Helio Castroneves joined elite open-wheel racing company on Sunday, winning his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 after a late move to take the lead.
Castroneves went to the front for the final time with just two laps to go then held off Alex Palou to the checkered flag. He joined Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt in the Indy 500’s four-win club.
“This stage is absolutely incredible,” Castroneves, who won his other 500s while driving for Team Penske, said from Victory Circle. “I love Indianapolis. The fans, they give me energy. This is absolutely incredible.”
The victory, in the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, came by 0.4928 seconds over Palou for Chip Ganassi Racing. Immediately after crossing the finish line with the victory, Castroneves flashed four fingers in the cockpit of his car and put his hand on his helmet.
“Oh man, it hurts, it hurts round here,” Palou, who won his first IndyCar Series race earlier this season, capturing the win at the Barber Motorsports Park road circuit, said while pointing to his heart. “This is the Indy 500. I cannot be angry about finishing second, but we had the car to win, we had the best car.”
Castroneves also won the race in 2001, 2002 and 2009. As of now, he is not scheduled to compete in five more IndyCar events in 2021.
The man they call “Spiderman” because of his signature fence climbs after victories, is driving just a six-race schedule this season for Meyer Shank.
He was removed from a full-time IndyCar cockpit by Penske after the 2017 season. He has spent the last three seasons racing for Penske in the IMSA sports car series.
Sunday’s was his first IndyCar race of the season and may help him step back into the series on a full-time basis in the future.
“It’s not the end of it. It’s the beginning,” Castroneves said. “I don’t know if this a good comparison or not but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl. … and now here we go.”
The victory allowed the 46-year-old from Brazil to climb the fence on the front stretch one more time and share the moment with the fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. An estimated crowd of 135,000 was announced after last year’s delayed race was run without a crowd.
It was considered the largest crowd for a sporting event since COVID-19 restrictions began in March of 2020.
Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske finished third, Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP was fourth, while Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing was fifth.
“Two more laps would have been fun,” said Pagenaud, the winner of the 2019 500.
Pagenaud moved up in the season standings with his finish. So what, he said.
“I just want to win Indy. I really don’t care about the championship,” the Frenchman said. “This is the one place in the world, this is the one race, you want to win. And second, third, it doesn’t matter. It’s just first place.”
O’Ward, who led 17 laps, said he thought he had a shot, too.
“I really think we did a perfect race,” O’Ward, who got his first series win at Texas this year. “I don’t think we could have done anything better. We just needed to be faster at the end.”
Over the final 25 laps, Palou and Castroneves traded the effective lead. Two other drivers were in front of them but needed pit stops to finish. And O’Ward was right behind the duel for the lead with Pagenaud moving in toward the leaders with 12 laps to go.
With 16 laps remaining, Palou passed Castroneves and with seven to go Castroneves moved back in front. Two laps later, Palou took the lead.
With two laps remaining, Castroneves blew past Palou once more while approaching the first turn, while successfully contending with a crowd of cars in front of him.
“It was a good battle with Helio,” Palou said. “And I think it’s better when you lose against the best in the business so, good job Helio.
“I didn’t let him pass but once you get the good run, there is nothing you can do.”
Scott Dixon, who started on the pole, saw his dream-like May turn into a nightmare on the first series of pit stops.
During those stops, which began on Lap 31, young driver Stefan Wilson spun and crashed on pit road. That closed the pits, leaving a handful of drivers stuck out on the track with fuel all but gone.
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Honda, which was in the lead, was one of those cars unable to pit. By the time he was able to join his crew, Dixon’s fuel cell went dry, the car stalled and would not restart, forcing him off the lead lap. Dixon had been fastest in practice throughout the month.
The same fate occurred for 2016 winner Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, who started in the 10th position.
Graham Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, pitted from the lead on Lap 118. He was getting efficient fuel mileage, but his crew failed to secure a rear tire and it came off the car as the car headed back onto the track. He slammed the wall, ending a shot at winning a race his father Bobby won in 1986.
The loose wheel was struck at speed by Conor Daly, causing damage to the Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet that had led number laps earlier.
“Famous last words but we had ’em,” Rahal said on the NBC broadcast of his chance to win. “We had ’em. The fuel saving that we were doing. We were in the perfect spot. We were cruising. We had them today.”
-Field Level Media
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