These Are the Fastest Indy 500s of All Time (So Far)
Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Herta Autosport Honda celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Drivers at the Indianapolis 500 regularly hit mind-blowing speeds that we mere mortals of the highway can’t even comprehend — but that doesn’t mean that every race has been a particularly fast one. Back in 1911, the average speed of the race was just under 75 mph, and we’ve only recently started regularly hitting 170 mph or higher.
There are two main things that determine the average speed of an Indy 500: technology and a lack of yellow flags. You’ll likely notice that just about every race on this list has taken place in the past 30 years, and that’s because technology has enabled the rapid progress of these open-wheel machines around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But engineering prowess will only get you so far; the rest is up to the number and length of yellow flags. See, average speed is calculated based on the speeds of every lap, so if there’s a long caution, speeds obviously drop. As you’ll see, the fastest race on this list also included the most cars running at the end — which means there were inevitably fewer yellow flags than normal.
2002 Indy 500: 166.499 MPH
Indianapolis 500 Memories: 2002 Finish
Winner: Helio Castroneves
Time Elapsed: 3:00:10.8714
Helio Castroneves is the only driver to appear twice on this list, meaning he’s won two of the fastest Indy 500s. The 2002 edition marked his second win in a month plagued by rain.
2016 Indy 500: 166.634 MPH
2016 Indy 500 Finish | Rossi wins
Winner: Alexander Rossi
Time Elapsed: 3:00:02.0872
The 2016 Indy 500 was the first 500 I attended in person, and I still get chills thinking about this finish. It was also one of the fastest on record, clocking in at just over three hours in duration with speeds at 166 mph.
2018 Indy 500: 166.935
2018 Indianapolis 500 - Last Laps + Interviews
Winner: Will Power
Time Elapsed: 2:59:42.6365
Will Power is the only Australian to win an Indy 500, but he can also boast about winning one of the fastest 500s in recent memory. The newly introduced aero kit package raised a lot of criticisms in this race, which was primarily led by Power and Ed Carpenter.
1989 Indy 500: 167.581 MPH
The finish of the 1989 Indy 500
Winner: Emerson Fittipaldi
Time Elapsed: 2:59:o1.040
Emerson Fittipaldi will be remembered as one of the enemies of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway thanks to his decision to sip some post-win orange juice instead of milk. That fateful day was still to come; in 1989, the former F1 Champion remained a darling of the track.
2000 Indy 500: 167.581 MPH
The Race That Changed INDYCAR Forever
Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya
Time Elapsed: 2:58:59.431
The 2000 Indy 500 marked one of those weird years. After years of refusing to take part in an IRL race, CART team Chip Ganassi Racing decided to contest the event as a one-off with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Vasser. Montoya reigned supreme that day, leading 167 of 200 laps and coming home with his first 500 win.
2012 Indy 500: 167.734 MPH
CLASSIC REWIND // 2012 INDIANAPOLIS 500
Winner: Dario Franchitti
Time Elapsed: 2:58:51.2532
Dario Franchitti’s win in this race made him a three-time champion, and this would also be his final win in IndyCar overall. Franchitti had a tough battle with Takuma Sato in the closing laps, which resulted in a crash for Sato and a win for the Scotsman.
2011 Indy 500: 170.265 MPH
2011 Indy 500 Highlights
Winner: Dan Wheldon
Time Elapsed: 2:56:11.7267
The 2011 Indy 500 is one that will live on in racing fans’ memory as one of wild emotions. Rookie J. R. Hildebrand took the lead with two laps to go, but as he tried to pass Charlie Kimball on the final turn of the final lap, Hildebrand drifted wide and slammed into the wall. His car coasted to the line, where he was pipped by Dan Wheldon just 1,000 feet from the finish line. While it was heartbreak for Hildebrand, it would also be Wheldon’s final race win before he was killed in an accident just four months later.
1986 Indy 500: 170.722 MPH
Centennial Moment - 1986 Bobby Rahal
Winner: Bobby Rahal
Time Elapsed: 2:55:43.480
The 1986 Indy 500 is the oldest race of our list, with the race running primarily as a threefold battle between winner Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears, and Kevin Cogan. A late-race caution saw Rahal take the lead on the restart. Rahal’s car owner, Jim Trueman, was able to watch the victory from pit lane before he succumbed to his battle with cancer just 11 days later.
2022 Indy 500: 175.428 MPH
IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500 | EXTENDED HIGHLIGHTS | 5/29/22 | Motorsports on NBC
Winner: Marcus Ericsson
Time Elapsed: 2:51:00.6432
Last year’s Indy 500 was also one of the quickest! After a battle with Pato O’Ward, Chip Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson came out on top to become the second Swedish racer to win the event.
2019 Indy 500: 175.794 MPH
2019 NTT IndyCar Series: Indy 500 Race Highlights
Winner: Simon Pagenaud
Time Elapsed: 2:50:39.2797
Simon Pagenaud won the 2019 Indy 500 from pole position after having led 116 laps, which makes it sound like a boring race — but it definitely wasn’t. Pagenaud re-secured the lead with just over one lap to go, snatching it from Rossi, before going on to win the race. He became the first French-born driver to win since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.
1991 Indy 500: 176.457 MPH
1991 Indy 500 Finish
Winner: Rick Mears
Time Elapsed: 2:50:00.791
Rick Mears won the 1991 Indy 500 in a backup car and with a broken right foot after a nasty wreck in practice destroyed his primary machine. He later admitted to crossing his legs in the car to push the accelerator due to the pain —and he didn’t get a break, either, because this race was one of the quickest in 500 history.
1990 Indy 500: 185.981 MPH
1990 Indianapolis 500 Finish
Winner: Arie Luyendyk
Time Elapsed: 2:41:18.404
If you haven’t counted, the 1990 Indy 500 is faster than the next-fastest race by almost 10 miles per hour. The race stood as the fastest 500 for 23 years, with Emerson Fittipaldi setting a new track record in qualifying by becoming the first driver to break the 225 mph barrier.
2014 Indy 500: 186.563 MPH
2014 Indy 500 Finish
Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Time Elapsed: 2:40:48.2305
The 2014 Indy 500 was the third-fastest in the race’s history, and it also saw the second-closest finish. Winner Ryan Hunter-Reay held off second-place Helio Castroneves by the slimmest of margins — we’re talking 0.0600 seconds, “blink and you’ll miss it” territory.
2013 Indy 500: 187.433 MPH
2013 Indy 500 Race Highlights
Winner: Tony Kanaan
Time Elapsed: 2:40:03.4181
The 2013 Indy 500 was the race that broke 1990's speed record, and it was also one of them most competitive, breaking records for the most lead changes (68), the most leaders (14), the most cars running at the end of the race (26), the fewest caution laps (21), the most laps completed by the entire field (5,863), and the largest caution-free segment in a 500 (133 laps, from lap 61 through 193). All but the first two of those records — the most leaders and most lead changes — have since been broken.
2021 Indy 500: 190.690 MPH
IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500 | EXTENDED HIGHLIGHTS | 5/30/21 | Motorsports on NBC
Winner: Helio Castroneves
Time Elapsed: 2:37:19.3896
The 2021 Indy 500 was a record breaker in countless respects. First and foremost, Helio Castroneves joined the four-time Indy 500 winner club alongside greats like A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser, Sr. — but he did it in a record-setting year that saw more cars finish the race than ever before. That’s right, 30 cars took the checkered flag (not all of them anywhere near the lead lap), meaning that only three cars retired from the race. As a result, there were few yellow flags, which made this the fastest-ever race by over three miles per hour.
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