INDIANAPOLIS – The drought is over and Spiderman is alive.
To beat the chaotic Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon, Helio Castroneves gave away 135,000 race fans a gift to make up for the absence at the “Biggest Race Spectacle” a year ago.
Longtime Tim Penske driver, who won this race in 2000, 2001 and 2009, brought his new team Meyer Shank Racing the first victory in history, keeping Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing in the final lap to secure his fourth victory in Indianapolis 500.
The win places Castroneves in one of the most famous clubs in IndyCar racing. He joins AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only drivers to have won the Indy 500 four times in the race’s 105-year history.
At 46, Castroneves, who doesn’t have a steady run of the IndyCar Series this season, is one of the oldest 500 winners in race history. Al Unser was shy for 48 years when he won in 1987.
“I only ran two races and won two. I think I still arrived, don’t you think?” Castroneves said from the victory circle.
“The old men still have it,” the euphoric Castroneves said in a victory round.
Castroneves passed Spaniard Alex Palou in the final laps and barely held on to the brick yard as a crowd of IMS roared with excitement.
Chaos of late racing
Felix Rosenqvist, JR Hildebrand and Takuma Sato ran far ahead with about 20 laps to go, but they both needed a late yellow flag to get home without another stop and steal the win. Without one, Castroneves worked seven laps around Palou to take the lead after the pair have swapped places back and forth several times in the last 50 or so laps.
But Palou, who crashed his car during the second qualifying attempt on Saturday, returned around five with the remaining number. With two laps to enter turn 1, Castroneves, driving for Meyer Shank Racing driver and running his first race of the year, took the white flag. Castroneves ran into traffic, clogging driver Ganassi to make a move at the front as the two of them ran to the line.
But Castroneves could not be stopped. He won in just under half a second. Overjoyed, Castroneves immediately jumped out of the car and rushed towards the fence to make the spider climb he celebrated two decades ago.
After being joined by team co-owner Mike Shank, Helio sped off the track, overwhelmed with emotion, absorbing the fans ’return to IMS.
Palou finished second, 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud returned home third, and Pato O’Ward and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top five. Santino Ferrucci finished in sixth place, followed by Sage Karam, Rinus VeeKay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.
With the drivers mingling in the pit sequences, Graham Rahal, last year’s third-place finisher, took the lead over the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team that won the IMS a year ago with Takuma Sato. But four laps later, just moments after Rahal crashed, his left rear tire detached from the axle as Rahal accelerated from the pit around Turn 2. The problem sent the 32-year-old to turn straight toward the SAFER barrier while his tire rolling are on the trail.
Conor Daly, just a few laps after stopping him considerably slowly, lowered the tire with his nostril into the tire. No. 47 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, who led 40 laps during the first half of Sunday’s race, fortunately did not suffer extreme damage and could continue on, but his team’s mistake and a dose of bad luck stuck him out of the top 10 by the end of the race.
An early turn knocked two favorites off track
Stefan Wilson’s return to the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 after a three-year absence ended without ceremony on lap 33. Heading into the pit track for his first stop of the day, Wilson seems to have simply made the mistake of slowing down for the pit track. The driver of Andretti Autosport, who started on the 28th Sunday, hit the brake, locked the tires and then lost control. Wilson’s car no. 28 took an almost immediate blow straight into the wall of the pitlane, expressing the first caution of the day.
More important, however, was time. Drivers, including then-race leader Rinus VeeKay, began painting at lap 30, and the setting of Wilson’s crash meant a closed pitlane as AMR’s security team tried to clean up the mess.
By lap 36, Sunday pole keeper Scott Dixon was working on the fumes and was forced into a fuel tank. Alexander Rossi, who started 10th, was forced to do so one lap later. But their cars had so little fuel that they stopped when stopping at the pitlane. Both candidates lost significant time as their teams tried to re-ignite the cars and then stop further to refuel completely. All in all, the disaster put both cars down one lap. Without another caution called for in the rest of the first half of the race, he destroyed any real hope of achieving an epic comeback.
Dixon managed to unbuckle to lap 121, and with the remaining 50 laps, the 2008 Indy 500 winner broke through to 20th place. With the remaining 40 laps, the New Zealander took the lead in the race and broke away from the lead in lap 162. With Dixon’s mismatched order on most pitches, Dixon strategist, CGR director Mike Hull, chose to try the rest of the race without another stop, which means they would have to save quite a bit and hope for another caution if they hoped to get to the end or try to fight for the win. While the race went green to the end, Dixon finished outside the top 10.
That early stall in the pitlane signaled Rossi’s death. Driver Honda no. 27 just couldn’t get through slower cars in the lead lap as fast as Dixon, and Rossi finished outside the top 25.
Email IndyStar Motorsports Reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.