One of racing’s biggest spectacles, the Indianapolis 500, returned to running on Memorial Day weekend after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the race to late August last year. The 105th edition Sunday saw the biggest crowd of any event in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic started with 135,000 people in attendance.
Three-time winner Helio Castroneves, a fan favorite, dazzled the crowd and won in a thrilling finish to join the elite four-time Indy 500 winners club.
Scott Dixon started on the pole for the fourth time in the Indy 500, looking to win the race for the first time since 2008. The first run of the race saw Rinus VeeKay take the lead over Colton Herta and Dixon. With the race being 500 miles long, fuel strategy was king to start the race as the drivers hoped to save fuel so they can either cut an extra pit stop or save time on pit road fueling up.
VeeKay was the first to pit on lap 31, who then suffered tire lockups and had a delayed stop. His team owner, Ed Carpenter, also had a long pit stop as the team struggled to change the tires on his car.
Pit road turned to chaos as Stefan Wilson came into the pits too fast, crashing and bringing out the caution.
Due to a shortage of fuel as the pits were closed due to the wreck, Dixon and Alexander Rossi needed to pit for emergency services as they had no fuel. Their cars couldn’t refire for several minutes after getting refueled, causing them to rejoin the race a lap down.
As the dust resettled, Herta held the lead over VeeKay before the restart. The two held the lead on the restart with Conor Daly and Castroneves running third and fourth. On lap 50, Daly took the lead over VeeKay.
On lap 71, Daly pitted, leading to Castroneves taking the lead. Six laps later, Herta took the lead back right as he pitted.
VeeKay took the lead once everyone pitted for the second time, then Daly took the lead back a few laps later. The two Ed Carpenter Racing teammates pitted on lap 103. Alex Palou, Castroneves and Patricio O’Ward ran in the top three after pit stops when Graham Rahal crashed out of race after his tire came loose coming out of pit lane.
On the restart, Castroneves, Palou and O’Ward exchanged the lead through the next run.
The end of the 2021 Indy 500 was a four-way battle between Castroneves, O’Ward, Palou and Simon Pagenaud, who worked his way up to the front from 26th.
The last few laps saw Palou and Castroneves swap the lead when Castroneves made the last pass with two laps to go. With lap traffic clogging up the track on the final lap, Castroneves held his lead and won the 2021 Indy 500 for Meyer Shank Racing.
This is Castroneves’ fourth Indy 500 win, joining only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr. and Rick Mears in the four-time winners’ club. Castroneves also won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009.
Palou finished second for his fifth top-five finish of the 2021 season. Pagenaud rounds out the podium with this third top-five finish this season.
O’Ward finished fourth and Carpenter finished fifth after recovering from an early pit stop disaster.
Santino Ferrucci finished sixth in his first race of 2021 in the IndyCar Series. Sage Karam finished seventh after starting all the way back in 31st.
VeeKay finished eighth, 2000 and 2015 winner Juan Pablo Montoya finished ninth and 2013 winner Tony Kanaan rounded out the top 10.
Dixon finished 17th after losing a lap earlier in the race with a lengthy pit stop with fuelage issues. Rossi finished 29th after his similar incident put him behind the pack.
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series will head to Detroit for a doubleheader in two weeks.