The current 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?

Statistics

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.

Calculations

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

Conclusions

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 2019, 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).

Laps Miles Driver Time Speed Year
1 2.5 Tony Kanaan 41.3359 217.728 2007
2 5 Tony Stewart 1:21.0940 221.965 1996
4 10 Helio Castroneves 2:43.7710 219.819 2003
10 25 Tony Kanaan 6:45.7841 221.703 2005
20 50 Bruno Junqueira 13:36.0110 220.585 2002
30 75 J.R. Hildebrand 20:34.6615 218.683 2017
40 100 Fernando Alonso 27:55.7591 214.828 2017
50 125 Fernando Alonso 34:43.4310 215.990 2017
60 150 Marco Andretti 42:12.2288 213.251 2014
70 175 Helio Castroneves 49:41.5486 211.300 2014
80 200 Helio Castroneves 56:32.6565 212.223 2014
90 225 Helio Castroneves 1:03:21.4821 213.075 2014
100 250 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1:10:47.8745 211.871 2014
110 275 Helio Castroneves 1:17:37.1795 212.575 2014
120 300 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1:24:24.0448 213.268 2014
130 325 Juan Pablo Montoya 1:31:17.6531 213.595 2014
140 350 Marco Andretti 1:38:42.8021 212.737 2014
150 375 Marco Andretti 1:45:51.7817 212.539 2014
160 400 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1:58:29.5150 202.543 2014
170 425 Ryan Hunter-Reay 2:06:41.8255 201.267 2014
180 450 Carlos Muños 2:20:41.0171 191.920 2013
190 475 Ryan Hunter-Reay 2:28:09.0275 192.372 2013
200 500 Tony Kanaan 2:40:03.4181 187.433 2013

 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track Records

Qualifying Records
Laps Miles Driver Time Speed Date
1 2.5 Arie Luyendyk 37.895 237.498 May 12, 1996
4 10 Arie Luyendyk 2:31.908 236.986 May 12, 1996
Race Records
Laps Miles Driver Time Speed Date
1 2.5 Eddie Cheever (lap 78) 38.119 236.103 May 26, 1996
200 500 Tony Kanaan 2:40:03.4181 187.433 May 26, 2013
Practice Records (“Unofficial”)
Laps Miles Driver Time Speed Date
1 2.5 Arie Luyendyk 37.616 239.260 May 10, 1996

 

References

 

EDIT: Updated article; copyedits and added Interval Records/Track Records sections. (8/18/2020)