Helio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500 for the fourth time on Sunday in front of the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the United States since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 46-year-old Brazilian stormed to the top with two laps to go, holding a challenge from stormy Spanish youngster Alex Palou to take the win and be the only four-time winners of the ‘greatest spectacle alongside AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser in racing “.
It was the 21st Indy 500 start for Castroneves, but his first with Meyer Shank Racing and just as sweet as his other victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009 with the powerhouse Team Penske.
Castroneves, known as “Spiderman,” celebrated the victory like all of his others, parked his car on the front straight, climbed the protective fence, and thumped his fist in the air as the crowd roared.
It was the type of celebration denied to last year’s winner Takuma Sato, who did not hear cheers during a race on an empty track due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I love Indianapolis, the fans that give me energy,” Castroneves said, struggling to be heard over the wild celebrations. “It’s absolutely unbelievable, right now I’m just excited.
“I knew I was going to get a fight, I had to hold my elbows, but I’ll tell you what, man, what an amazing feeling.”
After the race was postponed to August last year due to the pandemic, 135,000 enthusiastic fans flocked to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
While the crowd shied away from the nearly 400,000 IMS can accommodate, the roars returned to the brickyard as fans partied in the sunshine.
Castroneves won’t replace 47-year-old Al Unser as the oldest Indy 500 winner, but his win adds to a golden oldies theme that runs through the 2021 sports calendar.
His win follows Phil Mickelson being the oldest man to win a golf major at the PGA Championship last week, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady being the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning,” Castroneves said. “Tom Brady won the Super Bowl, Phil Mickelson won the PGA, so the elders still got it and they’re still kicking the buttocks of the younger ones. We’re teaching them a lesson.
“I think I still got it, don’t you think?”
The race took a bizarre turn during the first pit stops when Stefan Wilson spun into the pit lane and hit the wall, where he showed the first yellow flag of the day.
While the race was under caution, pole-sitter Scott Dixon, who ran out of fuel, was admitted to emergency service but got stuck in his pits and was unable to re-ignite his Ganaasi Honda chip.
Dixon eventually managed to go back one lap but failed to overcome the setback and finished 17th.
Another IndyCar veteran, Graham Rahal, who ran near the top, also fell victim to a pit stop accident when his crew failed to secure his rear left tire, and the American spun hard as he started the race again .
There was more trouble for two Australians – Will Power overshot his pit and spun while his Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin was hit with a speeding penalty in the pit lane.
The Swiss Simona De Silvestro, the only woman in the field with 33 vehicles, did a lap during her last pit stop and finished 31st.
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