The 2013 race: 84 lead changes (unofficially)

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 was a record-breaking race in many categories. It stands as the fastest Indy 500 ever run (187.433 mph average speed), and saw the 33-car field complete a record 5,863 laps out of a possible 6,600 (88.8%). The race also tied the record for most cars running at the finish (26), most cars completing the full 500 miles on the lead lap (19), and had the fewest laps under caution in the modern era (21). There was also a caution-free green flag stint from lap 61 through 193 (133 consecutive laps without a caution) which was a modern era record at the time (it was broken a year later in 2014). Numerous other individual records, milestones, and superlatives, peppered the final box score.

Most notably of the records set that day, however, was the 68 lead changes between 14 different leaders. The 68 lead changes doubled the record (34) set in 2012, and prior to that, few races had come close to the long-standing record of 29 lead changes set during the famous Rodger Ward/Jim Rathmann duel in 1960. The 14 different leaders broke the record of 12 set in 1993, a race that itself was somewhat unique in its competitiveness. The DW-12 chassis is largely credited with the increase in lead changes. Slingshot passes down the long straights (particularly the mainstretch) saw frequent lead changes, and no driver holding the lead longer than 14 laps in one stint. Pole position winner Ed Carpenter led the most laps of all drivers – a remarkably low total of only 37 laps. It was in fact the record for the lowest such total in Indy history. The driver who led the most laps (whether he won the race or not), led a total of 100 or more in 57 of the previous 96 races. Previously, Roberto Guerrero, who led most laps in the 1996 race (47 total) had the distinction of the lowest all-time total for the driver who led the most laps. That year it was not necessarily a lot of different leaders, but five drivers each leading 47, 46, 44, 43, and 20 laps, respectively, which just spread the laps led almost evenly. Even the rain-shortened 1976 race (102 laps/255 miles) still saw Johnny Rutherford manage to lead 48 laps.

The temperature at the start of the 2013 race was cool (62º F ambient; 73ºF track temperature), with clouds, and a slight headwind down the mainstretch. The conditions were favorable for fast speeds, grip, and close competition.

Officially, lead changes (and leaders) are only scored at the start/finish line. The official BOX SCORE published by INDYCAR documents the scoring, and the official lead changes are summarized below.

Lead
Change
Laps Led Driver
Pole Ed Carpenter
1–8 Ed Carpenter
1 9 Tony Kanaan
2 10–12 Ed Carpenter
3 13–14 Tony Kanaan
4 15–16 Marco Andretti
5 17–20 Tony Kanaan
6 21–22 Marco Andretti
7 23 Tony Kanaan
8 24–26 Marco Andretti
9 27–28 Tony Kanaan
10 29 Marco Andretti
11 30 Hunter-Reay
12 31–32 Will Power
13 33–37 James Jakes
14 38–42 Ed Carpenter
15 43 Marco Andretti
16 44–50 Ed Carpenter
17 51–53 Marco Andretti
18 54–58 Ed Carpenter
19 59–60 Ryan Hunter-Reay
20 61 Marco Andretti
21 62–63 Ryan Hunter-Reay
22 64–72 Ed Carpenter
23 73–74 Tony Kanaan
24 75–88 Will Power
25 89 Tony Kanaan
26 90 E. J. Viso
27 91–92 Carlos Muñoz
28 93–97 Tony Kanaan
29 98–111 A. J. Allmendinger
30 112 Tony Kanaan
31 113–114 Marco Andretti
32 115–120 Tony Kanaan
33 121 Ryan Hunter-Reay
34 122 Carlos Muñoz
35 123 Alex Tagliani
36 124 Townsend Bell
37 125 James Hinchcliffe
38 126–130 Marco Andretti
39 131 Ryan Hunter-Reay
40 132–135 E. J. Viso
41 136 Ryan Hunter-Reay
42 137–142 A. J. Allmendinger
43 143–144 Ryan Hunter-Reay
44 145 Helio Castroneves
45 146–150 Marco Andretti
46 151 Ryan Hunter-Reay
47 152–154 Carlos Muñoz
48 155 Scott Dixon
49 156–157 James Hinchcliffe
50 158–164 Ryan Hunter-Reay
51 165–167 A. J. Allmendinger
52 168 Marco Andretti
53 169 Ryan Hunter-Reay
54 170 Marco Andretti
55 171 Ryan Hunter-Reay
56 172–173 Marco Andretti
57 174 Tony Kanaan
58 175 Marco Andretti
59 176–177 Tony Kanaan
60 178 Carlos Muñoz
61 179 Marco Andretti
62 180–184 Carlos Muñoz
63 185–188 James Hinchcliffe
64 189 Tony Kanaan
65 190 Ryan Hunter-Reay
66 191–192 Tony Kanaan
67 193–197 Ryan Hunter-Reay
68 198-200 Tony Kanaan
Driver Total
Laps Led
Ed Carpenter 37
Tony Kanaan 34
Marco Andretti 31
Ryan Hunter-Reay 26
A. J. Allmendinger 23
Will Power 16
Carlos Muñoz 12
James Hinchcliffe 7
James Jakes 5
E. J. Viso 5
Hélio Castroneves 1
Townsend Bell 1
Alex Tagliani 1
Scott Dixon 1

Post-race analysis and comparisons

In post-race analysis, the 68 lead changes were heralded as an amazing record for Indy cars. It rivaled some of the most competitive 500-mile races in the history of Indy car racing. The 1998 U.S. 500, a CART event which saw the first use of the Hanford Device, saw an astounding 62 lead changes, and the 2001 Michigan 500 had 60. The CART series record ultimately was set at Fontana. The 2001 Marlboro 500 saw 73 lead changes among 19 drivers. It should be noted that by virtue of being 2 mile tracks, 500-mile races at both Michigan and Fontana consist of 250 laps (Indianapolis, and Pocono for that matter, are 2.5 mile tracks, and their 500-mile races consist of 200 laps). There would be a slight uptick expected in lead changes on the shorter circuits.

Some observers felt the seeming unavoidable slingshot passes at the 2013 Indy 500 were a bit “contrived” or “artificial,” but the general consensus was one of excitement. Likewise, Tony Kanaan was such a popular winner that very few people went home disappointed by the results. Some hearkened memories of the Hanford Device races. It also drew some comparison to NASCAR superspeedway races, particularly a pair of 500-mile races at Talladega in 1984 (the
1984 Winston 500
and 1984 Talladega 500) which had 75 and 68 official lead changes, respectively. The actual number of lead changes was estimated at many more, as drivers were nosing ahead of each other multiple times per lap. With those two races in mind, after the 2013 Indy 500 it was understood that there had been numerous interim lead changes at other parts of the track, occurring in such a fashion that they were not actually scored at the start/finish line.

At the end of the day, the box scores, timing & scoring reports, and newspapers all reported “68.” And that’s what went into the record books. But what was the actual number? How many unofficial, interim lead changes were there? Was it 75? 100? It seemed like somebody was passing somebody every time around. Maybe it was more.

Research

About a week and a half after the 2013 Indy 500, I set out to document how many total lead changes there were, including all interim lead changes that were not officially counted at the start/finish line. With the help of two versions of the ABC television broadcast, a copy of the official box score, a pad of paper, and a mechanical pencil, I was about to find out.

Interestingly enough, I planned to undertake this effort for the 2012 race, since it was a record-setting performance at the time. I was unable to find time to do it before we arrived at the 2013 month of May. When the 2013 race shattered all previous records, going back to document the 2012 race became inconsequential.

Several things fell into my favor, and generally knowing what was going to happen ahead of time allowed for precise documentation. ABC-TV’s scoring graphics are tied directly to INDYCAR Timing & Scoring, and they flash lead changes almost immediately at the top-center of the screen. Likewise, ABC has long been known to focus heavily on the leaders, so lead changes are almost never missed on-screen. Furthermore, ABC’s Side-By-Side feature used during commercial breaks allows an uninterrupted view of the action on the track. Interim lead changes that happened during commercial breaks were not missed. The only caveat was that Side-By-Side is scuttled once per hour to provide for local commercial inserts.

The two times that local commercials went full-screen and interrupted the original telecast footage occurred at laps 94-98 and at laps 138-142. Fortunately in both instances, there happened to be a lull in the action. The box score lists no official lead changes during those commercial breaks (besides what happened just as they were going to commercial and just as they were coming back from commercial). Using a supplemental video feed simulcast on ESPN3/WatchESPN, the dedicated IN-CAR camera footage channel for Ed Carpenter (which took no commercial breaks at all), I was able to confirm there were no interim lead changes during those two brief off-air segments. In summary, nothing appears to have been missed during the local commercial breaks, and I am confident the number I came up with is correct.

Going through the entire race was fairly routine, and with the aid of ABC-TV’s laps completed ticker, documenting the lead changes by the lap during which they occurred ended up being a straightforward task. The most difficult periods were during pit stop sequences, but it mostly boiled down to where cars pitted. If the leader was pitting south of the start/finish line (most of the front-runners do) there was less a chance of an interim lead changes before he arrived at his pit stall.

Conclusions

The results were somewhat surprising. It was actually not as high as I expected. Another curious discovery was that there was an additional race leader (bringing the unofficial total to 15 different leaders) who for a brief time led the pack, but never actually led a lap at the start/finish line.

The final number for total lead changes was 84 between 15 drivers. That means there were 16 interim lead changes, and one additional leader as compared to the official statistics. The results are in the table below.

Lead
Change
Laps Led Driver
Pole Ed Carpenter
1–8 Ed Carpenter
1 9 Tony Kanaan
2 10–12 Ed Carpenter
3 13 (interim) Marco Andretti
4 13–14 Tony Kanaan
5 15–16 Marco Andretti
6 17 Tony Kanaan
7 18 (interim) Marco Andretti
8 18 (interim) Tony Kanaan
9 21–22 Marco Andretti
10 23 Tony Kanaan
11 24–26 Marco Andretti
12 27 Tony Kanaan
13 28 (interim) Marco Andretti
14 28 (interim) Tony Kanaan
15 29 Marco Andretti
16 30 Hunter-Reay
17 31–32 Will Power
18 33–37 James Jakes
19 38–42 Ed Carpenter
20 43 Marco Andretti
21 44–50 Ed Carpenter
22 51–53 Marco Andretti
23 54–58 Ed Carpenter
24 59–60 Ryan Hunter-Reay
25 61 Marco Andretti
26 62–63 Ryan Hunter-Reay
27 64–72 Ed Carpenter
28 73–74 Tony Kanaan
29 75–88 Will Power
30 89 Tony Kanaan
31 90 E. J. Viso
32 91–92 Carlos Muñoz
33 93 (interim) Helio Castroneves
34 93–97 Tony Kanaan
35 98–111 A. J. Allmendinger
36 112 Tony Kanaan
37 113–114 Marco Andretti
38 115–120 Tony Kanaan
39 121 (interim) Marco Andretti
40 121 Ryan Hunter-Reay
41 122 Carlos Muñoz
42 123 Alex Tagliani
43 124 Townsend Bell
44 125 James Hinchcliffe
45 126 (interim) Ryan Hunter-Reay
46 126–130 Marco Andretti
47 131 Ryan Hunter-Reay
48 132–135 E. J. Viso
49 136 Ryan Hunter-Reay
50 137–142 A. J. Allmendinger
51 143–144 Ryan Hunter-Reay
52 145 (interim) Marco Andretti
53 145 Helio Castroneves
54 146–150 Marco Andretti
55 151 Ryan Hunter-Reay
56 152–154 Carlos Muñoz
57 155 Scott Dixon
58 156–157 James Hinchcliffe
59 158 (interim) Marco Andretti
60 158–164 Ryan Hunter-Reay
61 165–167 A. J. Allmendinger
62 168 Marco Andretti
63 169 Ryan Hunter-Reay
64 170 Marco Andretti
65 171 Ryan Hunter-Reay
66 172–173 Marco Andretti
67 174 Tony Kanaan
68 175 Marco Andretti
69 176 Tony Kanaan
70 177 (interim) Marco Andretti
71 177 (interim) Tony Kanaan
72 178 Carlos Muñoz
73 179 Marco Andretti
74 180–184 Carlos Muñoz
75 185–188 James Hinchcliffe
76 189 (interim) Dario Franchitti
77 189 (interim) Ryan Hunter-Reay
78 189 Tony Kanaan
79 190 Ryan Hunter-Reay
80 191 Tony Kanaan
81 192 (interim) Ryan Hunter-Reay
82 192 (interim) Tony Kanaan
83 193–197 Ryan Hunter-Reay
84 198-200 Tony Kanaan
Driver Total
Laps Led
Ed Carpenter 37
Tony Kanaan 34
Marco Andretti 31
Ryan Hunter-Reay 26
A. J. Allmendinger 23
Will Power 16
Carlos Muñoz 12
James Hinchcliffe 7
James Jakes 5
E. J. Viso 5
Hélio Castroneves 1
Townsend Bell 1
Alex Tagliani 1
Scott Dixon 1
Dario Franchitti 0

As one may have noticed, the unofficial 15th different leader was Dario Franchitti. While the field was shuffling through a sequence of green flag pit stops on lap 188-189, James Hinchcliffe and Franchitti stayed out a couple laps longer than the rest of the leaders. They came into the pits together, with Hinchcliffe ahead. The rest of the field was more than 34 seconds behind. Hinchcliffe crossed the start/finish line in the pit lane to lead lap 188, then the two cars continued down the pit lane to their respective stalls. Franchitti had a slightly faster pit stop, and beat Hinchcliffe out of the pit lane. The two cars exited the pits, with Franchitti leading Hinchcliffe as they entered the warm-up lane. The rest of the field caught up, and passed the two cars in turn two. Ryan Hunter-Reay was first, then seconds later Tony Kanaan passed Hunter-Reay to actually lead lap 189. So Franchitti lead the race for about 18 seconds, but never managed to lead at the stripe all afternoon.

Hypotheticals

As the race passed the 190 lap mark, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay were dicing back and forth each lap. However, the action came to a brief halt after Graham Rahal brushed the wall and crashed in turn 2 on lap 194. With the caution out for four laps, no lead changes could happen (none of the leaders pitted). The green came back out on lap 198, and Tony Kanaan made the pass for the lead going into turn one. Just seconds later, Dario Franchitti hit the wall in turn one, and brought out the yellow again. The final two and a half laps circulated under caution, and Kanaan was the winner.

Had those last two crashes not happened, and the race were to have gone all the way to the finish under green, there certainly would have been more lead changes. If there were to have been a lead change on each lap, we would have made it to 90 or 91 lead changes. Had there been a lap or two with two lead changes in the same lap, we would have seen upwards of 93 or 94 total. It seems very unlikely that they could have broken 100 unofficial lead changes for the day, as they would have had to have at least two every lap to the end.

References

  • 2013 Indianapolis 500 BOX SCORE, Indycar.com
  • 2013 Indianapolis 500 Telecast, ESPN on ABC (May 25, 2013)
  • 2013 Indianapolis 500: Ed Carpenter On-Board, ESPN3/WatchESPN (May 25, 2013)
  • 2013 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report (Sunday May 25, 2013 – “Race Day”)
  • I first discussed my finding here in this THREAD (6/11/2013)

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