2021 is the year of the old guys: Tom Brady won a seventh Super Bowl, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson triumphed at the PGA Championship. Today, 46-year-old Helio Castroneves raced to victory at the Indianapolis 500. The Brazilian piloted his Meyer-Shank Racing car to a record-equaling fourth win at the Brickyard. That places Castroneves on equal footing with Indy legends AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time winners in Indianapolis. It was a historic day as the ‘500 returned to its rightful place on Memorial Day weekend.
Spiderman Climbs Again
Throughout May, Helio Castroneves displayed solid speed in the practice sessions and qualifying. He qualified on the second row with a sixth-place starting position. From the outset, it felt like Castroneves had a good package underneath him. He could manage his fuel while hitting good lap times that kept him in touch. As the leaders, Colton Herta, Conor Daly and Rinus Veekay veered away from the optimum fuel strategy, Castroneves bided his time.
His second and third stints helped him leapfrog several cars, and that put him in the leading trio alongside McLaren’s Pato O’Ward and Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou. The trio ran up front for large parts of the race before they all bunched up after their final fuel stops. It was the youngster against the veteran as Castroneves chased Palou. Then, on the penultimate lap, as the cars screamed across the bricks, the legendary racer pounced by overtaking Palou on the outside of turn one. The move sent the crowd into a frenzy, and Castroneves would lead the last lap to take the checkered flag first.
A Living Legend
Helio Castroneves is a 2021 Indycar part-timer; the ‘500 was the only race on his schedule. Moreover, Castroneves got forced out of Team Penske last year to make way for younger drivers. Many fans and experts felt he was past his prime, that he couldn’t hang with the youngsters in the Indycar series. Instead, Castroneves demonstrated extraordinary dedication, desire and the need for speed to win again. Twelve years is a long time for a driver accustomed to success; some felt Spiderman would never climb again. However, the Sao Paolo born racer defied age, the new kids on the block and his former employer by winning it all. The popular Castroneves climbed again in front of his adoring fans. The cheers of ‘Helio, Helio, Helio’ reverberated around the speedway. Today, Helio Castroneves etched his name into racing history.
More Terrible Luck for Scott Dixon
Pole-sitter Scott Dixon went into the race as the betting favourite. Sadly, the race turned out to be a disaster for the six-time Indycar champion. Stefan Wilson’ crash on the pit road caused the first pace car of the race. The damage caused the pit road to close, except for those needing an emergency stop because they were running critically low on fuel. Dixon came into top-up, and his car spluttered to a halt. His pit crew did everything they could to get it started, and they did. Except, by that point, Dixon was last and a lap down on the leaders. Scott Dixon is the greatest Indycar driver of his generation, yet, Indianapolis Motor Speedway haunts him. The Kiwi still only owns the one Indy 500 victory on his CV.
The Young Guns Are Here to Stay
At various points during the Indy 500, Rinus Veekay, Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Alex Palou led the race. Those drivers are all under the age of 25, and they are all previous race-winners. These drivers hounded Helio Castroneves as well as the other veteran names all-race long. Indycar is in good hands with a healthy crop of young racers ready to take the next step. They are fast, fearless and charismatic. The ‘500 could get defined by these youngsters over the next decade. The future is bright for the Indycar series.
A Terrifying Crash and Veteran Heartbreak
Once again, fate intervened in Graham Rahal’s attempt to emulate his father and win the Indy 500. Rahal managed his fuel on a brilliant middle stint to haul himself into contention. Unfortunately, a pit stop error where the left-rear tyre never got tightened caused Rahal to spin out on the exit of the pit lane and crash into the wall. The crash devastated Rahal; he felt a significant chance of the win had disappeared. The loose wheel bounced across the track and hit Conor Daly’s car. The aeroscreen designed to protect the drivers’ head arguably saved Daly’s life. It was a sickening crash as Rahal’s crumpled vehicle came back into the path of others racing at 200mph. It was eerily reminiscent of Alex Zanardi’s impact when he lost both his legs. Luckily, everyone involved walked away safe.
There was heartbreak for 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay as he got penalized for speeding in the pit lane. The American raced in the leading group all afternoon until he needed to serve a penalty. That took him out of contention. Alexander Rossi was another driver that lost out due to the early caution. The Andretti star lost a lap after his car ground to a halt in the pit lane. The winner of the 100th running of the ‘500 couldn’t make his way back through the pack. Lastly, Penske stars Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden’s late charges came too late as both racers paid the price for a lackluster qualifying session.
Helio Castroneves Savours Win on a Day That the Fans Returned
Sports without fans suck. Last year’s empty Indy 500 did not hold the same mystique and atmosphere. Today, 135,000 race fans went back to Indianapolis. It was the biggest sporting event since Covid gripped the world last spring. The atmosphere they generated boosted the event. The roar of the crowd when home favourite Daly took the lead was deafening. That sound got louder when Helio Castroneves took the lead late on. Add all the atmosphere to the pageantry and tradition of the Indy 500, and it felt like the world returned to normal. For one of Indycar’s most popular drivers to win on a day when the soul came back to the speedway was fitting. Today confirmed two things; the Indianapolis 500 is the greatest spectacle in sports. Secondly, Helio Castroneves is now one of the bonafide legends in world racing. It was fantastic to be back home again in Indiana. Is it 2022 yet?