Indy 500: How many cars race, how long is it, where is it & more

The Indy 500 is known as the “greatest spectacle in racing” and sees drivers race at speeds well in excess of 220mph just inches apart for 500 miles, but how many cars race, how long does it last and has there ever been a race without a caution? Find out below.

When is the Indy 500?

The 2021 Indy 500 will take place on Sunday 30th May, 2021. This marks a return to the traditional Memorial Day Weekend running, following the postponement of last year’s race to August. 

How many laps and miles is the Indy 500?

The Indy 500 covers a total of 500 miles – hence the “500” part of the name. The drivers cover that distance by doing 200 laps of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval circuit layout.

Why is Indianapolis Motor Speedway called “The Brickyard”?

The IMS circuit has a long history, having first opened its gates on 12th August, 1909. The circuit was a mix of gravel, limestone, tar and oil when it first opened, which proved to be a tremendously dangerous mix for a race track; five people – one driver, two mechanics and two spectators – were killed in the first week of its opening. 

Checkered flag for Ray Harroun in 1911

Checkered flag for Ray Harroun in 1911

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Following the fatalities, track owner Carl Fisher completely resurfaced the track with bricks.

Over the years the bricks gave way to asphalt and in 1961 the track was completely sealed-surface, save for 36” of bricks which remain on the start/finish line to this day. 

How long does the Indy 500 last?

The Indy 500 usually lasts around three hours, though this can vary depending on how many cautions are needed. The quickest Indy 500 was in 2014, when Tony Kanaan took victory in just 2hrs40min03sec, while the longest race of the last ten years was in 2017, when Takuma Sato won in 3:13:03.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda, James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Honda

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda, James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Honda

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

Where is the Indy 500?

The Indy 500 takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is in Indianapolis, IN. While it’s most famous for the racing circuit, the track also has an 18-hole golf course, with four of those holes sitting in the infield of the circuit. Indy's first competitive event, however, was a gas-powered balloon race in 1909!

Did Danica Patrick win the Indy 500?

While Danica Patrick has taken part in eight runnings of the Indy 500, she’s never won – her highest finish was third place in the 2009 race. She did win an IndyCar race, at the Motegi oval in 2008, and took pole for NASCAR's Daytona 500 in 2013.

Danica Patrick, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

Danica Patrick, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

How many cars race in the Indy 500?

The entry list is capped at 33 cars for the Indy 500. The 33-car limit was originally devised in 1911, and was calculated by determining that a safe distance between equally-spread cars would be 400 feet – thereby allowing 33 cars on the 2.5-mile track. 33 cars started the Indy 500 in all but two of the races since 1934 – both the 1979 and 1997 editions saw 35 competitors.

Has there ever been a caution-free Indy 500?

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Jay Alley

No – there has always been a caution during the Indy 500. The 2014 running of the race did see the longest caution-free period though, with the field completing 149 consecutive laps of the 200 lap race before the caution flag flew (which was prompted by Charlie Kimball crashing in turn 2).

How many Indy 500s have there been?

2021 will be the 105th Indy 500, with the first one having occurred in 1911. Since then there have only been six years without an Indy 500 – 1917-18 (missed due to World War 1), 1942-45 (missed due to World War 2).

Why can’t people in Indianapolis watch the Indy 500 on TV?

Something that people outside of Indiana might not be aware of is the blackout of the Indy 500 in its hometown. This is done to try and get people to go to buy one of the estimated 300,000-plus tickets and watch it live, rather than at home. Only four times in the race’s 104 year history have people in Indianapolis been able to watch the race from home – 1949, 1950, 2016, and in 2020 when tickets weren’t on sale. With the 2021 edition only hosting 135,000 fans (about 40% capacity) the blackout will be lifted again. 

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