These Drivers Got the First Indy 500 Win For Their Country

·5 min read
Japanese driver Takuma Sato celebrates his second victory at the 2020 Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is pouring milk over his head while wearing the traditional winner's wreath.
Japanese driver Takuma Sato celebrates his second victory at the 2020 Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is pouring milk over his head while wearing the traditional winner's wreath.

Takuma Sato celebrates his second Indy 500 victory in 2020.

Spanning a 107-year history — the coveted status as one of the greatest races in the world, the Indianapolis 500 has seen entries — and winners — from all across the globe. Today, we’re taking a walk through history to recall the winners who took their first 500 win for their country.

America: Ray Harroun (1911)

1911 Historic Indy 500 Newsreel

Of the 40 entrants that took part in the 1911 Indy 500, only four hailed from a non-American country — so the odds were in the U.S. nabbing a win. It did in the form of Ray Harroun (even if the results are still contested).

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France: Jules Goux (1913)

Road to 100: 1913

Jules Goux, the first French racer to win the Indy 500, comes with plenty of legend: He allegedly drank six bottles of champagne on his way to the win. As with most things from that era, record keeping wasn’t ideal, so it’s not clear if he actually did drink six full bottles during his pit stops, or if he only had a few, or if the bottles were smaller than normal, or if he shared them with his riding mechanic Emil Begin, or if he just took a few refreshing swigs. Whatever really happened, Goux definitely did slug back a bit of chilled champagne on his way to the most French Indy 500 victory of all time.

Italy: Ralph DePalma (1915)

Road to 100: 1915

While Ralph DePalma entered races under the American flag, he actually didn’t officially become an American citizen until 1920. As a result, his 1915 Indy 500 win technically counts as the first for Italy.

England: Dario Resta (1916)

Road to 100: 1916

Dario Resta is one of those drivers who hails from just about everywhere: England, Italy, and the United States. Because he raced under the British flag, we’re counting him as our first winner from England. He arrived in America in 1915, and by the end of 1916, he’d won the United States Grand Prix, the Vanderbilt Cup (twice), the Indy 500, and the AAA National Championship.

Scotland: Jim Clark (1965)

1965 Indianapolis 500 Film

Yes, I am counting Scotland as a distinct entity from England, if only so I can include the iconic Jim Clark on this list. Clark and Lotus had been trying their hand at Indianapolis for a few years by the time the Scottish driver finally took victory in 1965 — making Clark the only driver to win both the Indy 500 and the Formula 1 World Championship in the same year. Lotus’ F1-inspired rear-engined racer also changed the name of the game at Indy, which had previously been dominated by front-engined “roadsters.” By the end of the 1960s, rear-engined cars were the name of the game in Indy.

Brazil: Emerson Fittipaldi (1989)

The finish of the 1989 Indy 500

Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi wasn’t quite done with open-wheel racing when he left F1 in 1980. Instead, he hopped over to America, winning the 500 in 1989 and 1993. That latter race win ended up shrouded in controversy: traditionally, Indy 500 winners sip a bottle of milk to celebrate their victory. Fittipaldi thought he’d change things up; he owned some orange groves, so why not drink orange juice first, then the milk after? It was a bad call. Fans still hold a grudge.

Netherlands: Arie Luyendyk (1990)


The following Indy 500 saw another first, this time in the form of the race’s first Dutch winner. Arie Luyendyk held the record for fastest average race speed until 2013. (I also just learned he changed his race number to No. 30 after gaining a sponsorship from Domino’s pizza, since Domino’s promised your delivery in 30 minutes or less. That’s commitment!)

Canada: Jacques Villeneuve (1995)

1995 Indianapolis 500 Finish

Love him or hate him, Jacques Villeneuve remains one of Canada’s most successful racers, and his win at the 1995 Indy 500 cemented him in motorsport history. After sweeping up both the 500 and the championship, Villeneuve headed over to Formula 1 the following year. It took a year to get his bearings. Then he won the 1997 F1 World Championship.

Sweden: Kenny Brack (1999)

1999 Indianapolis 500 - Part 16 of 17 (THE FINISH)

Sweden’s Kenny Brack took his first Indy 500 win the year after he secured the IRL Championship. Coming to the white flag, Brack took the lead when leader Robby Gordon ran out of fuel.

Colombia: Juan Pablo Montoya (2000)

The Race That Changed INDYCAR Forever

Juan Pablo Montoya doesn’t get enough credit. The man became the first Colombian to win the 500 in 2000, but his list of accolades reads like an ambitious child deciding he wants to become both a doctor and an astronaut when he grows up. He was the first rookie to win the race since Graham Hill in 1966.

New Zealand: Scott Dixon (2009)

Helio Wins the 2009 Indy 500

For all of Scott Dixon’s successes, it’s hard to believe he’s only won a single Indy 500. His 2009 victory at the iconic race made him the first-ever New Zealander to win, guaranteeing him a place in the history books.

Japan: Takuma Sato (2017)

2017 Indianapolis 500 - Last 5 laps + Interviews

It’s hard to imagine a better story than Takuma Sato’s 2017 Indy 500 win. By taking the checkered flag, the driver became the first Japanese driver to win the race — and the first driver from the entire continent of Asia. That’s an incredibly impressive feat for the world’s largest continent.

Australia: Will Power (2018)

2018 Indianapolis 500 - Last Laps + Interviews

The last winner on our list today is Will Power, whose 2018 Indy 500 victory meant he became the first winner from Australia. Only two Chevy-powered cars finished in the top 10, but the bulk of the race was led by two Chevy-engined drivers: Power and Ed Carpenter. Though Indiana native Carpenter would have loved a win, Power’s victory ticked another box off the 500 first time winner list.

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