The 46-year-old Castroneves has joined the Indy 500 pantheon with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears to become a four-time winner, 30 years after Mears claimed his fourth, and a full 11 years after Castroneves’ third!
Pole-winner Scott Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda took the lead at the start but into Turn 3, Colton Herta dived his Andretti Autosport-Honda down the inside to take the lead. He was only classified the leader for one lap, however, as Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay who had started third, passed Dixon into Turn 3 on Lap 2 and then drafted by Herta along the front straight.
Dixon looked perfectly content with this situation. Staying at the front would have meant having to pit two laps early.
His teammate and team owner Ed Carpenter settled into fourth ahead of Tony Kanaan’s Ganassi-Honda, Helio Castroneves who was up from eighth in the Meyer Shank Racing-Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), two more Ganassi cars of Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson and 2016 winner Alexander Rossi.
There had already been drama for 2018 winner Will Power whose Team Penske-Chevrolet failed to fire on the grid, from his lowly 32nd grid spot. The #12 crew pulled him back to pitlane, refired it in time for Power to get out of pitlane ahead of the pack, make up his lap and slot into place for the start.
He then made some bold moves on the opening couple of laps and climbed to 25th, where he tucked up behind James Hinchcliffe who had fallen from 16th.
On Lap 16, Castroneves moved past his fellow Brazilian veteran Kanaan to grab fifth and immediately homed in on Carpenter. Meanwhile up front, VeeKay had eased from 220 down to 216s but no one was taking the bait, happy to sit in his draft. Power, meanwhile, had dropped a place, to sit behind teammate Simon Pagenaud and just ahead of Marco Andretti. Fastest lap at this stage was Castroneves’ MSR teammate Jack Harvey on a 221.243mph, having moved up from 20th on the grid to run 15th.
VeeKay ducked into the pits at the end of Lap 31, and Carpenter, Hunter-Reay and Ed Jones in the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan-Honda. Sadly for local hero Carpenter, his car fell off the jacks and stalled. Far worse was to come for Stefan Wilson, as he locked up in the LOHLA Sport Andretti car coming into the pitlane, smacked the pitwall and tore off the right-front corner. That put the field under yellow. Those already stopped got lucky, those who had stayed out on track weren’t. Dixon came into the pits completely dry of fuel, and his engine would not fire up again. The same fate awaited Rossi, next time by, and the pair dropped a lap down.
The regular pitstop exchange had left Herta and VeeKay up front ahead of local star Conor Daly in the U.S. Air Force Carpenter car – up from 19th! – tucked in behind his teammate.
Hunter-Reay was up to fourth, ahead of Castroneves, with Palou in sixth. The lead Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward ran seventh ahead of defending winner Takuma Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda. Scott McLaughlin was lead rookie in the #3 Pennzoil Penske, in ninth ahead of the other RLL car of Graham Rahal.
Through the long yellow-flag period that followed, Dixon, Rossi and Kanaan stopped again to take on more fuel.
At the Lap 47 restart, Castroneves passed Hunter-Reay around the outside of Turn 1, and moved forward and down into Turn 3 he went around the outside of Daly. However, Daly fought back, followed teammate VeeKay past Herta, and then drafted by Herta to snatch the lead to the roars of the crowd.
Castroneves ran fourth ahead of Palou, Sato and O’Ward who had all taken advantage of Hunter-Reay’s lost momentum while being passed by Castroneves. Helio, a three-time Indy winner, moved past Herta for third on Lap 55. Three laps later, O’Ward zapped Sato for sixth.
A winner during the pitstop exchange had been Josef Newgarden, who was now up to 11th, and running behind Penske teammate McLaughlin and Rahal.
Whereas we might have expected Daly and VeeKay to work together and swap back and forth, Daly just remained up front, running 217mph laps, VeeKay happy to sit 0.25sec behind until making his second stop at the end of Lap 68. Three laps later, Daly stopped, leaving Castroneves up front ahead of Herta, Palou and O’Ward. Daly would emerge from the pits behind VeeKay.
Castroneves and Herta sped up into the 219/220mph range, and were able to go to the end of Lap 77 – with Herta squirting ahead of Castroneves – before ducking into the pits.
As the rest of the runners came in, VeeKay and Daly moved their ECR-Chevys back to the top of the charts, and when they got there, Daly passed VeeKay to take the lead on Lap 84. Behind this pair, O’Ward ran ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Herta, and Hunter-Reay who had deposed Palou. Down in seventh was Castroneves, ahead of Sato and Rahal. Newgarden was now lead Penske in 10th, ahead of Harvey, McLaughlin and Power, who had laid down strong laps when the road ahead of him cleared, before he made his second stop and his crew served him flawlessly. However he lost momentum when Jones passed him, and promptly lost places to Karam and Carpenter too, before Power and two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya in the third Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy re-passed Carpenter.
Hunter-Reay passed Herta for fourth place on Lap 91, and the following lap Rahal took teammate Sato for eighth.
VeeKay had just passed Daly for the lead when the pair ducked into the pits at the end of Lap 103. Daly’s was much slower, and he came out a full four seconds behind VeeKay, and behind temporary teammate O’Ward.
Herta went to the end of Lap 109 before pitting from third, but he emerged behind Newgarden who chopped him off when he tried to pass. A Penske in far greater trouble was McLaughlin, who had his day ruined when he got a drive-through penalty for speeding in pitlane
That left Rahal in the front, but when he finally pitted, on Lap 118, the right-rear wheel wasn’t properly tightened, came detached on the warm-up lane and the RLL-Honda slewed across the grass and hard into the wall on the exit of Turn 2.
The runaway wheel bounced off the wall too, flew up and came down on the nose of Daly’s car, which sent it flying, fortunately without hurt to anybody. Remarkably, too, Daly’s front wing appeared OK too, but he had dropped to the lower reaches of the Top 10.
Now Palou was leading, Castroneves, O’Ward, VeeKay, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Sato, Herta, Daly and Harvey for the Lap 124 restart. It didn’t stay that way for long though. Castroneves took the lead from Palou down the front straight, and a lap later the MSR car relinquished P1 to O’Ward.
Then Palou reset, passing Castroneves down the front straight at the start of lap 131 and drafting by O’Ward for the lead into Turn 3. Castroneves too, then passed O’Ward to take second place.
In fourth ran VeeKay ahead of Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Herta. Pagenaud made an impressive restart to get up to eighth ahead of Sato and Daly, but teammate Power had gone the other way, losing spots to Harvey, Montoya and Carpenter and falling to 14th.
Then on Lap 138 Newgarden pitted for the fourth time and remained off-sequence. He dropped to 30th but could now make it on just one more stop. Daly, too, made an early fourth stop and the close-ups revealed he had some damage to the nose from Rahal’s loose wheel, and was reporting major understeer.
One reammate, VeeKay pulled out of fourth place to make his stop on Lap 144 and Carpenter followed two laps later. Leader Palou was in on Lap 148, Castroneves and Pagenaud at the end of Lap 149, and O’Ward two laps later.
Power ducked into the pits but couldn’t get stopped when he found his brake pedal going to the floor, even after pumping them. He spun around and lost a lap.
As the pit sequence played out, Palou, Castroneves and O’Ward rose to the top once more, chased by Hunter-Reay who had dismissed VeeKay.
Dixon stopped with 38 laps to go, and would need to go into major fuel-save mode – or rely on a yellow – to make it to the checkers without another stop. He emerged 22nd.
Newgarden stopped on Lap 170 and emerged behind Castroneves, the new leader, but the Brazilian made his final stop on Lap 171, good to go to the end.
Simona De Silvestro spun into her pitbox, on her final stop, while Hunter-Reay couldn’t get slowed down and blew through the pitlane speed limit.
Following their final stops, Castroneves emerged ahead of Palou and O’Ward, but Palou passed Castroneves at the start of Lap 179. The veteran wouldn’t let him go though, and the pair started swapping the effective lead back and forth ahead of O’Ward, with the rapidly gaining Pagenaud in fourth and Carpenter in fifth.
They were all running behind the Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy of Felix Rosenqvist and Sato, both running at 212mph, but needing another stop unless there was another yellow flag. Rosenqvist ducked into the pits at the end of Lap 192, and Sato a lap later, just after Castroneves swept around the outside of Palou at Turn 1 for the lead.
Palou went around the outside of Castroneves at Turn 1 on Lap 196, and briefly he benefited from a tow from Rosenqvist before the Swede ducked into the pits for a pitlane speeding penalty. But Castroneves got around Palou on the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 198, picked up the tow from backmarkers ahead and had enough to hold off Palou and O’Ward to the twin checkers.
Indy’s fourth four-time winner claimed victory by 0.4928sec ahead of Palou, while Pagenaud beat O’Ward to the yard of bricks to take third after a perfect drive from 26th.
Carpenter was fifth ahead of Santino Ferrucci’s Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing-Honda, while Sage Karam beat Rinus VeeKay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.