Note: The INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is taking the opportunity of the summer break in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to analyze the first 10 races of the season and offer discussion and opinions about a variety of topics in the first half of the season. This multipart series will run regularly for the rest of July.
Today’s question: What was the best moment so far this season?
Curt Cavin: I’ll propose two moments, and they are related. I loved that Roger Penske, with nearly 70 years of Indianapolis Motor Speedway experience and a record 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500, almost was too nervous to give the command to start engines even though he had done so for the 2020 race. But this year, there were fans staring back at him, and the moment nearly was too big for him. “You see all the pageantry and everything, and all of a sudden you’re standing there and I was like, ‘What did I get myself into?’” he told IndyStar.com in June. “I was shaking. I was just hoping I could get through it before my voice dropped off.” And speaking of not dropping off, huge kudos to NBC for staying with Helio Castroneves’ post-race celebration as he ran up and down the front straightaway waving to fans, hugging friends and praying with Mario Andretti. It was pure relief for the 46-year-old Brazilian, who had failed to join the immortal four-time winner’s club in 11 previous tries and knew his time was running short. As for how the fans reacted, keep in mind it had been 30 years since the feat had been reached, which means most of them had never witnessed one. It was magical, and we might never see a celebration as genuine as that.
Zach Horrall: I’ll head in a similar direction as Curt, but I’ll expand it a bit when I say it was by far Helio Castroneves at the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The battle at the end of the race between Castroneves and Alex Palou was incredible. In the last quarter of the race, the veteran and the (relative) rookie were in each other’s tire tracks. The two exchanged the lead between each other five times, including twice in the last six laps. Everyone was on their feet when Castroneves took the lead for the final time with just two laps to go. It felt reminiscent, but I think a little better, of the 2019 battle between Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi. And the payoff was best celebration I’ve seen in my time as a race fan with Castroneves climbing the fence, running down the main straightaway and more. For as long as I live, I will never forget the 135,000 fans at the track chanting “Hel-i-o!” Speaking of the crowd, honorable mention to Conor Daly for leading a race-high 40 laps. I haven’t heard the crowd erupt that loud in a while, especially one that was just 40 percent of capacity.
Paul Kelly: My role as Roundtable contrarian will be kept in the cupboard for this one. How could the answer to this question not be Helio Castroneves’ record-tying fourth victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge? The symbolism shared by Helio’s fourth win and this Month of May was rich and obvious. Helio is 46, yet he provided rebirth to his career with his breathtaking performance to hold off Alex Palou and win. Nothing was lucky about this victory – Helio earned it with the bravery and skill usually shown by drivers 20 years his junior. It was only fitting that Helio earned his spot on the Indy 500’s Mount Olympus in a year in which the race also was reborn in a way. The 105th Indy 500 was the largest spectator sporting event on the planet since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and it took place in perfect weather, with the largest crowd possible after the 2020 race had no fans in attendance, and with the ultimate fairy tale finish.