By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – “Helio! Helio! Helio!”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway were chanting the name of Helio Castroneves, who won the 105th Indianapolis 500. In one of largest sports gathering since the pandemic, they witnessed history as Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears as the only four-time Indy 500 winners.
This triumph not only marked the 46-year-old’s first Indy 500 win in 12 years, but Meyer Shank Racing’s maiden INDYCAR victory. The organization that was once solely known for sports cars, showcased they got a man who can still get the job done.
“They made it happen. So great moment for everyone,” said the new four-time 500 winner. “Especially after last year, being so difficult with the pandemic, everybody comes back, even though it’s not full percent everyone here, but very, very nice for everyone to celebrate.
“I couldn’t be more happier. I couldn’t be more happier for Mike (Shank), for Jim (Meyer). They did everything they told me, which is they promised to give me a good car. I said, alright. If this happen, we have a great chance. Just give me a chance to fight, opportunity to be up there, then I will fight. And they did.”
Once climbing out of his No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, he immediately climbed the fence and so did Michael Shank. The electrifying crowd couldn’t get enough of Castroneves, who spent the next 10-15 minutes basking the glory.
He even jogged on the frontstretch where his peers congratulating and hugging him. Among those include Juan Pablo Montoya, Conor Daly, Will Power, Pato O’Ward and MSR teammate Jack Harvey.
“I was drawn by the positive energy of everyone. For a long time, these people want to see a four-time winner. I say that because they tell me,” said Castroneves.
“Every time we sign the autographs, they are like, I’ve never seen a four-time winner. I want to see it. That’s what probably made me thank all of them because they made this place special. I can’t deny that without that I wouldn’t be able to be who I am. I’m thankful for them to be here. This is great.”
Finally, Castroneves was congratulated by Roger Penske and Tim Cindric in victory lane. While no longer driving for “The Captain” after 21 seasons, he’s still thankful for the Penske organization.
Especially, how much he learned in his final years when driving in IMSA full-time. There was no such thing as proving a point to Team Penske, just pure admiration.
“I know those guys. We’ve been together for so long. I cannot thank them enough. This win today, it’s also what they made me become. I can’t thank them enough for that,” said Castroneves.
“Cindric told me as soon as I signed with Mike, I’ll be the first one to congratulate you in the victory circle. He did. We’re friends. This is a huge community in racing.”
If it wasn’t obvious, his peers and especially the Indy crowd admire the Brazilian legend.
Many have never seen a four-time Indy 500 champion as it’s been 30 years since Mears became a four-time winner.
In some way, the 2021 edition of the 500 played out like it did in 1991. Just when a driver had it in the bag, they were denied. 30 years ago, it was Michael Andretti, this year it was Alex Palou.
On a month that Chip Ganassi Racing were the team beat, only Palou carried the torch. The other Ganassi teammates mostly crumbled and weren’t truly in the mix when it mattered most.
Coming to two laps to go, Castroneves caught Palou’s slipstream and passed him before entering Turn 1. Palou tried catching him, hoping the train of lapped traffic would give him another shot. That didn’t pan out as the final margin of victory between Castroneves and Palou was 0.4928 seconds.
No stranger to heartbreak since his last Indy win in 2009, Castroneves understands the pain Palou is going through.
“He’s young. He has an incredible talent. He won the first race of the season. Nothing to be shamed,” Castroneves on Palou.
“I finished second three times. Did I stop because of that? No. He did a great job. He had a great car. He did everything he possibly could. Last year he didn’t finish. This year he finished second. That’s a big improvement. He should think about the positive side, not the negative.”
No longer to be bossed around, Meyer Shank Racing’s progress since joining INDYCAR in 2017 are shining bright. Through thick and thin, both Meyer and Shank have had one team’s back the whole time. That being their technical alliance with Andretti Autosport.
“Our alliance with Andretti Technology is a key part of us being successful today,” said Shank. “I believe this shared technical alliance is important for a modern-day team like ours to come into the series and be productive right away. Otherwise, you sit back and learn for two years. We didn’t want to see that.
“I thank Michael (Andretti), Jay Frye, Rob Edwards especially. He’s the man in the field. I’ll tell them that tonight.”
Meyer had already gotten a little bit tired of reading the headlines about being “the little team that could.” In fact, they’ve never bought that notion as the lifelong fan of the sport always believed in Shank’s vision from day one. He wouldn’t have collaborated if it wasn’t the case.
“We knew we were going to start very slowly,” said Meyer. “Mike was incredibly disciplined. I wanted to go faster earlier. He explained to me how fast we could waste our money if we weren’t careful.
“We had a strategy and a plan. But we believe every day we can compete with anybody out here, anybody out here. I will also tell you having data from eight cars is certainly really helpful, right? That’s where the relationship with Andretti Technologies really pays off for us, as well.”
Sunday, May 30, 2021, will be a day that’ll never be forgotten. We saw crowds at IMS again. We saw a new four-time winner of the Indy 500. We even saw the fastest 500 in history with an average speed of 190.690 mph.
This year’s race just hit different, and the significance will remain a part of the race’s lore forever.
105th Indianapolis 500 Race Results
1. (8) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 200, Running
2. (6) Alex Palou, Honda, 200, Running
3. (26) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running
4. (12) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 200, Running
5. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
6. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 200, Running
7. (31) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 200, Running
8. (3) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 200, Running
9. (24) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, Running
10. (5) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running
11. (9) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 200, Running
12. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
13. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
14. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
15. (22) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
16. (2) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running
17. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
18. (20) Jack Harvey, Honda, 200, Running
19. (25) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
20. (17) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 200, Running
21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running
22. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running
23. (30) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 199, Running
24. (29) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 199, Running
25. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 199, Running
26. (27) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 199, Running
27. (14) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 199, Running
28. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 199, Running
29. (10) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 198, Running
30. (32) Will Power, Chevrolet, 197, Running
31. (33) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 169, Contact
32. (18) Graham Rahal, Honda, 118, Contact
33. (28) Stefan Wilson, Honda, 32, Contact
Winner’s average speed: 190.690 mph
Time of Race: 2:37:19.3846
Margin of victory: 0.4928 of a second
Cautions: 2 for 18 laps
Lead changes: 35 among 13 drivers