2000: (Winner: Juan-Pablo Montoya)
In 2000 Chip Ganassi Racing became the first team to cross the “picket-line” in the IRL-CART “split” and entered cars for Juan-Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Vasser. Former two-time race winner Al Unser Jr was also in the race after returning full-time to the IRL Series.
Reigning IRL series champion Greg Ray took the pole, but on race day it would be Montoya who would dominate. He led 167 laps and became the first rookie winner since Graham Hill in 1966. Montoya was just the fourth driver to win the race in under three hours at an average speed of 167.607mph (269.737kph), the fastest since 1991.
Montoya departed to F1 and then NASCAR before returning to the speedway in 2014. He would win his second 500 a year later. Buddy Lazier and Eliseo Salazar finished second and third while Vasser started and finished seventh one lap down.
This race was the first to see two female drivers on the grid, Lyn St James and Sarah Fisher who were classified in 32nd and 31st places respectively after separate crashes.
2001: (WInner: Helio Castroneves)
The return of CART teams to the Indy 500 continued in 2001, although there was no end in sight to the open-wheel “split”. Roger Penske entered two cars in the race and it was race rookie Helio Castroneves who led the final 52 laps to give Penske his 11th 500 victory.
Gil de Ferran gave the team a 1-2 result, which was some redemption for the last time the team was at the speedway in 1995 and failed to qualify. While several CART teams entered cars, it was the IRL regulars that dominated qualifying with Scott Sharp taking the pole from Greg Ray and Robby Gordon.
In the race it was a different story with six CART entries driven by Montoya, DeFerran, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Bruno Junquiera and Tony Stewart (who drove a car for Chip Ganassi), filling the first six spots.
2002: (Winner: Helio Castroneves)
The 2002 Indy 500 is regarded as one of the most controversial in the race’s history. Rookie Tomas Scheckter (son of 1979 F1 World Champion Jody) led 85 laps and looked set for victory when he crashed with 27 laps remaining. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves took the lead and then with the white flag set to be waved all hell broke loose.
On the penultimate lap second-placed Paul Tracy attempted to pass Castroneves for the lead in turn three in his Team Green entry. At the same time a crash occurred on another part of the track, triggering a caution. IRL officials ruled that the yellow came out before Tracy completed the pass and Castronveves was declared just the race’s fifth back-to-back winner.
After an official protest was filed and an appeals hearing, Castroneves’ victory was upheld on July 2, 2002. This was seen as another IRL vs CART battle because Penske had moved to the IRL full-time and Team Green had just entered cars for the Indy 500. It was Tracy’s first appearance at the speedway since 1995.
In 2002 one of the biggest track changes occurred at the Indianapolis Speedway when SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reducing) barriers were installed on all four turns.
2003: (Winner: Gil de Ferran)
In 2003 Helio Castroneves was aiming to become the Indy 500’s first three-peat winner and he started in stylish fashion by taking the pole in his Team Penske entry. With 31 laps to go, however, Castroneves was passed by his teammate Gil de Ferran, and the duo finished 1-2, with de Ferran winning his first Indy 500.
The series had adopted a new chassis package for the season and introduced Toyota and Honda engines. Due to cost concerns and a shortage of engines, is was considered that there would not be enough cars to the fill the 33 grid spots. Gaps were filled on the final day of qualifying and 33 started the race. Castroneves’ 1-1-2 result equaled Al Unser Sr’s 1970, 71 and 72 effort.
DeFerran retired at season’s end and became just the fourth driver not to defend his Indy 500 title. The race was attended by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
2004: (Winner: Buddy Rice)
In 2004 Buddy Rice got the job done and did it in style for team owners Bobby Rahal and late night television celebrity, David Letterman. He took the pole position, led the most laps and then won the race from the Andretti Green trio of Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta.
The team even won the pit stop competition. The race start was delayed by a couple of hours because of rain and then an afternoon thunderstorm, which developed into an F2 tornado and ended the race after 180 laps (450 miles). The approaching storm saw teams scrambling for strategy, but in the end it was Rahal-Letterman who got it right with Rice emerging as the leader after final round of pit stops.
In an effort to keep speeds in check, it was decided the engine-displacement limit would be 3.0 liters. Honda dominated the race filling eight of the top 10 spots, including the top seven.
2005: (Winner: Dan Wheldon)
In 2005 Danica Patrick not only made the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500. She qualified and finished fourth in her rookie event for Rahal-Letterman Racing and generated more publicIty than race winner Dan Wheldon who became the first British driver to win the race since Graham Hill in 1966.
Patrick led the race three times for a total of 19 laps. Her qualifying effort broke the record of Lyn St James who started sixth in 1994 and her finish topped the ninth place of Janet Guthrie in 1978.
Wheldon led the race with less than 1.5 laps to go when Sebastien Bourdais got loose in turn three and hit the outside wall, bringing out a caution which would hold to the checkered.
2006: (Winner: Sam Hornish)
The Andretti curse would strike again in 2006 when third generation and rookie driver Marco Andretti was passed on the front stretch on the final lap by Sam Hornish Jr for the win at the finish line.
It was the first time that a driver had made a pass on the final lap for victory ever. The margin of victory was 0.635 of a second, which was the second-closest in Indy history at the time (it went back third when Ryan Hunter-Reay beat Helio Castroneves by 0.060 of a second in 2014).
Hornish had started from the pole, but it was defending champion Dan Wheldon who dominated most of the race, leading 146 laps before a puncture forced him to pit earlier than planned and he dropped to fourth.
Wheldon had switched from Andretti Green to Ganassi Racing in the off-season. Marco’s father Michael Andretti had a great view of the finish, driving the third placed car. Marco’s grandfather, Mario, remains the only family member to have won the race after his sole victory in 1969.
2007: (Winner: Dario Franchitti)
While the weather badly hampered the race, in the end there was a popular winner in Scotsman, Dario Franchitti. Dario’s knowledge of motorsport globally is second to none and winning the Indianapolis 500 saw him follow in the footsteps of his racing hero and fellow countryman, Jim Clark. Franchitti was declared the winner when the race was halted on lap 166. Just three laps earlier, a crash between Dan Wheldon and Marco Andretti brought out a caution period.
With the track still being cleared, the rain began to fall heavily and Franchitti’s name was set to be etched on to the Borg Warner Trophy for the first time, seeing him realize a boyhood dream. Earlier on lap 113 there was also a rain delay and Tony Kanaan was tentatively sitting as the leader.
Eventually the track dried and the race restarted just before 6:15pm. 53 laps later the rain came again and did not go away. For the first time, all entries utilized a 100% percent fuel-grade Ethanol blend, after 42 years of using methanol.
The fuel was actually a denatured 98% ethanol / 2% gasoline blend (E98). The 2007 race was also the final 500 to see the Panoz chassis in the race.
2008: (Winner: Scott Dixon)
In 2008 Scott Dixon became the first New Zealander to win the Indy 500 and he did so with class from the pole position in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry. This was the first race run since a “unification” of the Champ Car and IRL Championships and it was highlighted by a full contingent of IndyCar Series regulars as well as former Champ Car teams.
The field consisted of Dallara IR3/5 chassis and all full-time series entries used paddle shift gearboxes. The timing could not have been better for Dixon with the race prize purse hitting a record $US14,406,580, of which he received approximately $2.5 million.
With 24 laps to go, Scott Dixon led the field back to green and all the way to the checkered ahead of Vitor Meira and Marco Andretti. Dixon became the 19th driver to win the race from the pole. Long-time Champ Car regular Ryan Hunter-Reay was sixth and declared rookie of the year for Rahal-Letterman Racing.
2009: (Winner: Helio Castroneves)
Roger Penske claimed his 15th race win as an owner when Helio Castroneves clinched the 2009 Indy 500. After wins in 2001 and 2002, Castroneves tied a record for winning three 500s in the same decade.
Englishman Dan Wheldon was eight car lengths back at the finish and Danica Patrick finished third, notching another “best finish” for a female driver. There were eight crashes in the race, the worst involving Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos at turn 1 on lap 173 which resulted in Meira’s car sliding along the wall on its side for hundreds of feet before falling back on its wheels.
Meira broke two vertebrae in his back and Matos suffered a badly bruised knee – highlighting the ever present dangers of racing at this magnificent place. Castroneves pocketed a record $US3,048,005 winner’s check. The race marked 100 years since the opening of the Speedway in 1909 and Firestone claimed their 60th win as tire supplier.