INDIANAPOLIS – The drought is no longer, and Spiderman lives on.
To cap a chaotic, pass-happy Indianapolis 500 Sunday afternoon, Helio Castroneves gave the 135,000 race fans a gift to make up for their absence at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” one year ago.
The longtime Team Penske driver, who won this race in 2000, 2001 and 2009, delivered his new team Meyer Shank Racing its first-ever victory by holding off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou on the final lap to secure his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.
The win puts Castroneves in one of IndyCar racing’s most illustrious clubs. He joins A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only drivers to win the Indy 500 four times in the race’s 105-year history.
At 46, Castroneves, who doesn’t have a full-time IndyCar Series ride this season, is one of the oldest winners of the 500 in the race’s history. Al Unser was just shy of 48 when he won in 1987.
“I only ran two races and I won two races. I think I still got it, don’t you think?” Castroneves said from Victory Circle.
“The old guys still have it,” a euphoric Castroneves said in victory circle.
Castroneves passed Spain’s Alex Palou on the closing laps and barely held on at the yard of bricks as the IMS crowd roared with excitement.
CASTRONEVES:What to know about the four-time Indy 500 winner
Late race chaos
Felix Rosenqvist, JR Hildebrand and Takuma Sato ran far ahead up front with 20 or so laps to go, but both needed a late yellow flag in order to make it home without another stop and steal the victory. Without one, Castroneves worked around Palou with seven laps to go to take the lead after the pair swapped spots back and forth several times in the final 50 laps or so.
But Palou, who crashed his car Saturday during a second qualifying attempt, came back around with five to go. With two laps to go entering Turn 1, Castroneves, driving for Meyer Shank Racing driver and running his first race of the year took the white flag. Castroneves ran into lapped traffic, giving the Ganassi driver a shot to make a move on the front stretch as the two ran to the line.
But Castroneves would not be stopped. He won by just under a half-second. Overjoyed, Castroneves immediately leapt out of the car and darted for the fence to make the spider-like climb he made famous two decades ago.
After he was joined by team co-owner Mike Shank, Helio sprinted down the track, overcome by emotion, soaking up the fans’ return to IMS.
Palou finished second, 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud came home third, and Pato O’Ward and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top five. Santino Ferrucci finished sixth followed by Sage Karam, Rinus VeeKay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.
Rahal pit miscue
With drivers all mixed up on pit sequences, Graham Rahal, last year’s 3rd-place finisher, took over the lead for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team who won a year ago at IMS with Takuma Sato. But four laps later, just moments after Rahal pitted, his left rear tire spun clear off the axle as Rahal accelerated out of the pits around Turn 2. The issue sent the 32-year-old spinning straight for the SAFER barrier, his tire still rolling around on-track.
Conor Daly, just a few laps after a significantly slow stop took him off the front, struck the tire with his nosecone. The No. 47 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, which led 40 laps during the first half of Sunday’s race, luckily didn’t suffer extreme damage and was able to carry on, but the miscue from his team and dose of bad luck mired him outside the top-10 by race’s end.
Early spin derails two favorites
Stefan Wilson’s return to IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 after a three-year absence ended unceremoniously on Lap 33. Darting into pit lane for his first stop of the day, Wilson appeared simply to misjudge slowing down for the pit lane. The Andretti Autosport driver, who started 28th Sunday, slammed on the brakes, locked up his tires and subsequently lost control. Wilson’s No. 28 car took an almost immediate hard right directly into the pitlane wall, bringing out the day’s first caution.
What’s more important, though, was the timing. Drivers, including race leader at-the-time Rinus VeeKay, began pitting on Lap 30, and the placement of Wilson’s crash meant a closed pitlane while the AMR safety team attempted to clean up the mess.
By Lap 36, Sunday’s pole-sitter Scott Dixon was running on fumes and forced to pit for emergency fuel. Alexander Rossi, who started 10th, was forced to do so one lap later. But their cars were so low on fuel that they stalled when stopping on pitlane. Both contenders lost significant time, as their teams tried to refire their cars and then make an extra stop to fully refuel. In all, the disaster put both cars one lap down. Without another caution called in the rest of the first half of the race, it destroyed any realistic hope either had of aiming for an epic comeback.
Dixon managed to unlap himself by Lap 121, and with 50 laps to go, the 2008 Indy 500 winner had worked his way up to 20th. With 40 laps to go, the New Zealander had retaken the race lead and pitted from the lead on Lap 162. With Dixon off-sequence from a majority of the field, Dixon’s strategist, CGR managing director Mike Hull, elected to try and make the rest of the race without another stop, meaning they’d have to fuel-save pretty heavily and hope for another caution if they hoped even to make it to the end or have a shot at trying to battle for the win. With the race running green to the end, Dixon finished outside the top-10.
That early stall in pitlane signaled Rossi’s demise. The driver of the No. 27 Honda simply couldn’t weave his way through slower cars on the lead-lap as quickly as Dixon, and Rossi finished outside the top-25.
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.