for the Marussia team. He’s since found a home in Indy Car series, with 7 wins and 25 podiums. Rossi began this year’s race in P20 out of the field of 33, and managed to cross the bricks for the checkered flag in P5. A seriously impressive drive, and one that could have ended on the podium thanks to front runner Scott Dixon’s unfortunate early exit, and were it not for some late race yellow flags.
Ultimately, it was another former F1 driver, Marcus Ericsson, who took the victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in the (also Honda powered) #8 car. Ericsson started 97 races in his Formula 1 career that spanned 4 seasons, driving first for the Caterham team (which ended in 2014), and then for the Sauber team prior to their becoming the Alfa Romeo team we know today. When Antonio Giovinazzi was signed to drive alongside Kimi Räikkönen, Ericsson made the move to Indy Car racing, beginning with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for a single season before moving to the Ganassi team.
Ericsson began the race on the second row in P5, alongside Ed Carpenter and teammate Tony Kanaan. The running order was shaken with early retirements from Rinus VeeKay, who started P3; Scott Dixon, who started P1; Roman Grosjean (another former F1 driver), who started P9; and Jimmy Johnson, who started P12. Johnson’s crash at turn 2 was just 6 laps from the finish, and caused a red flag and subsequent restart, with just 2 laps left, and Ericsson was able to hold Pato O’Ward off to claim victory.
Overall it was a pretty exciting race to take in, with loads of lead changes and cars moving up and down the leaderboard throughout the afternoon. If you’re not a fan of oval racing in general, I’m not sure this would change your mind, but seeing it unfold in person was an experience I’d recommend to racing fans of any stripe. What’s more, you’re likely to recognize many of the names involved here. The atmosphere around the race had a unique, deeply middle America feel that spanned for acres within and outside of the Speedway, with major tailgating before the ballgame vibes that were notably absent from the Miami GP.
We spent some time with Alexander Rossi the evening before the race, and he commented about the race being bigger than the Super Bowl, and that it was, by attendance, the largest sporting event in the world. Given the ease with which I made it through the airport upon arrival, and the lack of traffic to my hotel, I was skeptical of this claim. Those doubts were quickly erased upon arriving at the track, where it was difficult to get a true sense of the scale, with full grandstands barely visible in the distance, and people sprawled for miles around the enormous track grounds. Turns out, he was right. Where they came from and how they left, I couldn’t tell you, as I was one of a small handful going through the security line the following morning at the airport, and even had an open seat next to me on the flight out.
We were pleased to have the company of Greta “Gigi” Garner, the daughter of actor James Garner, who was a regular fixture at prior Indy 500 races, evening driving the pace car 3 times. Garner was wearing her fathers vintage Heuer Carrera chronograph, which had her father’s name written on the dial. That specific watch will be heading to auction on June 11th, along with a few other of Garner’s watches, with the proceeds going to the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund. We’ll have more on that watch, and the auction itself, coming soon.
Thanks to TAG Heuer for inviting us to experience the race with them, be sure to check out their latest Monaco that released over the weekend, and congrats to their driver, Sergio Perez for his victory at the Monaco GP, his 3rd Formula 1 victory. See more from TAG Heuer here.
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