Why the Indy 500 could be considered the greatest spectacle in motorsport

This year was my first time watching the Indy 500. I’d heard good things about it but wasn’t totally convinced that it was ‘the greatest spectacle in motorsport’, as many fans have called it before. However, I think after watching my first Indy 500 I’m now a part of this fan club. It was an incredible spectacle, very American and dramatic, but for me that only added to the spectacle. In this article I’ll outline some of the key features of the Indy 500 event and explain why I think it’s an incredible spectacle. (P.S. I know this was a few weeks ago now, but I’ve only just got round to writing this article.)


https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/articles/us-scene/indycar/how-f1-hides-driving-talent-that-indy-500-puts-in-the-spotlight

 

The Build-up

The build-up to the race is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The entire event seems to go on for a couple of weeks, with qualifying happening the week before the race. This only adds to the excitement though, as fans have to wait ages before the race actually starts. And then you get to race day and the race build-up is almost like a show in itself. The weekend normally occurs on memorial weekend, which is a big celebration in the Untied States. This means there is a heavy military presence at the weekend, with troops parading and lots of songs/anthems performed by a variety of people. I enjoyed this aspect of it however, despite it feeling very Americanised. 

 

Then you get to the drivers coming out and they all walk out dramatically to some music, getting announced to the crowds with huge roars going up when people’s favourite drivers walk out. As a Brit, at points it was quite funny because you imagine what the reaction would be like if we did something like this at the British Grand Prix. Yet somehow it just felt right and felt like it really fitted the occasion. If it happened at every race, I reckon you’d get pretty bored of all the dramatic build-up and everything, but for this one race it was pretty exciting

 

The Race

You’d think the actual Indy 500 race would be a bit boring: 200 laps of an oval track, taking an average 3 hours from lights to flag. But this is a wrong presumption to make. Cars are constantly going at 220+mph, the only time they ever go slower is when they take one of the many pitstops they’ll do. This constant speed means that errors are frequent and that if you crash, you crash hard. Fortunately, this race seemed quieter in terms of incidents, with only one big incident occurring. But even that could have been so much worse. 

 

https://www.roadandtrack.com/news/a36191160/2021-indy-500-attendance/

 

Strategy is also an interesting element during the race, especially because refuelling is a thing in Indy car. This meant that there were many drivers on alternate strategies and meant that you could come from quite far back, and still have a decent race. Simon Pagenaud for example started in 26th and finished 4th, looking like he could actually win the race with 10 laps to go. The eventual winner, Helio Castroneves, started in 8th so even he wasn’t a bookies favourite to win the race. Genuinely I think half the grid could have won the race and that created a lot of excitement. I mean, the polesitter and the Lewis Hamilton equivalent of Indy car, Scott Dixon, ran out of fuel on lap 33 and had to restart his car. This left him a whole lap behind and was pretty much his race ruined. There was excitement and drama all throughout the race, but it particularly picked up during the last 50 laps of the race.

 

The best 50 laps in motorsport

I’d seen on social media everyone saying, ‘just wait until the last 50 laps, that’s when it really picks up’. The race was good up until that point and I think it’s necessary to watch the race in its entirety, otherwise you won’t truly appreciate the backstory of the race and won’t fully understand everything that’s already happened during the race. But the last 50 laps of the race were absolutely incredible. 

 

It was at this point when drivers’ strategies came into play, and you got a real sense of who could actually win the race. The race this year seemed really close at the end, and I’m pretty sure that most races end in a similar fashion. As the lap counter kept tumbling down, the tension kept building and building until we got to about 10 laps to go. The battle for the lead was so intense and it kept changing between 1st and second. The only reason there wasn’t an attempt for the win on the last lap was due to traffic, which really only added to the excitement. Apparently, most Indy 500’s finish in this exciting fashion and it’s something you rarely see in Formula 1, so it was good to see an exciting end to a race for once. It was honestly so exciting a nerve-wracking, when I didn’t even care who won!

 

The fans

The Indy 500 fans were absolutely incredible, some of the most passionate fans in motorsport, after the loyal tifosi at Monza obviously. Due to covid, this race was capped at 40% reduced capacity, which was still a staggering 130,000!! This was in fact a post-covid record and the atmosphere at the track was absolutely electric. I can’t wait to watch a race at the full 400,000 capacity, the atmosphere will only be more incredible than it was for this race. 

 

https://www.heraldextra.com/news/national/good-company-helio-castroneves-wins-indy-500-for-4th-time/image_ac61477a-67a0-54a3-836b-7ab752a788bc.html

 

The celebrations as well when Helio Castroneves won the race were incredible. This man is now a 4-time Indy 500 race winner (a joint record), and this was in fact the only Indy car race he’s doing this season. He’s nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ after his exuberant celebration, and he really didn’t disappoint. After winning the race, he leapt up onto the face and held onto, as if he was Spiderman, and started celebrating with the crowd. He’s clearly a fan favourite, because the roar going around the stadium was amazing, and he really soaked it all in. It was fantastic to see a driver show such passion after winning a race and it really just completed the whole spectacle.

 

 

In a nutshell the Indy 500 was fantastic, and it’s a race I’m going to watch every year from now on. For us Brits it’s great as well, because it normally falls on our bank holiday weekend, so it means we can truly enjoy the spectacle. If you were cautious about it and thought some fans overhyped it, get rid of these opinions immediately and give the race a try. It’s a really exciting 3 hours of your life that you will definitely not regret.

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