Helio Castroneves made history at the 105th Indianapolis 500 in his first outing at the iconic race with Meyer Shank Racing — and his first without Team Penske — when he took the checkered flag. His fourth win at the iconic race sets him on par with legends like A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears. A fan favourite driver, and a sheer legend — Castroneves’ strategy took him and his Honda-powered team to the win.
Race day for the Indianapolis 500 dawned cooler than it had been during the build-up to the event, but things got a little hot under the collar when Will Power, one of the last-row starters, found himself without power. His car got restarted, and race control allowed him to head back to his starting position.
Polesitter Scott Dixon was a little slow getting off the start line, which left the field bunched up behind him. Thankfully, everyone made it through the first lap safely — though Dixon’s position wasn’t. Andretti Autosport driver Colton Herta made a pass for the lead before the end of the first lap, with Rinus Veekay quickly hauled past Dixon and then Herta to take the lead by lap three. Rounding out the top five was Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan at that early stage in the event. Power managed to make up seven positions in the opening six laps.
That being said, leading the way wasn’t necessarily the best idea, since leading the race sucks up a lot of fuel as the car has to punch through the air. Cars that trail behind have the benefit of sitting in that air hole, thus not needing to use as much fuel. And with a fuel-savings race ahead of us, Dixon’s move to hang back looked to be a smart one. He kept tailing Herta closely before lifting up, seemingly avoiding making any moves too quickly.
Veekay became the first person to dip into the pits on lap 31, though he came in way too hot and seemed to burn his tires. He was followed by Max Chilton who pitted from the rear of the grid, followed by Carpenter and Ryan-Hunter Reay, who had developed a vibration during his first stint.
Carpenter’s car, though, fell off the jack, and he stalled the car during the midst of his pit. That extra time cycled him out farther back than usual, causing the top-five runner to fall back in the grid.
The first caution came, though, as Stefan Wilson lost it on the brakes as he came into the pits and wiped out the front of his car after locking up while trying to come down from speed. He was ok, as were the crews that had laid out tires, but it was a bane to the cars that had pitted just behind him and had to pass him in the narrow pit lane.
REPLAY: Disappointment from @stef_wilson. He is out of the Indy 500.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 30, 2021
The debris in pit lane was also disastrous for the teams who hadn’t pitted, since it was a slow cleanup period, leaving several drivers to stop for emergency fill-ups.
Dixon had to stop for emergency service, but his car ran out of fuel during the drive into pit lane. The Chip Ganassi Racing No. 9 car refused to restart after drying out the whole fuel system and engine. The team took the engine cover off, and the pace car and field lapped Dixon while the team worked on the car.
The same problem plagued Alexander Rossi’s Andretti Autosport car, leaving the driver sitting in the pit box for a lap as the car refused to restart. And that was in addition to the stop Rossi would later have to make, since tire changes aren’t a part of emergency stops for fuel. Soon after, the teams who made it to the official opening of the pits dipped in to make their stops.
Herta led to the restart on lap 47, followed by Veekay and Conor Daly, the latter of whom was quickly passed by Helio Castroneves. Daly forced his way ahead of Castroneves soon after. On lap 50, both Veekay and Daly pushed past Herta, then Daly pushed past Veekay for the lead. Daly, though, was light on fuel, so his best strategy was to push as hard as he could and make an impression.
REPLAY: This is @conordaly’s eighth Indy 500 start. He’s never led a lap… until today.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 30, 2021
On lap 69, Veekay pitted, leaving his teammate out in the lead for two laps, at which point Daly had to pit. Castroneves inherited the lead, followed by Herta and Alex Palou. Herta briefly took the lead before pitting, at which point Palou took the lead. Herta jumped Castroneves on the pit. Countless other drivers soon followed, leaving the leaderboard a jumble. Veekay and Daly cycled back to the front. Daly took the lead at lap 84 and Veekay took it back on lap 103 just before both drivers dipped into the pits. They exited the pits in the same position, especially after Daly had a slow stop.
History was made at the halfway point with only a single car out of the race. That’s never happened before at the 500.
Pato O’Ward at the head of the race passed Daly coming out of the pit lane, putting Daly a lap down — though that was a little deceptive, since O’Ward had yet to pit.
Rookie and three-time Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin made his first error of the season by coming into the pit lane too quickly, getting a speeding penalty that forced him to take a drive-through and put him out of contention for the top-10 he was running all day.
Graham Rahal crashed after coming out of the pit lane just in front of the field, bringing out the second caution of the day. His left rear tire was loose, sending him into the wall. No one hit Rahal’s car, thankfully, but a loose tire from Rahal’s car hit the front of Daly’s No. 47 Ed Carpenter Racing car. His nose sustained damage but he as able to continue on.
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) May 30, 2021
The race resumed on lap 125 with Alex Palou leading the field, but Castroneves pushed past into the lead almost before the flag. O’Ward also slid past Palou into second, then into the lead of the Indy 500. Palou then swapped to the lead, with Castroneves passing O’Ward.
On lap 153, Will Power spun his car on pit road just in front of his teammate Simon Pagenaud’s pit box. His team had to haul him back into his own spot.
During the last 50 laps, it became clear that Dixon had managed 40 laps on a single stint, the kind of pace that would put him in contention for a win if he could make it work through to the end — despite at one point running a lap down.
On lap 170, Simona de Silvestro got loose trying to enter her pit box, requiring her team to come push her into her pit box for the stop. It was an unfortunate misstep for a team that hadn’t run wrong all day, but the tricky pit lane bit yet again. The team was, unfortunately, out of the race.
On lap 179, Palou took what was essentially the lead from Helio Castroneves, despite the fact that the two were battling for position down in sixth place; the leaders had yet to pit. Castroneves passed Palou for the lead with seven laps to go. With five to go, Palou made the pass for the lead. Just as the flag flew on two laps to go, Castroneves took the lead from Palou — and the leaders came up on a pack of lapped traffic just as the white flag flew.
And that was it. The checkered flag flew on Helio Castroneves, who took the win behind the wheel of a pink-and-black Meyer Shank Racing machine — his first 500 without backing from Team Penske. He joins A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears as the only four-time Indy 500 champions in history.