These days, mechanical failures are few and far between. We understand how to make V8 engines pretty well, even the hyper ones used in IndyCar racing. In fact, the technology we have has the potential to push these cars even faster than they are now, but then we start to run into the problem of human limitations; there just aren't that many people who have the reflexes to run a car around an oval track of reasonable diameter at 300 MPH. Race car drivers are already a bare fraction of all people; to go as fast as the technology could go, we'd need a bare fraction of that bare fraction. So the various regulating bodies have put restrictions on what can be done, which effectively limits the top speed of the vehicles to something mere (though very talented) humans can manage.
The side effect of all this is that the machines don't break as often. It's not uncommon to have one or two cars retire because of this or that failure, and most of the time it's someone 'way back in the field. But in this race, three cars retired due to engine failures, and they were from major teams to boot.
The broadcast team showed video from inside two of the three cars of the engine failure. Car's roasting along at 225 MPH, BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! and then pow! and the magic smoke gets out. In the third case, we watched the driver bring the car to a stop, the engine making a noise like a garbage disposal with a fork caught in it until he shut it off.
Go to 0:38 in this one to hear it:
Before the engine blows, you can read the "McLaren" logo on the steering wheel. After it does, there's too much vibration. Dang.
And here, he shuts the engine off at about 0:09. Beforehand, "fork in garbage disposal".
Honda did something to their engines this year to squeeze an extra bit of power from them, but it's cost them reliability. Three engine failures in the same race--that's just not something I'm used to seeing from IndyCar. The Indy 500 is meant to be a test of endurance as well as speed; normally it's wrecks that take cars out of the race, not mechanical failures.
And wrecks--hoo boy there were a couple doozies in this one.
First off, Scott Dixon and Jay Howard on lap 53. Howard's car was forced high in a turn; he became a passenger, hit the outer wall and then ricocheted right into the path of Dixon's car. Dixon had nowhere to go, got launched over the left rear wheel of Howard's car. The car went airborne, came down on the inner wall, and broke in half.
The fact that Dixon was unscathed is a testament to two things: good car design, and pure luck. If that car had come down on that wall just a little differently, Dixon would have been killed. As it was, the transaxle broke right off the friggin' engine and components of the car were strewn across the track. The wreck was so bad it tore the safety fencing, so the officials stopped the race for almost twenty minutes while the safety fence was repaired and the shrapnel of the wreck got cleaned up. I don't think I've ever seen a race get red-flagged for anything other than rain.
But Dixon got out of the car and walked to the ambulance. Reportedly he has a minor injury to his left ankle, something on which he can walk but requires further attention. That is good safety engineering.
Race resumed, and all was well. Yellows popped from time to time; cars seemed to be losing pieces left and right, and when the engines blew, that also prompted yellow flags. A few spinouts.
Came down to the last 20 laps, and at lap 17 five cars got into a wreck. Somehow the safety crew got it cleaned up with 11 laps left, and those last 11 laps were nail-biting tense.
I wanted to see Helio Castroneves get his 4th win. But Takuma Sato--who spun out in the final lap in 2012--won, and I'm okay with that (I recall rooting for him in 2012). Castroneves came in 2nd, and while it's not winning, getting 2nd place at Indy is certainly nothing to sneeze at. There's always next year!
The Indy 500 is the only sporting event I watch, and at that I rarely get excited about it. I got excited about this one; it was a good race.