Ratings are down for the Indy 500. You get it. Cars go around a track at high speeds for a few hours, and then some dude in a heat suit chugs a bottle of milk at the finish line. Been there, done that; what’s on HBO?
Here are the things you don’t know: The 105th running of the Indy 500 – at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, May 30 – has all the family drama you’d find on Prodigal Son. Young guns carrying on their family legacy are just part of the reason to watch America’s most famous car race.
Pato O’Ward, Álex Palou, shake up the race
You never know who’s going to win the Indy 500. Drivers routinely come out of nowhere to take wins on the biggest stage in IndyCar racing. Want to root for an underdog? We have some ideas to give you an edge.
Pato O’Ward of Mexico is just a pup at 22 years old, but he already knows what he’s doing in Indianapolis. He finished sixth in last year’s race, held in August, and followed that effort with a pair of podium finishes. In early May, O’Ward passed Josef Newgarden (more on him in a minute) late in the XPEL 375 to earn his first IndyCar win. The win bumped him up to No. 2 in the IndyCar standings, looking up at Scott Dixon. O’Ward is heating up at the right time, and momentum matters in the Indy 500.
Then there’s the consistent young gun, Álex Palou. The 24-year-old finished 28th in his first Indy 500 last year, but the Spaniard turned a new leaf in 2021 with a win in the season-opening race in Alabama. Palou edged Will Power and Dixon, then vowed to get some Alabama fried chicken and fries to celebrate. He only made two pit stops, taking the lead on the 67th lap. O’Ward, the pole winner, took three pit stops and finished fourth.
Rahal, Andretti, Fittipaldi family legacies
You probably know the names. Graham Rahal’s dad, Bobby Rahal, won the 1986 race. Young gun Pietro Fittipaldi, 24, is the son of Brazilian legend Emerson Fittipaldi, who won the Indy 500 twice. And then there’s last year’s pole-sitter, Marco Andretti, who might have the most famous family legacy in racing.
His spot at the front of the race was a family first since 1987 when grandfather Mario Andretti started first. The 34-year-old isn’t racing full time this year, but the Indianapolis track is in his DNA. His dad, Michael Andretti, holds the record for most laps led at the Indy 500 without a win. Cousin John Andretti and uncle Jeff Andretti have both raced at The Brickyard, with other family members competing in racing at one level or another. The thing is, the Andretti family has had several close calls in Indianapolis, but the only win was Mario Andretti’s 1969 victory.
Pietro Fittipaldi can top that. Emerson Fitipaldi won the race in 1989 and 1993. Pietro’s record is less stellar with a ranking of 25th this season. His best finish was ninth in Portland last year; he’s run two races this year, finishing 15th and 21st in two Texas runs.
Graham Rahal is more consistent than the Fittipaldis and Andrettis. Ranked fifth, Rahal has three top 10 finishes in four races this season, and he finished third at last year’s Indy 500.
Root for Castroneves to make history
Hélio Castroneves is knocking on the door of an exclusive club. This is not a rerun. You might have heard, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times; the record is four wins, shared by legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears. Castroneves has been painfully close, finishing second in 2014 and 2017. But he’s 46 years old now, an age when most drivers are watching the race from pit road. He didn’t even compete in the Indy 500 last year. Could he make some magic happen? Only three drivers have won at his age or older, with Emerson Fittipaldi winning at 46 and both Bobby Rahal and Al Unser winning at 47 years old.
It’s fast. Super fast.
You know this. You write it off. But these cars could almost catch up to bullets. The average qualifying speed is always more than 230 mph, up slightly from the original best of 80.93 mph back in 1912. That’s just the average. Cars will clock around 250 mph on the straightaways.
Nine Indy 500 winners will be racing, assuming they qualify, and two aging veterans are hoping to see their names on top one more time. Takumo Sato, 44, could be the first repeat winner since Castroneves in 2002. Sato also won in 2017. Then there’s Scott Dixon, who is perpetually in contention. Sure, Dixon hasn’t won the race since 2008, but he has eight top 10 finishes since then and finished second last year.
USA! USA! USA!
Maybe nationalism is your thing. No judgment. There are 13 U.S. drivers out of 35 competing for 33 starting slots. The name we haven’t mentioned yet is Josef Newgarden, the 30-year-old American who won the overall IndyCar titles in 2017 and 2019. But despite being a dominant season-long driver, Newgarden has never had a big moment at Indianapolis. He started second and finished third in 2016, his best in both categories. Maybe this is the year.