In its second attempt at the Indianapolis 500, DragonSpeed enjoyed a solid – and highly educational – run at the famed Brickyard as British driver Ben Hanley piloted the number 81 Flex-Box Chevrolet-Dallara to 23rd place. In a race beset by accidents leading up to a yellow-flag finish, the championship-winning sportscar outfit maintained a laser-sharp focus on making it to the checkered flag and learning as much as possible along the way.
With its participation only confirmed five days before the first practice session, but with the assurance that all 33 entries would qualify, the team put aside the quest for qualifying speed in favor of focussing on race set-up. The approach was rewarded by a strong Carb Day performance which demonstrated the car’s driveability in traffic and generated crucial fuel consumption and tire wear data.
The new-for-2020 Aeroscreen safety feature – which would prove its worth more than once over the course of the 200 laps – had the side effect of making drafting and passing more difficult, making holding on to track position as important as overtaking. Hanley and DragonSpeed adopted a somewhat conservative pace from the start, with the aim of keeping their pit stop strategy options open.
At the first caution period on lap 7, Hanley dived into the pits (along with several others in the bottom half of the field) to top up on fuel. This put the DragonSpeed machine out of sequence with the frontrunners but back on track in clear air and free of the regular pit lane ‘rush hour’, which would be the cause of several incidents during the afternoon.
With alternative pit stop strategies always at the mercy of the yellow flag, the lack of a wave-by during the third caution period meant a lost opportunity for Hanley to regain a lap on the leaders. A chance to finish the race with one more stop when almost everyone else would require two evaporated on lap 144 with the race’s sixth yellow flag. The DragonSpeed crew’s pit work was error-free throughout its nine stops.
“It’s a brilliant feeling to finish the 500,” Hanley said. “All the odds seemed against us a couple of weeks ago, but a huge effort by everyone made it possible. We’re well satisfied with our result and what we’ve achieved as a team at Indy this year. As we hoped, we’ve learned a lot and can’t wait to come back next year to apply it.”
DragonSpeed team principal Elton Julian said, “It’s been a wild couple of weeks. Indycar, Chevy, and Firestone made it possible for us to commit to the 500 on August 7th. Due to the pandemic and our changeable sportscar schedule, we hadn’t touched the car since March and didn’t start converting it to speedway spec until the 10th, just two days before opening practice. It was a massive achievement just getting the car to Gasoline Alley, but the Dragons – old and new – stepped up big time. We took advantage of not having to worry about qualifying to be patient and thorough in bullet-proofing the car and developing our race set-up, which gave us the freedom to take some gambles on race strategy. Those didn’t pay off, except in terms of adding to our store of knowledge, but if the yellows had fallen a bit differently we could have been in the top 20 or even 15. We’ll be back, but we’ve all promised ourselves it won’t be a last-minute deal again!”