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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Putting a bow on the 105th Indianapolis 500

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The roar is over, but there were many things that happened Sunday at 16th Street and Georgetown Road, so let’s check the rearview mirror and take a look at the pros and cons that yours truly observed with a report card on everything Indy 500.

Weather: A++

The approach to environmental health that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took on race day mirrored the one used for the GMR Grand Prix two weeks earlier. Masks were provided and sanitizing stations were available.

You could even receive a vaccination on race day as part of your experience at the track at no additional cost.

Grade: A+

Pre-race activities included all the historical pizazz we’ve become accustomed to, including rousing renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Back Home Again in Indiana.” (Note: I miss the balloons.)

The race itself featured a boatload of passing and a number of lead changes.

Yellow flags were relatively limited for a high-speed, super-speedway venue, and the last 20 laps were epic and produced a fourth Indy 500 win for the ever-popular Helio Castroneves, who treated the fans to a rather unorthodox yet well received celebration, full of fence climbing, running and plenty of crowd interaction.

Grade: A

Notes: While the attention was focused on the leaders, Sage Karem drove hard all day and finished seventh. The young man can flat out drive and while it was an Indy 500-only racing season for him, he certainly made the most of it.

Speaking of driving hard, 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who started 26th, got the whip out and finished third and was charging to the front when the checkered flag dropped.

Alex Palou’s magical season continued during the 500 as he led 35 laps and was runner-up to Castroneves.

Palou heads to the next IndyCar Series race leading the pack in championship points.

Conor Daly’s 13th place finish was not indicative of his day, as he led the most laps (40) and had a car that would’ve been there at the end if not involved in an accident in which a wheel from Graham Rahal’s car struck Daly’s machine on lap 119.

Polesitter Scott Dixon, who was the prohibitive betting favorite to win the race, suffered problems on his first pit stop and quickly fell a lap behind.

He would battle back to finish a disappointing 17th and in the process relinquish his points lead to Palou.

Veteran driver J.R.Hildebrand registered the best result for the A.J. Foyt Racing team by piloting his one-off effort to a 15th place finish.

Speaking of one-offs, two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya drove the Arrow McLaren SP entry to a ninth place finish.

Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin captured the Rookie of the Year honors with his 20th place finish.

He was on track for a better finish when a pit lane penalty placed him to the back of the field and slowed his race.

A new record for the winner’s average speed was set at 190.690 mph. The fastest lap of the race was registered by sixth place finisher Santino Ferrucci when on circuit 116 he clocked a lap of 227.345 mph.

Twenty-two cars finished on the lead lap and the race was completed in just over 2 hours and 37 minutes.

IMS President J. Douglas Boles drove the vintage 1939 Boyle Special Maserati race car around the track before the race. Yes, the same car Wilbur Shaw drove to his back-to-back Indy 500 wins in 1939 and 1940.

Boles certainly deserved the rare opportunity considering he’s been working 20-hour days since last August to make the 2021 500 a great success.

While there was very little to complain about this version of the Indianapolis 500, I was disappointed that the Indy Racing Experience Honda two-seater with Mario Andretti was not allowed to drive in front of the pace car with a celebrity passenger as in past years. (Remember Lady Gaga?)

It’s a shot that only IMS can call, but if you’re not going to allow the greatest driver ever to showcase the two-seater program then he should’ve been driving the Corvette Pace Car. With all due respect to Danica Patrick, it was clearly a missed opportunity.

The same could be said for NBC Sports in terms of its failure to involve the iconic legend in its telecast of the race. Mario is still the most recognizable face in motorsports and the greatest ambassador that Indy Car has, so why not use him?

Danny Bridges, who felt privileged to be in attendance for his 52nd consecutive year at IMS this past Sunday, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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