Helio Castroneves won his historic fourth Indianapolis 500 on Sunday (May 30) following a thrilling battle to the finish with Alex Palou.
Palou and Castroneves spent the last 25 laps of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing locked in a heated battle for the win, swapping the lead back and forth through the final stint of the race. While Palou looked to be able to pass Castroneves with more ease, and maintain position for longer when he did so, Castroneves made a point of showing why he has three previous wins in the event.
The last pass for the lead took place as the Spider-Man passed Palou coming to the two-laps-to-go mark, and Castroneves defended his lead while also managing his car behind a train of lapped traffic that looked set to interfere with the battle for the win.
In the end, Castroneves took home the checkered flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the fourth time with the pace he had shown all day, entering victory lane after leading 20 laps. This win puts Castroneves in the esteemed club of four time Indianapolis 500 winners alongside A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. This win also marks the first IndyCar Series victory for Ohio-based Meyer Shank Racing.
Pato O’Ward had a front row seat to what will certainly be considered one of the most memorable finishes in 500 history. However, on the final lap, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud swept past on the backstretch to finish third. O’Ward had to settle for fourth while Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter recovered from stalling on pit road to come home fifth.
Equally impressive to Castroneves’ race performance was his post-race celebration. Once again, the 46-year-old climbed the Brickyard fence and followed that with a run down the frontstretch to greet a roaring crowd. Helio was joined for his celebration by much of the IndyCar garage, including former 500 winners Pagenaud and Will Power.
The race’s biggest heartbreak may have been reserved for Graham Rahal, who looked to have the race in hand by the halfway point. While making fantastic fuel mileage with a very fast car, Rahal seemed to be well in control of the race until a loose left-rear wheel left the 32-year-old veteran spinning in front of the field and smacking the turn two on pit exit.
The accident provided a quick scare as one of Rahal’s wheels came untethered from the car and bounced across the track, striking the nose cone of Conor Daly’s car, which dealt Daly minor damage that detrimentally altered the aerodynamics of his car and ended his chances for a win. Daly would ultimately finish 13th.
Rahal was visibly overcome when climbing from his wrecked car, dropping to his knees and smacking the pavement in frustration. Ultimately Rahal was left to finish 32nd in what had until that point proven to be one of his best shots at an Indianapolis 500 win.
Speaking after his release from the infield care center, Rahal expressed his disappointment in how the day had unfolded.
“We had them,” Rahal said. “We were in the perfect spot, we were just cruising. Our strategist played it right … we had them today. I’m sorry we didn’t win this thing, because we should have.”
Polesitter and Vegas odds favorite Scott Dixon’s race began to come apart on his first pit stop as he wound up out of fuel with a stalled car, in part due to the caution that fell for the crashed car of Stefan Wilson at pit entry. The No. 9 PNC Bank machine did eventually get fired up, but the ordeal left Dixon a lap down. 2016 winner Alexander Rossi found himself in an identical situation on the same pit cycle.
The first quarter turbulence left Dixon in a position to gamble on fuel strategy and attempt to finish the race on one less stop than most of the field. However, cautions were scarce throughout the race and Dixon finished 17th.
Mysteriously, multiple cars found themselves in trouble on pit road. In addition to Wilson, Power and Simona de Silvestro all spun on pit entry, while Ryan Hunter-Reay locked the brakes on entry and failed to bring the car down to speed to avoid a penalty. All four drivers reported brake issues (i.e. lack of brake pressure) as the reason for their struggles to control the car. Multiple occurrences of such an issue across different cars from multiple teams is a notably rare phenomenon.
Surprise performances of the day include multiple one-off entries such as Sage Karam (who was nearly bumped from the race, starting 31st) managing a respectable seventh-place finish. Santino Ferrucci quietly raced up to a sixth-place finish in a one-time entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya, who won in 2000 and 2015, managed a ninth-place finish after starting 24th for Arrow McLaren SP.
Rounding out the top 10 for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 were Ferrucci, Karam, Rinus VeeKay, Montoya and Tony Kanaan, who recovered from an early pit penalty to finish 10th.
Sunday’s race is the fastest Indianapolis 500 ever run. Castroneves’ average speed was 190.690 mph, three miles per hour faster than Kanaan’s victory in 2013.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES INDIANAPOLIS 500 RESULTS
The Indianapolis 500 is a double-points race. As a result, Palou has taken over the points lead. His advantage is 36 points over Dixon. O’Ward is one point behind Dixon in third, then Pagenaud and VeeKay.
The NTT IndyCar Series returns to the track on June 12th for the first race of a doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park. Coverage begins on NBC at 2 p.m ET.
About the author
Alex is the IndyCar Editor at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also leads the Center for Asia-Pacific Policy at the BIED Society, an international think tank in Washington, D.C. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.
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what an awesome ending to the race. the crowd was so energized. seeing Helio just the 4 win club was great.
Every one of the cars that finished the race broke the old track record of 187mph set back in 2013. Overall it looked to be the closest racing field ever. A picture perfect day.
Far and away the best race of the day, probably the best race of the year. The Indy 500 makes NASCAR look like a joke.