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.
|26||90||E. J. Viso|
|29||98–111||A. J. Allmendinger|
|40||132–135||E. J. Viso|
|42||137–142||A. J. Allmendinger|
|51||165–167||A. J. Allmendinger|
|A. J. Allmendinger||23|
|E. J. Viso||5|
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.
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.
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.
|3||13 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|7||18 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|8||18 (interim)||Tony Kanaan|
|13||28 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|14||28 (interim)||Tony Kanaan|
|31||90||E. J. Viso|
|33||93 (interim)||Helio Castroneves|
|35||98–111||A. J. Allmendinger|
|39||121 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|45||126 (interim)||Ryan Hunter-Reay|
|48||132–135||E. J. Viso|
|50||137–142||A. J. Allmendinger|
|52||145 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|59||158 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|61||165–167||A. J. Allmendinger|
|70||177 (interim)||Marco Andretti|
|71||177 (interim)||Tony Kanaan|
|76||189 (interim)||Dario Franchitti|
|77||189 (interim)||Ryan Hunter-Reay|
|81||192 (interim)||Ryan Hunter-Reay|
|82||192 (interim)||Tony Kanaan|
|A. J. Allmendinger||23|
|E. J. Viso||5|
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.
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.
- 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)