INDIANAPOLIS – Graham Rahal saw an opportunity to continue his charge toward the front. Sebastien Bourdais saw it, too.
But, with 22 laps remaining in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, courtesies aren’t easily given with the biggest prize in racing so close.
Both drivers had put themselves in position to move forward in the final stint of Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Bourdais in seventh place and Rahal just behind – when Rahal pulled inside to make a pass near the end of the back straight.
Neither was willing to back off.
“With 20 (laps) to go, 22 to go, it’s the time,” Rahal said. “You have to give every opportunity to go for it.”
Neither made it through the turn unscathed in what became a six-car incident.
As Rahal began to pull alongside Bourdais just before Turn 3, his right-front tire made contact with Bourdais’ left rear. The two made contact again near the apex of the turn, Rahal having moved so low in the small amount of room he had that his left-side tires kicked up dirt. They both lost control and hit the SAFER Barrier. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist lost control of his car and slid into the back of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon before careening up the track and collecting Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach, with Rosenqvist and Veach hitting the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4. After the rear contact from Rosenqvist, Dixon made light contact with Carlin’s Charlie Kimball, but the two of them were able to continue.
The race was stopped for 18 minutes, the first red flag in the Indy 500 since 2017 when Dixon and Jay Howard crashed in the south chute between Turns 1 and 2.
Veach was checked and released from the speedway’s IU Health Emergency Medical Center, although he was not cleared to drive because of soreness in his right knee when it hit the steering wheel. He will be evaluated again before being cleared to drive at this week’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. Rahal, Bourdais and Rosenqvist were cleared.
Rahal finished 27th and Bourdais 30th, both frustrated with the crash but fully aware that drivers are less willing to give each other room so late in the race.
“I just got a killer run, and I was lifting a little bit to just manage my gap,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
When he pulled left to begin the pass, Rahal believed Bourdais squeezed him entering the turn.
“You pull out and you get to this point, and you can see him squeezing me inside,” Rahal said, watching a video replay. “Nothing you can do.”
Not at that stage of the race.
“It’s always easy to say I should have given up going into the corner,” Bourdais said. “But at that point … you have to make a call whether to jump on the brakes and let the guy fly in. I didn’t really feel like that was an option. I thought he was just going to back off and we were going to be OK. But we had reached that stage of the race where nobody wants to give up. It’s just bad timing.”
Bourdais said the initial contact upset his car as he entered the corner.
“We made contact before we even got (to the turn),” he said. “That sets up the whole thing because it makes the car wiggly a little bit just before turn in.”
The crash ended a strong race by both drivers. Bourdais started seventh in his No. 18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda and ran fifth much of the race. Rahal started 17th and steadily drove toward the front.
“It seemed like Alex (Rossi) and I were the only two to really (be able) to pass there at the end,” Rahal said. “I was feeling good about things. We hadn’t changed much (on the car); just trying to march to the front.”
Instead, Rahal’s race ended with a heavy dose of disappointment. He climbed from his car and leaned into Bourdais’ cockpit to have a few words, then walked away pumping his fist in frustration and throwing one of his driving gloves.
“It’s another year I get to sit and think about this,” said Rahal, whose best finish in 11 previous 500s was third in 2011. He also finished fifth in 2015. “I respect Sebastien a lot. I don’t respect that move, but I do respect him as a driver tremendously.”
It also was Rosenqvist’s second hard crash of the month, following a practice crash in Turn 2 on May 15.
“It was an unfortunate situation; it’s a shame,” said Rosenqvist, who started 29th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda and finished one spot higher. “We had a really, really good car today and all of my guys did a brilliant job. Coming from the back, we were fighting for the top 10.”
Veach, who started 28th in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, finished a spot behind Rosenqvist.
“I think that was the biggest hit I have ever had on an oval,” Veach said. “My knee came up and hit the steering wheel where I backed in. Luckily … it is just really bruised. It is unfortunate. It was one of the best cars I have ever had. We were well on our way with the final pit stop to be an easy top 10 for us.”
The drivers and teams must regroup and repair quickly, with the Detroit doubleheader awaiting this week. Practice starts Friday with qualifying and a race each day on Saturday and Sunday. The races air live at 3 p.m. ET both days on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.