By John Saulnier, Editorial Director
PFS bear sightings were fast and furious over the Memorial Day Weekend in Speedway, Indiana, USA as Ed Carpenter Racing Team cars flying Preferred Freezer Services’ bright blue and white polar bear mascot colors captured third and sixth place finishes at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Chatham, New Jersey-headquartered PFS – ranked as the world’s fourth-largest cold storage warehouse operator with more than 7.3 million cubic meters of temperature-controlled space available to the frozen food industry and other clients doing business in the USA, China and Vietnam – has fast-tracked its brand advertising through Indy car sponsorships for the past several years. Until May 29 the company has never been so close to a checkered flag triumph at the famous 2.5-mile oval track, which is promoted as the “World’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” More than 350,000 fans attended the race, and many millions more watched it on television, computer screens, tablets and smart phones around the world.
Hats off to Josef Newgarden and J.R. Hildebrand, drivers of the #21 and #6 Chevrolet 2.2 L V6, twin-turbocharged engine-powered speed machines, for respectively crossing the finish line just 4.5 and 11.3 seconds behind lucky winner Alexander Rossi. The 24-year old Indy car circuit rookie, driving for the Andretti Autosport-Herta team, gambled for victory by deciding not to take a splash-and-dash pit stop for fuel as leader Carlos Munoz of Colombia, second position hard-charger Newgarden and others opted to do just that with only about five laps to go in the grueling 500-mile competition.
The gutsy strategy paid off for Rossi, as he followed orders to pull the clutch of the #98 Honda and coast to the checkered flag while running on empty in the last stretch of the final lap in the closing seconds of a three-hour race that witnessed 54 lead changes. Newgardner led for 14 laps, the same as Rossi, while Hildebrand was at the forefront for four go-rounds. Hildebrand, incidentally, started out in the middle of the front row after clocking the second fastest hot-lap performance of 227.414 miles per hour during time trials that qualified 33 cars and drivers.
In the cold storage logistics industry, the difference between winning and losing clientele is often measured in degrees both inside and outside the warehouse. Among other things, a first-class performance requires that frozen food products are safely maintained at specified temperatures without deviation, and on-time delivery schedules are met without fail. Hours, minutes and seconds are precisely taken into account as goods are rapidly and efficiently maneuvered into and out of pallet positions and ultimately forwarded to final destinations.
In the racing game the concept of time and space are similar, though the pace of a race of course is much faster on the track, no matter what the quickest forklift driver carefully speeding from rack to loading dock may think. Hours are set side for assessing post-race performance results. It’s seconds and fractions of seconds in pit stops that count the most and tell the tale between victory and defeat. All the while, one should not underestimate the importance of fuel economy in the overall scheme of things.
"It was a crazy race – not the way I wanted to finish it,” said Newgarden. “Today is gut-wrenching, because I think I had a winning car. And when you know you have a winning car and you know you can win the thing and you go for it and it doesn't happen because of a strategy call, it's kind of tough. We've done exactly what we needed to do. We went flat out and tried to win. I think we could have outraced anyone today at the end, if we needed to. That's all I was really asking for.”
Teammate Hildebrand, in concurrence, stated: "It was a long day. We were close there at the end. We led a few laps, and we were legitimately running top three for a minute there. Then strategies got all mixed up at the end of the race…In hindsight, if we had known we'd be running in the top five those last couple of stints, we might have prepared for that a little differently as we went through the race. It's hard to know how that's all going to shake out."
But the chance for a shootout was not on the cards, as the No. 2 and 3 cars were hurtling at full-throttle the distance of a quarter track of asphalt behind Rossi when he made history as the highly unlikely champion of the centennial edition of the Brickyard classic. In fact, his odds of winning the event, as calculated by Las Vegas bookmakers, were north of 1,000 to 1.
Interestingly, back in 2011, then rookie Hildebrand riding under different colors took the lead of the Indianapolis 500 with just two laps to go. As other contenders darted into the pits for a quick injection of fuel, his crew chief calculated that the nearly empty tank had just enough gas left to carry him over the finish line and score an upset victory. On turn four of the last lap, however, the fickle finger of fate intervened as Hildebrand went high and hit the wall. The impact severely slowed forward progress of the damaged car on the straightaway, enabling rival Dan Wheldon overtake him for first place honors.
Fate certainly smiled on Rossi on the last sunny Sunday of May 2016. After refreshing himself with traditional gulps of cold milk and a self-congratulatory shower of the dairy product in the winner’s circle, the long-shot victor joyfully remarked: “We ran out (of fuel) in turn four and we were clutching it and coasting it down the back straight. We knew it was going to be tight…and it was an amazing result.”
Amazing indeed for a young man from California who has spent the last several years in Europe as an unsuccessful Formula One reserve driver. Just think of it, he rode for 36 laps (or 90 miles) without refueling at Indy, while the average pit stop occurred every 32 laps. That’s a lesson learned about doing more with less that we can all profit from.
For the record, while the 2016 race was the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, its premier actually began in 1911. The USA’s foremost motorsports event was won by four non-Americans (two Frenchmen, one Italian and a British citizen of Italian ancestry) during the first six years of its existence. The race as cancelled twice during World War I (1917 and 1918) and four times during World War II (1942-45), as the nation mobilized to defeat foes on foreign battlefields. Along with outdoor barbecues, parades and visits to the resting places of fallen combatants, it remains an integral part of the Memorial Day Weekend in the United States, when patriotic Americans salute soldiers, sailors, marines, air force personnel and others who have made supreme sacrifices in the line of duty.