Now that the 2017 running of the greatest spectacle is behind us, let’s have a look at what happened with a few visualizations.
- The Starting field:
This chart has a lot of information about the starting grid. Along the X axis, we have the starting position. On the left end, are the cars up front, with the back being on the opposite end. The Y axis is showing the best finish the driver has had in past Indy 500s. Previous winners will show up on the bottom of the chart. The size of the bubble indicates previous experience at Indianapolis. Those drivers favored to win will generally be in the lower left quadrant with a large bubble.
- Starters by nationality:
The drivers represented 12 countries. The United States was represented by the most starters with 13, followed by Columbia and the United Kingdom with four drivers each.
- The Race, lap by lap:
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a 2 ½ mile track which makes the Indy 500 a 200 lap race. This chart shows the position of each driver at 10 lap intervals. 1st place is on the bottom. Drivers who didn’t finish have an icon near the last lap run to indicate why they are out of the race. Icons include contact, engine troubles, battery and mechanical failure.
Scott Dixon starts in the lower left corner, on the pole position. He fell to 15th on lap 30 and then went out of the race in a spectacular accident on lap 52.
Zach Veach, one of the rookies in the race, started 32nd and made it as high as 26th before leaving the race due to mechanical issues on lap 155.
Takuma Sato, began in 4th, slipped back as far as 18th midrace, but came back to win it as seen on the lower right.
- The winnings:
The winner of the race, Takuma Sato, took home more than 2.5 million dollars along with one of the pace cars. Second place, Hélio Castroneves took home almost $800,000. The lowest paid drivers took home $200,305 which is not bad for a day’s pay.
There are stories to be told within these four visualizations. We can see the varied field of drivers, from different nations, with dramatic differences in experiences. In the Lap by Lap chart, every time lines cross, a pass happened, one driver moved forward, a second behind. Every line tells a story: Castroneves moving from the middle of the pack all the way forward, just missing the win. The Formula 1 driver, Alonso, leading midrace only to be put out by engine trouble. Or the four drivers put out of the race in one fell swoop in lap 183.
These stories keep me going back to the race year after year. But there are other stories that are hard to tell with charts. When I was a boy, the accident which put veteran driver Scott Dixon out of the race, arguably caused by a rookie making a rookie mistake, would have resulted in death or serious injury. With all the safety features added over the years, Dixon walked away. He will be back behind the wheel at the Belle Isle Grand Prix this weekend. Then there was “Spiderman” Helios Castroneves, so named because he climbs the fence to salute the crowd after a win. Castroneves was here to take home his fourth Indy 500 win, to put himself in the records books alongside A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. But, his Chevrolet engine just didn’t have the power he needed to overtake Takuma Sato.
The story of Takuma Sato could make an article of its own. He is from Tokyo Japan, a country which does not have the multi-leveled ‘minor leagues’ of driving which we have in this Country. In the United States, it starts with Go-carts in elementary school. For Sato, it started with bicycles, his first automobile race was at 20. He earned an Indy car ride in 2010. He has had a reputation for taking risks, but had trouble putting together the right strategy for win. In 2012, seeing his chance, Sato attempted a daring pass of Dario Franchitti on the first turn of the final lap only to spin out in the grass. This year, Sato took all the right chances and held Castroneves off in the final laps to win the greatest of all races. He became the first Japanese winner and the first winner of 40 years old in decades. And that is why, I will be back next year and every year to come.