No racing event has lasted as long as the Indianapolis 500.
Through the times of winners, fans have been able to see the evolution of racing and cars as the average speeds of the winners just get faster and faster.
The first winner of the Indy 500, Ray Harroun in 1911, averaged 74.602 mph. Last year, winning his second Indy 500, Takuma Sato averaged 157.824 mph, more than doubling the speed of Harroun.
As drivers prepare for the 105th running of the Indy 500, we’re taking a look at how speed has changed in the race over the years. Who have been the fastest drivers, and which ones set the most major milestones along the way?
Check out the below graphic for the engines over time that have produced the fastest speed in each race. A full breakdown of winners in each race is at the bottom of the post.
Fastest Indy 500 average speeds
The 2013 Indy 500 wound up setting a number of records. There were 68 lead changes, 14 different leaders, 26 cars still running at the end, only 21 caution laps and 5,863 laps completed by the field, all records.
On top of all that, it was also the fastest-ever finish to the race, with Tony Kanaan finishing with an average speed of 187.433 mph. Not since Arie Luyendyk in 1990 had a driver averaged more than 180 mph. Kanaan, a Brazilian-born driver, drove on KV Racing Technology’s team and won with a Chevrolet engine and Dallara chassis.
While Kanaan finished the race as the fastest driver, he did not finish with the most laps led. He led in 34 while Ed Carpenter, who began the race in pole position, finished with 37 laps led.
Had the race not finished under caution, it would have gone down in the official record books as one of the narrowest margins of victory. Kanaan edged out second-place Carlos Munoz by just 0.1159 seconds. Only six races have featured a narrower margin of victory; two were under caution.
The next year, Ryan Hunter-Reay finished the second-fastest Indy 500 in history, also surpassing Luyendyk’s time with an average time of 186.563 mph. Like Kanaan, he also just barely held off the second-place finisher, coming in ahead of Helio Castroneves by 0.0600 seconds, the second-closest margin among races that didn’t end under caution.
When did a driver first finish averaging more than 100 mph?
It was in 1925 that a car first crossed the finish line in under five hours, and in doing so averaged more than 100 mph during the race.
Peter DePaolo, driving as an entrant of Duesenberg Motors Co., started in the No. 2 position and finished in first with an average speed of 101.127 mph. Norman Batten drove for 21 laps in relief for DePaolo.
While the Duesenberg driver was the first to average that speed in a race, it was René Thomas in 1919, driving a Delage engine, who was the first to drive more than 100 mph in the time trials, racing out to 104.785 mph to grab the pole position. He wound up placing 11th in the race with Howdy Wilcox, driving a Peugeot for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the race at an average of 88.050 mph.
What is the fastest lap ever recorded?
Just as the 2013 race was full of broken records, so too was the 1996 Indy 500. The most prominent record fell on the 78th lap when Eddie Cheever raced around at 236.103 mph, the quickest in history.
But more lap records fell during the build-up to the race. Luyendyk set a practice lap record of 237.774 mph a day before he shattered his time, racing out to an average speed of 239.260 mph for the fastest ever in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. But having come during practice, it remains an unofficial record. However, Luyendyk set something more official, averaging 237.498 mph on his fourth lap on the second day of time trials to set the single-lap track record and averaging 236.986 on all four laps together for another record.
No driver has been able to reach the 240 mph mark for a single lap.
As for who got off to the fastest start, that would be Kanaan again. He finished the first lap of the 2007 Indy 500 in 41.3359 seconds for an average speed of 217.728 mph.
How late into a race has a driver maintained 200 mph?
As the races go on, drivers inevitably slow down. But some can keep their insane speeds up much later than others.
That was the case with Hunter-Reay in 2014. The eventual winner of the 2014 Indy 500 was still averaging 201.267 mph by the time he had finished 170 laps — 425 miles — on the course. It is the latest that a driver has been able to keep an average greater than 200 mph.
Indianapolis 500 winners by year
*indicates the Indy 500 did not go the full 200 laps that year
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