Helio Castroneves wins fourth Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS — Helio Castroneves earned a major slice of Indy 500 history Sunday, becoming the fourth driver to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a fourth time.

Castroneves, 46, joined Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser as a record-tying four-time winner of the 500-Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, outdueling Alex Palou to win the 105th Indy 500.

Castroneves, who also won the Indy 500 in 2001-02 and ’09, took the lead from Palou for the final time with two laps remaining in his No. 06 Dallara-Honda to score the first victory at the Brickyard for Meyer Shank Racing.

“I love you!” Castroneves, who was making his 21st Indy 500 start but his first outside of Team Penske (which inducted him into its Hall of Fame), screamed on the radio. “I love you IndyCar! Thank you IndyCar!”

Castroneves took a victory lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on foot, jogging up and down the frontstretch to massive cheers after doing his traditional fence climb. He also received congratulations from Mario Andretti, Will Power, Marco Andretti and a host of other drivers and former Penske teammates in becoming the first driver to win an Indy 500 with another team after winning it for Team Penske.

This was only the fourth race this season for Castroneves, who is running a partial season with Meyer Shank Racing after winning the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship last season (his last with Penske). It also continues a dream season for the Brazilian, who won the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Castroneves’ 31st career victory in IndyCar also was the first in the NTT Series for Meyer Shank Racing.

At 46 years, 20 days old, he also is the fourth-oldest winner in Indy 500 history behind Unser (47 in 1987), Bobby Unser (47, ’81) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, ’93).

Palou finished second, followed by Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward, Ed Carpenter, Santino Ferrucci, Sage Karam, Rinus VeeKay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.

The race’s only major on-track incident came on Lap 119 when Rahal pitted from the lead, and his pit crew left the left-rear tire loose. The wheel popped off as Rahal exited the pits, sending his No. 15 Dallara-Honda into a hard impact with the outside Turn 2 SAFER barrier.

The wheel ricocheted back into traffic and struck the front of Conor Daly’s No. 47 Chevrolet.

“It’s famous last words, but we had them,” Rahal told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “We had them. We were in the perfect spot. We were just cruising. Our strategy was playing right. I was doing a good job in the car. We had them today.

“This one is hard to accept. I’m proud of the United Rentals guys. We worked hard all day. I’m sorry we didn’t win this thing because we should have.”

With fans back at the Indy 500 for the first time in two years, one of the day’s biggest cheers erupted when Daly, a longtime Indianapolis resident, took the lead from VeeKay on Lap 50.

Scott Dixon started on the pole position but led only three laps after Herta took the lead on Lap 1.

While Herta and VeeKay traded the lead, Dixon conserved fuel in third — which seemed a smart strategy when the caution flew on Lap 33 after Dixon had inherited first when Herta, VeeKay and several other lead-lap drivers had pitted.

But the pits were closed for multiple laps under yellow because Stefan Wilson had spun into the wall on entry, which left Dixon in a predicament. Choosing to make an emergency stop while the pits remained closed on Lap 36, Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda coasted in out of fuel and wouldn’t refire.

The same situation happened to Alexander Rossi on an emergency stop for fuel a lap later, and both former Indy 500 winners were a lap down when the race restarted because of the timing of Wilson’s crash.

“Heartbroken,” Wilson told NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast. “The team worked so hard for the whole month. We were having good stint, moving forward and got the call to pit a little bit late. That wasn’t really the issue. As soon as I went to the brakes, there was nothing there. I tried to pump them up, couldn’t get enough pressure and locked the rears on one of the pumps.

“Just devastated. Hope I get another chance at the Indy 500.”

A sellout crowd of 135,000 — roughly 40 percent of capacity for the track, whose grandstands hold 235,000 seats and usually has 300,000 on race day including the infield — filled the track quickly, nine months after the 2020 Indy 500 was run in front of empty grandstands because of COVID-19.

Before giving the command to start engines, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske thanked fans for their loyalty and also saluted the military, first responders and health care workers for helping the country navigate the pandemic.

“You are the reason this is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Penske said.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500