The Fastest 500s (Part 2)

The race record for the Indianapolis 500 was set in 2013 by Tony Kanaan (average speed 187.433 mph). The race featured a 133-lap caution free segment that spanned from lap 61 through 193, which greatly aided in the exceptional average speed.

Two late-race caution periods stymied the torrid pace 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)
190 475 Ryan Hunter-Reay 2:28:09.0275 192.372

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)
185 40.2413 223.651
186 40.4486 222.505
187 40.5067 222.185
188 40.3271 223.175
189 40.8443 220.349
190 40.9837 219.599
191 40.5854 220.755
192 41.0377 219.311
193 40.9520 219.769

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)
194 43.5208 206.798
195 1:50.4726 81.468
196 2:08.2102 70.197
197 1:23.3539 107.973
198 44.6155 201.724
199 1:25.3589 105.437
200 1:35.9488 93.800

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.


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