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The Indianapolis 500 - The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

The fastest playground in the world.

As Carb Day comes to a close on the final practice session, before the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500, only one question remains on the mind of IndyCar fans. Who will etch their name forever in motorsport folklore, and be crowned the winner of the Indianapolis 500? Carb Day signifies the beginning of the end of the ‘Month of May’ activities, with only one session to go before all the questions can be answered and the traditions can be continued, it’s time to have a look at the significance of Sunday and why the Indianapolis 500 is the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ What does a motorsport fan desire from watching a race? Speed, check. Tradition, check. Excitement, check. History, check. On the edge racing, check. The Indianapolis 500 has it all. The annual sight of eleven rows of three charging down at 220 mph (354 kph) toward Turn one, once the green has fallen, might be the most special moment of the motorsport year, and the most significant 500 miles of the calendar year. 500 miles, or 200 laps around the oldest and most iconic circuit in the world is no mean feat, only the best can do it, and it’s why two weeks of intense practice are required, to have a car so perfect that it can be done.

The Indy 500 is a test on cars, their engines running over 200 mph for three hours of flat-out racing, a test on the pit-crews. One small mistake and a driver’s chances are crushed, just ask Graham Rahal after the 2021 event. But most importantly, the race is a challenge of the drivers. Three hours and 200 laps of the toughest motorsport challenge, both physically and mentally, but what keeps them going is the chance of success. The drivers have the chance to get their face engraved on the Borg-Warner trophy, the chance to drown themselves in the milk, and to have their name recognised by fans worldwide.

And the Number One rule of the Indianapolis 500? Never Give Up. Jacques Villeneuve was two laps down in 1995, and through ingenious strategy and luck, he managed to win the race. Even in the build-up to this year’s Indianapolis 500, Jack Harvey, on the verge of being knocked out of the Indianapolis 500, and his career already on the line, threw everything at it. Harvey failed to make the last row with his qualifying effort three minutes from the end. Yet, despite an engine which hadn’t cooled sufficiently, and the de-motivation of the final run, Harvey pulled it out the bag, and managed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

And this isn’t like any other race. There’s no set of realistic winners at the event, everyone is a realistic winner. Look at Alexander Rossi, a rookie in 2016, who perfectly executed his unorthodox strategy, quite literally rolling over the line to claim Indianapolis glory. On the other hand, Helio Castroneves’ race in 2021 speaks for the veterans racing in the event.

Rossi stunned the world in 2016 by winning on Debut. Credit: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A 46-year-old Brazilian, in a one-off entry, who many believed should retire and abandon his dreams for a fourth title, showed the wisdom and experience he had at the Speedway, to fend off the young guns and claim a sensational victory.

And, it’s not over until it’s over. J.R. Hildebrand, a rookie in 2011, crashed at the final corner on the final lap, trying to overtake lapped traffic. Hildebrand smashed into the Turn 4 barrier with only momentum forcing him across the line. And there was Dan Wheldon, who swept past to take a second Indianapolis 500 victory. Hildebrand hasn’t won an IndyCar race, yet alone an Indianapolis 500 in his career.

Even as recently as last year, Marcus Ericsson seemed to be cruising to victory when his own teammate Jimmie Johnson crashed with just 15 miles left. And on the restart, the final lap, Ericsson would be hounded by the Arrow McLaren SP of Pato O’Ward. Ericsson would hold off the Mexican this time around, but you’re never guaranteed of victory until you cross the yard of bricks, with the chequered flag waving to your right.

Who will be following in Ericsson’s footsteps this year? Credit: Justin Casterline via Getty Images

And don’t forget the history or the tradition. It just adds to the spectacle of the Indianapolis 500. A race that started back in 1911, over a decade before Le Mans and Monaco hosted motorsport races. The milk, a tradition dating back to 1933 when Louis Meyer, winner of the Indianapolis 500, requested a glass of buttermilk. Break tradition, you break your respect. Emerson Fittipaldi drank orange juice after his 1993 victory, and he is still booed to this day by IndyCar fans.

And don’t forget your custom ring, your name on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but most importantly, your name and recognition in the motorsport history books, as well as fans and spectators worldwide. There’s good reason why the Indianapolis 500 is the most attended sporting event in the United States.

An event esteemed in tradition, pride, attitude, history, entertainment, what else could you possibly call it apart from the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing?’ It has everything that every other race has to offer, every challenge that a driver can face, laser-sharp focus, reliance on your car holding up, three hours of unfathomable speeds, which can all go wrong in just an instant.

On Memorial Day, the eyes of the motorsport world will once again turn to the Indianapolis 500, the most intense, dramatic, entertaining, and historic motor racing event in the world. Nothing comes close to what the Indianapolis 500 can provide, and the history and legacy that comes with winning it, there’s no other term for it apart from ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’


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