Why repeat winners are rare in the Indy 500

In over 100 years of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, only 19 drivers have ever won the Indy 500 on more than one occasion.

Why repeat winners are rare in the Indy 500
Borg-Warner Trophy
Starting grid
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet, Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda poses for front row photos
Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport Honda, James Davison, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Race winner Tony Kanaan, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet celebrates
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates with race engineer Ray Gosselin
Scott Dixon and his wife Emma celebrate the 500 victory with a kiss
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda race winner
Borg-Warner Trophy

It's a race that's remarkably difficult to conquer, and even harder to do twice. So what does it take to win at the Brickyard?

Helio Castroneves, the only three-time winner in the field, believes the track tends to choose the winner. And even when you do everything right, it still isn't enough sometimes. Juan Pablo Montoya, who has two victories in just four attempts, thinks there's no secret to running up front. And 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay says these hallowed grounds owe no one anything.

There are so many things that are out of the driver's control here, more-so than most other races. "I’ve had some tough months around here and some of the best days/months of my life here. I don’t know if it picks the winner, but if the weather or the wind changes, everything can change for each and every driver out there," explained Hunter-Reay.

"This place is so unique that way and that’s why we all respect it so much."

Bettering the odds

And since the introduction of the DW12, the pack-like racing has added another layer of variables, which is likely why we've seen five different winners in the last five races. One of the unique aspects of modern pack-esque IndyCar racing at IMS is that you don't necessarily need the fastest car to battle for the win.

"With this formula right now, you don’t have to be as close," explained pole-sitter Scott Dixon. "The tow is a much bigger deal than it used to be, especially since the introduction of the DW12. You need a car that is very good and consistent in traffic. Something that you can stay close to the other cars.

But as for what is within a driver and team's control, there's a few things they can do to better their odds so that it's not truly 33/1.

"You have to execute well on race day," said Montoya. "Everyone needs to do their part. As long as everyone does their part and you give yourself a chance, that’s all you can ask for. I try not to overthink it. We do what we need to do and hope that’s enough to get the trophy. You have to deal with whatever hand is dealt to you."

For Chip Ganassi Racing, the switch from Chevrolet to Honda certainly may help with the latter having a visible edge over the bow-tie in recent years.

"I think for us, it’s been nice to have a little bit of a change of scenery," Dixon told Motorsport.com. "Last year, we didn’t do a fantastic job. We missed it in some areas. We were maybe a little complacent in some others too. It’s like we got a shiny new toy. Focus is back on and the aero kit works a lot different than what we had with the other package. I think that’s been good for us as a whole but we’ll have to see."

Former winners return only wanting more

For the drivers who have already tasted the milk, they come back to Indianapolis knowing what it takes to be victorious, but feeling no less pressure than before.

"(Winning before only) alleviates the pressure after the checkered flag drops on Sunday and if I don’t win, I go ‘well I have one,’" said 2013 winner Tony Kanaan. "But no, every time you come here, if you’re in the race you want to win and you have a chance to win. It doesn’t matter how good or bad of a car you have, this race proves that anybody really can win. Some have better odds than others, but the pressure’s always on."

"Having one makes you more confident because you’re part of that club but it’s never enough," admitted Hunter-Reay. "And if you feel like it’s enough, then you probably shouldn’t be doing this. I want a second Indy 500 win more than I want anything."

"Probably more (pressure)," said Dixon. "It’s weird. You come here in two fashions. You come here as a driver with a very successful team and thinking 'hey, am I going to be one of those guys that never get the opportunity to win' as we’ve seen with a lot of great drivers. And then after that when you’ve won it, you’re like 'man, I really want another one of those.' It’s like the drive is so much more to try and get a second. I don’t know, maybe it gets worse too with a third. I’ll have to ask Dario (Franchitti)."

Well, unless you ask defending race winner Alexander Rossi, who said when asked about feeling the pressure to repeat: "Not really."

Thousands of drivers have competed in the Indy 500 with the dream of seeing their visage on the Borg Warner trophy, but for those that have actually mastered this race and found the right amount of luck to succeed, most have only come back wanting more.

 

 

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