This year’s Indy 500 was one for the ages. There’s a lot to get through in our post-race column that wasn’t covered in the various stories that landed on RACER.com right after Helio Castroneves’ win, so let’s start with:
If we’re talking expendables and retreads, the guy who just won the Indianapolis 500 lost his job in November after 20 years with the same company, and was replaced by a newer model. And the guy who conjured exceptional speed for Helio Castroneves, who spent the last few seasons being moved around from one underperforming driver to another, fell out of favor as a full-time race engineer with the main team.
So together, first with Castroneves being signed to a six-race deal alongside Jack Harvey at Meyer Shank Racing, and second, with Andretti Autosport’s Mark Bryant dispatched to MSR’s extra part-time car, it would be fair to say the Brazilian and New Zealander duo weren’t exactly in high demand. Which makes the outcome of the 105th Indy 500, with the driver Team Penske no longer wanted, and the supremely talented race engineer bumped to end of the depth chart, one hell of a redemption story.
Look elsewhere on the timing stand, and former Chip Ganassi Racing lead mechanic Adam Rovazzini was the strategist for Castroneves on the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda. Across the pit crew, series veteran Didier Francesia returned and was rewarded mightily; Dario Franchitti’s former CGR mechanic Kevin O’Donnell moved across for MSR’s sports car program a few years ago and knocked out quick pit stops, and more talent– young and old – were part of this unique squad.
As Shank revealed after the race, only two full-time employees have been assigned to the No. 06 program; the rest were brought in on short-term contracts or borrowed from MSR’s IMSA program.
One of the full-timers was Helio’s chief mechanic, Matt Swan, who we wrote about earlier in the month, who joined MSR after 19 years and 11 months with Ganassi, and was reunited with his old driver after the two grew close in 1999 at the former Hogan Racing CART IndyCar team.
For Swan, who’d hoped to put his days as a mechanic behind him with the new opportunity as MSR’s shop manager, coming out of pit crew retirement paid off as he earned his first win – ever – as an IndyCar crew chief, at the biggest race in the world.
“I just want to get Helio his fourth Indy win,” Swan said of the motivation behind reuniting with his old pal Castroneves, and it’s exactly what they achieved.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Sticking with MSR, there was only one dream victory that stood out among the 33 entries, and it was Castroneves becoming a four-timer. A win by Alex Palou, Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward, and many others would have been amazing for their fans and boosted their national profiles, but Mr. Dancing with the Stars was the lone driver in the field with a name and recognition that reaches out of the Midwest and connects with both coasts.
HOW ABOUT ALEX?
The kid from Spain with no knowledge of ovals prior to 2020 has been a revelation since arriving from the Japanese Super Formula series.
Alex Palou made it into the Fast Nine as a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing, did so again as a sophomore with Chip Ganassi Racing, then raced his way to lead the second highest-number of laps – 35 – on the way to finishing second and salvaging the Indy 500 for the CGR team.
I read some comments after the race that spoke to Palou’s inexperience and how that might have cost him the race in the final laps. While true, I think the bigger picture is being missed by some who’ve failed to realize he’s become a reliable performer on ovals this year with finishes of fourth, second and second so far.
And with the championship lead in hand after Indy, and nine of the 10 remaining races playing out on his home turf with road and street courses, we have a genuine championship threat on our hands.
I WOULDA’ WON
The 105th Indy 500 was not only the fastest 500 on record, but I’m also positive a new record was set after the race for the number of drivers claiming they were going to win, if only the race was X laps longer or shorter. My favorite was a headline on a press release that read “Felix Rosenqvist eight laps from winning the Indy 500.”
Now, there’s no doubt the AMSP driver was doing well after pitting on lap 158 and stretching his fuel load to lap 193, and by being off-sequence, he was able to lead from lap 180-192 as everyone else had pitted. But it might be a bit rich, however, to suggest victory was in sight if it weren’t for those pesky extra 20 miles that needed to be covered…
If we go by age, the top 10 at the Indy 500 was completed by an old guy, young guy, oldish guy, young guy, old guy, young guy, young guy, really young guy, old guy, and the oldest guy.
The average age of the five old guys was 42.8 with a combined age of 214. The average for the five young guys was 22.8 with a combined age of 114, or 100 years younger than the veterans in the top 10.
The old guys vs young guys theme we spoke about prior to the season continues to dominate the year. And it’s awesome.