Lead battles that last for multiple laps, photo finishes, late drama, wheel-banging, incredible recovery drives – all of these things make for great races, regardless of the type of track that they’re on.
But when it comes to IndyCar on an oval, all of these things can happen in one race. And more often than not you’ll get at least one or two of them, because when everyone is driving flat out and slipstreaming each other it’s very difficult for anyone to break away.
Here are 10 videos which show that you don’t need to turn right to get the right kind of racing.
A member of the Andretti family hasn’t won the Indy 500 since 1969, which has lead to the idea of an ‘Andretti curse’, such has been the bad luck of the family there over the years.
In 2006 it finally looked like that curse was going to be lifted. Dan Wheldon had led most of the way but dropped out of contention with a puncture, and other top contender Sam Hornish Jr. had suffered a drive-through penalty after a botched pit stop.
A late caution meant that Micheal Andretti (out of retirement for a one-off drive) was leading with four laps to go, with his 19-year-old son and Indy 500 debutant Marco Andretti in second place. A 1-2 finish for Andrettis, driving for the Andretti-Green team looked like being the perfect way to end the curse. Shortly after the restart Marco took the lead and pulled away whilst Michael tried to hold off the recovering Hornish.
But Hornish got though and set off after Marco, and despite being a second down (masses of time in Indianapolis terms) as they started the last lap he managed to reel him. Hornish got a great run through the final two corners and managed to slingshot past on the line to win by just six-hundredths of a second; at the time it was the second closest Indy 500 finish ever. The Andretti curse is still going on to this day.
After a red flag delay for rain which lasted for two months (no, really), the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway resumed and gave one of the most thrilling races in IndyCar history.
Over the final few laps the racing became seriously intense, with drivers going four-wide for the lead and coming close to hitting each other on multiple occasions. James Hinchcliffe had led most of the race and was doing everything to try and hold off Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud, but on the final corner it was Rahal who managed to snatch the lead and win by just eight-thousandths of a second. Breathless stuff!
There was some seriously good driving going on at Chicagoland in 2003 as a whole host of drivers jostles for the lead in the closing laps. Sam Hornish Jr. spent much of it sticking to the high line with Bryan Herta almost glued to his side, but on the run to the line Scott Dixon almost nabbed the pair of them. Hornish just held on to win from Dixon Herta as the three cars crossed the line as one, with just a hundredth of a second separating them.
The end of the 1989 Indy 500 was a straight fight between Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. as both battled hard for their first win at the brickyard. Fittipaldi had led most of the way but Unser Jr. got ahead with a few laps to go and began to pull a slight lead.
Traffic would have its say though, and on the penultimate lap Fittipaldi saw his chance and went for it. Unfortunately the two made the slightest contact and Unser Jr. was pitched into the wall as Fittipaldi carried on to win. On the replay you can see juts how small the contact was, but it doesn’t take much at these speeds for the smallest touch to have massive consequences. It’s also amazing how Fittipaldi manages to keep going as well – check out the sweet drift he does afterwards!
The current generation of IndyCars generate some great racing, a fact perfectly highlighted by the closing laps of the 2014 Indy 500. Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay went toe to toe, each of them pulling off some breathtaking moves as they fought for victory in a perfect example of what it means to put trust in the driver you’re battling.
In the end it was Hunter-Reay who just held on to take his first Indy 500 win, denying Castroneves a record-equalling fourth in the process.
You can pretty much pick any race from Michigan and it’ll be a thriller, but the 2000 CART race has to go down as one of the all-time classics in American open-wheel history.
Michael Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya slugged it out in the closing laps, swapping the lead at pretty much every corner. Things intensified on the last lap and coming off the final corner the two came within a breath of taking each other out. Montoya of course didn’t back down and managed to tough it out on the outside and stole a tow from the backmarker of Tarso Marques, giving him just the enough of an advantage to win.
In 1985 Danny Sullivan became an absolute motorsport legend. As he passed Mario Andretti for the lead of the Indy 500 he lost control, something that usually guarantees retirement from the race. Somehow though Sullivan managed to keep it out of the wall and recover, whilst Mario unbelievably missed the spinning car.
Sullivan pitted for new tyres and despite the trouser-browning experience carried on at the same sort of pace as before. Just 20 laps after his spin he took the lead from Andretti, this time for good, and romped home to score a dramatic and famous victory in a race that has since become known as the “spin and win”.
The IndyCar YouTube channel is a fantastic place,with all sorts of cool stuff being uploaded, from classic races to awesome onboard footage – just like this 15-minute compilation of onboards from the 2015 MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in California.
It’s considered to be one of the most entertaining and action-packed IndyCar races of all time, with a record-breaking 80 lead changes and some seriously close pack racing. This onboard footage perfectly highlights how extreme racing on ovals can be and there are so many crazy moments, from Juan Pablo Montoya’s huge wobble at 4:48 to Ryan Briscoe’s dramatic accident at 11:58. It’s a testament to the skill of the drivers and the spotters that there aren’t more crashes like that.
Back to Chicagoland again, this time for a duel between Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. In the closing laps Castroneves was struggling to find a way around Dixon, but eventually managed to draw alongside.
As the two approached the line it was too close to call, but the timing equipment revealed that Dixon had won. However a closer look at the footage revealed that it was actually Helio who had crossed the line first, leading to some awkward scenes in the pits afterwards. Only in IndyCar do you get races that are so close that the timing equipment gets confused!
If you ever needed proof that in motor racing “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, then the 2011 Indy 500 is surely it. Going into the last lap rookie JR Hildebrand looked a certainty to win the race, but on the last corner of the last lap it all went wrong.
Coming up to lap a slow-moving car, Hildebrand went slightly off line and ended up careering into the wall on the exit of the corner. Despite having enough momentum to roll across the finish line he was passed by Dan Wheldon, who took his second (and tragically last) Indy 500 victory. It surely ranks as one of the most dramatic race finishes in the history of motorsport, alongside the likes of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Of course, these are just a small selection of many, many great moments of IndyCar racing on ovals, and there are plenty of other awesome races that we’ve missed.
Let us know what some of your favourites are in the comments below!