A pandemic-era record crowd of 135,000 fans packed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday for the iconic Indy 500, sparking hope that the world is starting to return to normal but also some concerns.
The Indianapolis 500 was touted as the return of some sort of normalcy, particularly for the marquee sporting events that Americans find so meaningful.
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The 135,000 spectators that watched Helio Castroneves clinch his fourth Indy 500 victory marked the largest crowd for a sporting event in the world since the start of the coronavirus pandemic early last year.
Remarkably, the capacity crowd was only 40 per cent of the normal turnout in pre-Covid times.
Last year's race was postponed to August and held without spectators for the only time in its 105-year history.
Given permission to open 40 per cent of the grandstands this year, the exuberant crowd came in droves and went wild for Castroneves' historic win for the old guys and Meyer Shank Racing.
And while many were delighted to see normalcy returning, there were lingering concerns considering America recorded an average of 20,000 new Covid-19 cases every day last week, as well as hundreds of deaths.
Helio Castroneves wins fourth Indy 500 crown
Castroneves - who also won in 2001, 2002 and 2009 - joined US legends AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr and Rick Mears as four-time champions over 200 laps in the famed 4km race.
Biding his time until the moment was right, the veteran passed 24-year-old Alex Palou with two laps remaining and the frenzied crowd roared its approval.
When the Brazilian took the chequered flag, he rushed to the fence for his traditional 'Spiderman' climb that belied his 46 years.
He became the fourth-oldest Indianapolis 500 winner, behind Al Unser (47, 1987), Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).
After climbing down the fence, Castroneves ran down the front stretch for a victory lap on foot, stopped every few feet by a flood of rivals who rushed onto the track to congratulate him.
"I love Indianapolis," Castroneves said. "The fans, they give me energy. This is absolutely incredible."
"Right now, I'm just excited. I knew I was going to get a fight. I put the elbows out. It was incredible. I still got it, don't you think?"
Almost every member of Team Penske - for whom he won his previous three Indy 500s - rushed out to meet Castroneves, including former teammate Will Power, who saw the final scoring pylon and had no idea his longtime friend won.
"I was looking up and down 'Who is the 06?"' Australian ace Power told Castroneves in a victory hug. "You're a legend."
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