Helio Castroneves capped a thriller in the closing laps of the Indianapolis 500 to become the newest member of the four-time winner’s club in his first drive for Meyer Shank Racing.
It was a duel to the end with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou coming up just 0.4928s short at the checkered flag as Honda-powered drivers completed a 1-2 finish ahead of Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward was fourth and Ed Carpenter followed as Chevrolet completed the top five.
The driver nicknamed “Spiderman” stopped just after the yard of bricks and leapt from the No. 06 Sirius/XM Honda to climb the fence for the first time since 2009. Rather than move toward the podium, the Brazilian started a new tradition by running backwards up the track, cheering with fans and hugging MSR crew members and former Team Penske teammate Will Power and MSR teammate Jack Harvey along the way.
Before he ran off, team owner Michael Shank joined Castroneves by climbing the fence, and moments later, team co-owner Jim Meyer gave the 46-year-old a massive hug. Castroneves, welcome to the exclusive club with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
“I can’t thank the entire organization [enough],” said the 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2021 Indy 500 winner. “Power by Honda — I needed it most and they were right there. I love Indianapolis. The fans, they give me energy. This is absolutely incredible.”
Castroneves drove for Wayne Taylor Racing in January at IMSA’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, winning overall in the No. 10 Acura ARX-05 DPi. He’s perfect so far in 2021.
“I knew I had to fight, put the elbows out,” Castroneves added. “Man, I only did two races this year and I won two. You think I still got it? It’s not the end of it. It’s the beginning. The old guys are still kicking the young guy’s butts.”
Palou looked strong while leading past the start/finish line to start Lap 199, but Castroneves shot past entering Turn 1, and with a big line of slower cars ahead, traffic had the potential to ruin the MSR driver’s run, but he was not significantly slowed as the field tore around the oval to start the final lap.
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Palou closed slightly into Turn 1, but Castroneves got a great run out of the corner and again leaving Turn 2, and with a few car lengths in hand, the motored around Turns 3 and 4 to reach the checkered flag without the Spaniard in tow. Despite losing to one of the Indy 500’s all-time greats, Palou showed his team and the 135,000 fans in attendance that he’s something special at the Speedway.
“Oh man, it hurts,” he said. “It’s the Indy 500. I cannot be angry about finishing second. And man, Honda gave us a lot of speed. Super proud of finishing second. It hurts, but it hurts less being beaten by the best in the business.”
O’Ward held third as Castroneves and Palou were locked in their fight for the win, and after trying to make a great run to catch the leaders, a slight loss of speed allowed Pagenaud, the 2019 Indy 500 winner, to take third.
“He’s a great friend and writing a great page of history in Indianapolis,” the Frenchman said after finishing 0.5626s arrears to his former teammate. “Very happy for him, but very disappointed for myself. I think one more lap, I could get Helio.”
O’Ward did big things for his AMSP team, which was slightly off the pace all month at Indy.
“I really think we did a perfect race,” said the Mexican who won the second Texas race just prior to the 500, and came home 0.9409s behind Castroneves. “I don’t think we could have done anything better. We just needed to be faster. I would have loved to get this win for everybody, but we didn’t have enough speed.”