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100 Days, 100 Laps: How Well Does Leading at Halfway Predict Indy 500 Victory?

While the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge features 33 cars covering 500 miles and 200 laps on the 2.5-mile oval, the number 100 also has its share of history at the world’s greatest auto race, especially in its early years.

Ralph De Palma was the first driver to lead 100 laps, taking the front for 196 laps in 1912 and not winning. Rene Thomas was the first pole winner faster than 100 mph, at 104.780 mph in his Ballot in 1919. Peter DePaolo was the first winner to average at least 100 mph, at 101.127 in his Duesenberg in 1925. Sam Hanks was the first winner to earn at least $100,000 for his victory, taking home $103,844 in 1957.

And who can forget that Alexander Rossi shocked the world with his victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2016?

Friday, Feb. 14 marks another significant “100” – it’s 100 days until Race Day for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 24. So, it’s a good time to take a detailed look at another historical facet surrounding that digit in the Indy 500 – leaders at Lap 100.

Lap 100 is only halfway, with 250 miles remaining until glory if the race runs full distance. Just how accurate is the halfway leader as an indicator of which driver will enter Victory Lane 250 miles later? Perhaps better than you think.

Forty-one of the 103 leaders at Lap 100 went on to win the same race, a strike rate of 39.8 percent. The Lap 100 leader also has finished second 13 times and third five times. If driver’s number is atop the Scoring Pylon at the 250-mile mark at Indy, history indicates there’s a better than 50 percent chance that he or she will end up in the top three.

A look at the leaders at Lap 100 by decade indicates some eras at Indy have been more unpredictable than others.

At least one Lap 100 leader has gone on to win the same race in all 11 decades of the race. But that happened only once out of 10 races in the 1990s (Arie Luyendyk in 1997) and once out of 10 races in the 2000s (Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000).

It’s common to hear Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers and longtime race observers say recent decades have produced some of the most competitive racing ever. That’s true, if Lap 100 leaders also taking the checkered flag is an accurate barometer.

Just four of the Lap 100 leaders in 30 races since 1990 has gone on to win in the same year. That’s the lowest number over any three-decade period in the history of the race.

Leading on Lap 100 was the clearest crystal ball indicator of a drive into Victory Lane later that day in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nine of the 10 halfway-point leaders in the 1950s also won that day. Bill Vukovich was the only exception, as he ended up 17th after leading Lap 100 in 1952. But Vuky was out front with nine laps to go in that race when a steering linkage broke.

Seven of the 10 Lap 100 leaders also won the same race in the 1960s.

The breakdown of success rates by Lap 100 leaders is just as interesting when examining the records of four-time winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Foyt led at Lap 100 during his victories in 1961 and 1964. Unser also won twice after leading at halfway, in 1970 and 1978.

But Mears, the legendary winner of a record six poles and record-tying four races, never led Lap 100 in any of his 15 Indy 500 starts. Not surprising, considering Mears was one of the all-time masters of keeping his car in contention during the early laps, making adjustments during pit stops and pouncing on the leaders in the final 100 miles.

Ralph De Palma and Mario Andretti share the record for leading at Lap 100 the most times, with four each. But both also suffered some of the toughest luck in “500” history, each winning the race just once while combining to lead 1,168 laps (De Palma 612, Andretti 556).

No driver among Lap 100 leaders in Indy 500 history suffered a crueler fate than De Palma in 1912. He took the lead from Teddy Tetzlaff on Lap 3 and proceeded to build a lead of five and one-half laps – never trailing – until his Mercedes started to misfire on Lap 197. De Palma tried to nurse the car home with his huge lead, but the machine lost all power at the end of the backstretch on Lap 199, as a broken connecting rod pierced the crankcase.

Meanwhile, Joe Dawson passed the crippled car of De Palma and drove to the victory while De Palma and riding mechanic Rupert Jeffkins jumped from their stopped Mercedes and eventually pushed it across the finish line.

Race rules said cars must be run under power, so De Palma was credited with finishing only 198 laps. Dawson led just two official laps, the smallest number by a “500” winner until Dan Wheldon’s stunning final-straightaway pass of the crippled car of JR Hildebrand for victory in 2011.

Vukovich and Helio Castroneves are the only drivers to lead Lap 100 in three consecutive races. Vukovich achieved the feat from 1952-54, winning in 1953 and 1954. Castroneves matched the accomplishment from 2015-17 but didn’t earn any of his three victories during that span.

Just two father-and-son pairings have led at the halfway point during their careers: Bobby (1986) and Graham (2018) Rahal, and Mario (1969, 1985, 1987, 1993) and Michael (1991, 1992) Andretti.

Tickets are on sale now at IMS.com and the IMS Ticket Office for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, scheduled for Sunday, May 24 at IMS, and for all other Month of May activities at IMS.

INDIANAPOLIS 500 LAP 100 LEADERS, BY YEAR

 Year Lap Leader Finishing Position
1911 David Bruce-Brown  Third 
1912 Ralph DePalma  11th
1913 Gil Anderson 12th
1914 Arthur Duray Second
1915 Ralph DePalma  First
1916  Dario Resta  First
1919  Ralph DePalma Sixth
1920  Joe Boyer 12th
1921 Ralph DePalma 12th
1922 Harry Hartz Second
1923 Tommy Milton First
1924 Earl Cooper Second
1925 Peter DePaolo First
1926 Frank Lockhart First
1927 Frank Lockhart 18th
1928 Jimmy Gleason 15th
1929 Fred Frame

10th

1930 Billy Arnold First
1931 Billy Arnold 19th
1932 Ernie Triplett 22nd
1933 Babe Stapp 23rd
1934 Mauri Rose Second
1935 Kelly Petillo First
1936 Louis Meyer First
1937 Wilbur Shaw First
1938 Floyd Roberts First
1939 Jimmy Snyder Second
1940 Mauri Rose  Third
1941 Wilbur Shaw 18th
1946 George Robson First
1947 Bill Holland  Second
1948 Duke Nalon Third
1949 Bill Holland
First
1950 Johnnie Parsons First
1951 Lee Wallard First
1952 Bill Vukovich 17th
1953 Bill Vukovich First
1954 Bill Vukovich First
1955 Bob Sweikert First
1956 Pat Flaherty
First
1957 Sam Hanks First
1958 Jimmy Bryan First
1959 Rodger Ward First
1960 Jim Rathmann First
1961 A.J. Foyt First
1962 Parnelli Jones Seventh
1963 Parnelli Jones First
1964 A.J. Foyt First
1965 Jim Clark First
1966 Lloyd Ruby 11th
1967 Parnelli Jones Sixth
1968 Bobby Unser First
1969 Mario Andretti First
1970 Al Unser First
1971 Lloyd Ruby 11th
1972 Gary Bettenhausen 14th
1973 Gordon Johncock
First
1974 Johnny Rutherford First
1975 Wally Dallenbach Ninth
1976 Johnny Rutherford First
1977 Gordon Johncock 11th
1978 Al Unser First
1979 Bobby Unser
Fifth
1980 Bobby Unser 19th
1981 Josele Garza 23rd
1982 Gordon Johncock First
1983 Al Unser Second
1984 Tom Sneva 16th
1985 Mario Andretti Second
1986 Bobby Rahal First
1987 Mario Andretti Ninth
1988 Jim Crawford Sixth
1989 Emerson Fittipaldi First
1990 Emerson Fittipaldi Third
1991 Michael Andretti Second
1992 Michael Andretti 13th
1993 Mario Andretti Fifth
1994 Emerson Fittipaldi 17th
1995 Mauricio Gugelmin Sixth
1996 Davy Jones Second
1997 Arie Luyendyk First
1998 John Paul Jr. Seventh
1999 Arie Luyendyk 22nd
2000 Juan Pablo Montoya First
2001 Greg Ray 17th
2002 Tomas Scheckter 26th
2003 Jimmy Vasser 26th
2004 Dan Wheldon Third
2005 Tony Kanaan Eighth
2006 Dan Wheldon Fourth
2007 Tony Kanaan 12th
2008 Tony Kanaan 29th
2009 Scott Dixon Sixth
2010 Dario Franchitti First
2011 JR Hildebrand Second
2012 Scott Dixon Second
2013 AJ Allmendinger Seventh
2014 Ryan Hunter-Reay First
2015 Helio Castroneves 7th
2016 Helio Castroneves
11th
2017 Helio Castroneves
Second
2018 Graham Rahal 10th
2019 Ed Carpenter Sixth

 
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