In 2013, Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of 187.433 mph. Kanaan broke a 23-year old record with the “fastest 500”, breaking the record set in 1990. The race featured a 133-lap caution free segment that spanned from lap 61 through 193, which greatly aided in the exceptional average speed. As of 2021, the 2013 race is the second-fastest “500” of all-time.
Two late-race caution periods stymied the torrid pace in 2013 over the final seven laps, however. At the 190-lap mark, the average speed of the race was a record 192.372 mph. The two cautions (laps 194-196, and laps 198-200), however, dropped the average speed at the completion of lap 200 to 187.433 mph. While it was still a race record, there was a curiosity afterwards. How fast would the average speed have been if those last two cautions did not happen? 190 mph? Almost certainly. But 195 mph? 200 mph? What would the record have been?
At the completion of lap 190, the status was as follows:
|Lap||Miles||Leader||Time||Ave. Speed (mph)|
With each successive lap under green, the average speed mathematically increases by a slight margin. In order to calculate the expected increase, let’s take a look at the laps leading up to the yellow. According to official INDYCAR Timing & Scoring, the time and speed for laps 185-193 (leader’s lap) were as follows:
|Lap||Time||Ave. Speed (mph)|
This stretch of laps represents a fairly good sample. As the leaders approached and passed lap 190, the speeds were starting to increase, and the dicing was beginning to pick up. Both of those aspects are represented in the lap sample. Going back too much further, we were starting to get into a sequence of green flag pit stops, which would have been outliers, and would not have represented the lap times over the final stretch. It is suffice to say that without the two late-race yellows, the lap times over the final seven laps would have been right around the same laps times as those in the sample.
Factoring in the cautions, according to official INDYCAR Timing & Scoring, the actual laps times (leader’s lap time) for laps 194-200 were as follows:
|Lap||Time||Ave. Speed (mph)|
The total actual time for laps 194-200 was 591.4804 seconds.
The nine actual lap times above (laps 185-193) were summed and divided by 9 to come up with an average of 40.6585 seconds (221.356 mph) per lap.
∑ (Laps 185 → 193) = 365.9268 seconds
365.9268 ÷ 9 = 40.6585 seconds
(2.5 miles × 3600 seconds per hour) ÷ 40.6585 seconds = 221.356 mph
If laps 194-200 were run under green, with an average of 40.6585 second per lap, the total time for laps 194-200 would have been as follows:
40.6585 × 7 laps = 284.6095 seconds
Compare that with the actual time taken to complete laps 194-200:
591.4804 seconds – 284.6095 = 306.8709 seconds.
Thus, had the race gone green all the way to the end, the total elapsed time for the race hypothetically would have been 306.8709 seconds (or 5 minutes, 6.8709 seconds) shorter than the actual recorded time.
Kanaan’s time for the race was 2:40:03.4181, which is equal to the following:
(2 × 3600) + (60 × 40) + 3.4181 = 9603.4181 seconds
To calculate the hypothetical elapsed time:
9603.4181 seconds – 306.8709 seconds = 9296.5472 seconds
To convert that back to hours:minutes:seconds:
9296.5472 – (2 hours × 3600 seconds per hour) = 2096.5472
The integer of 2096.5472 ÷ 60 = 34
2096.5472 – (34 × 60 seconds per minute) = 56.5472
So the total time of the race would have been 2:34:56.5472
The average speed would have been as follows:
(500 × 3600) ÷ 9296.5472 = 193.620 mph
Of course this calculation is the author’s approximation, and we will never know what the exact average speed would have been had the last two cautions not come out. However, this should give a fairly reliable estimation on what it probably would have been.
At an average speed of 193.620 mph, it would have been the second-fastest 500-mile Indy car race of all time (at the time). The 2002 CART Fontana race would have still prevailed (2:33:42.960). There is no way possible the 2013 Indy 500 could have been completed at over 195 mph, much less the more lofty 200 mph barrier. Even going green the rest of the way, it would have been about 65-66 seconds too slow to post an average of speed of 195 mph. Per lap, that would have been making up 9 seconds per lap (i.e., seven consecutive 284 mph laps!)
So in the aftermath of the 2013 race, the statistical “what could have been” is essentially answered. They would have broken 193 mph, but not 195 mph. The chance at that elusive 500-mile race at an average speed of over 200 mph would have to wait…but just a little over a year. The 2014 Pocono 500 was run with one caution for six laps, and completed at an average speed of 202.402 mph.
Interval records and other lap records
Since the early days, interval records have been kept during the running of the race. The time and average speed at the conclusion of lap 1, lap 2, lap 4, and at subsequent ten-lap intervals are recorded by timing and scoring. As of 2022, the interval records are dominated by the 2014 race, which went 149 laps before the first caution period. However, due to a couple late yellows in 2014, the average speed dipped just below the 500-mile record (the final “interval”) which was set the previous year (2013). The 2021 race set the record for the fastest 500, however, due to the timing of its cautions, it did not set any interval records other than lap 200.
|130||325||Juan Pablo Montoya||1:31:17.6531||213.595||2014|
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track Records
|1||2.5||Arie Luyendyk||37.895||237.498||May 12, 1996|
|4||10||Arie Luyendyk||2:31.908||236.986||May 12, 1996|
|1||2.5||Eddie Cheever (lap 78)||38.119||236.103||May 26, 1996|
|200||500||Helio Castroneves||2:37:19.3846||190.690||May 30, 2021|
|Practice Records (“Unofficial”)|
|1||2.5||Arie Luyendyk||37.616||239.260||May 10, 1996|
Fastest 500-mile races – All-time/All Sanctions
|7/6/2014||IndyCar||Pocono 500||Juan Pablo Montoya||2:28:13.1798||202.402|
|11/3/2002||CART||The 500 (Fontana)||Jimmy Vasser||2:33:42.977||197.995|
|8/30/2014||IndyCar||MAVTV 500 (Fontana)||Tony Kanaan||2:32:58.4659||196.111|
|8/19/2018||IndyCar||Pocono 500||Alexander Rossi||2:36:49.1128||191.304|
|5/30/2021||IndyCar||Indianapolis 500||Hélio Castroneves||2:37:19.3846||190.690|
|8/5/1990||CART||Marlboro 500 (Michigan)||Al Unser Jr.||2:38:07.291||189.727|
|5/10/1997||NASCAR||Winston 500 (Talladega)||Mark Martin||2:39:18||188.354|
|8/1/1993||CART||Marlboro 500 (Michigan)||Nigel Mansell||2:39:24.131||188.203|
|5/26/2013||IndyCar||Indianapolis 500||Tony Kanaan||2:40:03.4181||187.433|
|5/25/2014||IndyCar||Indianapolis 500||Ryan Hunter-Reay||2:40:48.2305||186.563|
- 2013 Indianapolis 500 BOX SCORE, archived – originally from Indycar.com
- 2013 Indianapolis 500 Leader Lap Summary, archived – originally from Indycar.com
- 2013 Indianapolis 500 Section Data Report, archived – originally from Indycar.com
- I first discussed my finding here in this THREAD (6/11/2013)
EDIT: Updated article; copyedits and added Interval Records/Track Records sections. (8/18/2020)