Castroneves, Indy 500 Get Boffo TV Ratings

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2021

Helio Castroneves and his Meyer Shank Racing team powered TV ratings upward. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Helio Castroneves’ record-tying fourth victory in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday not only raised the profile of Meyer Shank Racing, it also garnered boffo ratings for NBC.

The network reported Thursday the 200-lapper around the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway ranked as the most-watched Indy 500 in five years, averaging a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 5.581-million viewers. That figure represents a 51 percent increase from last year’s race (3.692-million), which was rescheduled from its traditional Memorial Day Weekend slot to Aug. 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japanese star Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing became a two-time Indy 500 champion in 2020 in a race that ended under caution.

Sunday’s viewership also represented a 2 percent increase from NBC’s inaugural broadcast of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2019 of 5.489-million. That race was won by Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who delivered Team Penske’s record 18th Indy 500 victory.

Viewership that began with the drop of the green flag at 12:48 p.m. (EDT) and ended at 3:57 p.m. peaked at 7.129-million TV-only viewers from 3:15-3:30 p.m. as Castroneves outdueled Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing. The race finished with a 3.15 household rating.

Castroneves sized-up Palou over the final 19 laps before completing a daring, winning pass on the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 199 of the scheduled 200. That move allowed Castroneves to join A.J. Foyt Jr. (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991) as the event’s only four-time champions.

Castroneves _ who previously won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009 with Team Penske _ gave MSR its first series victory in his first start. At 46 years, 20 days old, the popular Brazilian is the fourth-oldest winner in Indy 500 history behind Big Al (47, 1987), the late Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).

Additionally, this was the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history with an average speed of 190.690 mph. The previous record of 187.433 mph was set in 2013 by Tony Kanaan, also of Brazil.

Sunday’s start was the first of Helio’s six-race deal with MSR to wheel the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for the 2021 season.

“Helio winning is just great for our sport. It really is,” said Indianapolis resident Jim Meyer, co-owner of the team with Ohioan Mike Shank. “It will be a great story, bring a lot of publicity to INDYCAR racing.

As a certified Indy 500 immortal, Castroneves now has the collateral to make his case for a fulltime return to the series in 2022, and perhaps beyond.

“I dream big. I dream big,” said Castroneves, who spent the Month of May working with MSR fulltime driver Jack Harvey of Great Britain. “This is a dedication of hard work, getting the right people. But I can’t do it on my own. I have to give credit to Mike and Jim. Mike especially to putting the people together.” 

Shank immediately took care of one issue pertaining to the Month of May in 2022. “I believe Helio deserves to go for a fifth Indianapolis win,” Shank said Sunday. “We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen for him.”

Sunday’s race drew an announced “sellout” crowd of 135,000, making it the biggest sporting event since the onset of the pandemic in the USA in March 2020. That crowd count represented 40 percent of seating capacity at IMS.

“I’m just so happy to be a part of history,” said Shank, who signed Castroneves as a free-agent in November. “What my opinion is with Helio and the four wins, that’s one little nugget that I said, ‘Can you imagine if he could win No. 4 with us? What would that mean to us? Commercially, just respect?’ Jim agreed, ‘Let’s get Helio.’ That’s what he did. It just was perfect. I’m hoping, listen, that this is the start of just a continued solid program.”

Castroneves earned $1,828,305 _ up 33 percent over last year’s payout, according to figures released Monday night. The 105th Indy 500 had a total purse of $8,854,565 divided among the 33-car field, up 18 percent from last year’s $7,502,500.

Castroneves’ margin of victory over Spaniard Palou, driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, was 0.4928-seconds. Palou’s payout was $649,305. Frenchman Pagenaud completed the podium in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet and earned $403,305.

Sunday’s race now ranks as NBC Sports’ most-watched NTT IndyCar Series event to-date. Other highlights of the 105th Indy 500:

_ Ranks as the most-watched sports event of the weekend across all networks.

_ Stands as NBC’s most-watched Sunday afternoon sports event in 16 months, since a Seattle-Philadelphia NFL Wild Card matchup on Jan. 5, 2020 (36.0-million TAD).

_ Across NBC Sports streaming platforms, the race ranks as the second most-streamed INDYCAR event ever with an Average Minute Audience (AMA) of 34,500 viewers, behind only the 2019 Indy 500 (45,600).

Through the first six races of the 2021 INDYCAR schedule on NBC, NBC Sports Network, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are averaging a TAD of 1.926-million viewers _ the best six-race start to a season in four years (2.046-million; four ABC, two NBCSN) and up 28 percent vs. last season’s comparable races (1.504-million viewers).

Following are the Top 10 local viewership markets for the 105th Indianapolis 500:

1, Indianapolis, 21.3 household rating; 2, (tie) Dayton and Cincinnati, 8.1; 4, (tie) Fort Myers, Fla., and Louisville, 6.3; 6, Knoxville, 6.0; 7, (tie) Nashville and Columbus, 5.4; 9, Hartford, 5.1; 10, Greenville, S.C., 5.0. 

Next up on the schedule is the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader, headline events of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 12-13 on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

NTT IndyCar Series point standings: 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 248; 2, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 212; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 211; 4, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 201; 5, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 191; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 184; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 154; 8, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 148; 9, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 143; 10, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 138.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2021
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