Gil de Ferran, who was rumoured to be considering retirement after injuring his back for the second time in less than a year earlier this season at Phoenix, made a triumphant return to the cockpit on Sunday as he justified his decision to swap from Dallara to G Force and drove to the biggest win of his career in the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500.

There was to be no historic three-peat for Helio Castroneves at Indianapolis, the grand old lady isn't that kind after all, but the smiling Brazilian driver came closer than just about anybody else to achieving a record triple triumph as he chased his Marlboro Team Penske teammate to the finishing line as the 200-lap race came down to a five lap sprint.

The double CART Champion, who started from the inside of the fourth row in tenth position, took the lead for the first time on lap 170 and was never headed in a classic Indianapolis display of self controlled pace followed by out and out speed when needed.

MBNA Polesitter Castroneves, who elected to stay with the Dallara-Toyota package that Roger Penske's team began the year with, remained glued to his teammates rear wing throughout a caution filled final 30 laps but was never given the opportunity to make a move.

When the final restart of the day on lap 195 occurred de Ferran managed to gain a slight advantage over his teammate over the first green flag lap and despite Castroneves' best efforts, which included a storming white flag lap to bring the margin of victory down to a scant 0.2990secs, the Indianapolis fans were denied the treat of seeing both Marlboro liveried cars run side by side in anger.

There was no hint of team orders however and the 350,000 plus fans on hand rose in unison as the leading five cars began the final two and a half mile tour less than two seconds apart in one of the most closely contested '500's in recent years as eight drivers traded the lead a total of fourteen times.

Despite the levels of anticipation there was to be no last lap drama this year as de Ferran and Castroneves crossed the line in the third closest finish in Indianapolis history and scored Roger Penske's second 1-2 result in the last three years.

Behind the front two, second place qualifier Tony Kanaan shook out in third position for Andretti Green Racing to make it a Brazilian 1-2-3 and, along with de Ferran and Castroneves, dominated the final 65 laps of the day after previous leader Tomas Scheckter dropped from second to fourth on the lap 135 restart.

Kanaan, who led two laps, shadowed Castroneves, who led from laps 129-165 before pitting under green flag conditions, lost valuable seconds during his green flag stop on lap 167 and was unable to stop the quick-pitting de Ferran from swooping under Castroneves on the back straight whilst the two battled behind the lapped car of AJ Foyt IV.

Although three caution periods in the final 30 laps kept the driver of the #11 7-Eleven Dallara-Honda in touch with his countrymen, he like Castroneves, was never able to make a move on the car in front and eventually crossed the line 1.2475secs behind de Ferran.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scheckter made some amends for his late race lapse of concentration last year as he finished fourth in the #10 G Force-Toyota, leading a race high 63 laps for the second year running. The South African sophomore took command of the race with a no-quarter-given pass on Michael Andretti 51 laps in, but might look to a rather tardy lap 135 re-start, where Kanaan and de Ferran got him within the space of half a lap, as the difference between winning the Indy 500 and losing it.

Rounding out the top five and the top rookie of the event was Mo Nunn Racing's Tora Takagi, who led two laps in an almost error-free day in the #12 G Force-Toyota. Almost, as in if it wasn't for a green fag pitstop mistake where he overshot his marks and had to be pushed backwards, Japan could be celebrating its first Indy 500 winner tonight such was the level of speed and consistency shown by the former Arrows F1 driver on his Indianapolis debut.

Never once awed by its magnitude Takagi proved to be no pushover in race trim and was right in the thick of a nine-car train for the lead that was only broken up on lap 182 when the eighth car in said train, Scott Sharp, made hard contact with the outside wall in turn one after brushing the turn four wall with his right rear just seconds before. Sharp, like everybody bar Shinji Nakano's unfortunate fuel carrier who was struck in the leg with an errant tyre on pit road, was able to walk away from his wrecked car with nothing bruised but his pride.

Sharp's crash brought about the eighth caution period of the day, which was soon followed by the ninth when Dan Wheldon got involved in the scariest crash seen at Indy for some time, thankfully without injury.

Wheldon, who was trailing Takagi in sixth position in the #26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools AGR Dallara-Honda, allowed Sam Hornish Jr to gain a run on him as the field took the restart on lap 186 but fiercely defended his position as they headed down the back straight. Slightly lower in the track than he would have liked as the two entered turn three, Wheldon's car suddenly snapped sideways and made hard contact with the SAFER barrier with the right rear before jack-knifing around and literally taking off.

The 24 year-old Englishman's car landed upside down half way between turns three and four, sliding to a halt high in turn four on its roll hoop with Wheldon well and truly strapped inside. IMS safety crews were on the scene within seconds and Wheldon out of the car and on his feet less than a minute later but before the race had even finished people were already comparing Wheldon's lucky escape to those who have gone down in 'And they walked away' Indianapolis legend.

Wheldon's demise should have paved the way for Hornish Jr to take an unlikely sixth in the underpowered Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet but heartbreakingly, Hornish's Chevrolet engine cried enough on lap 196 and ended what had been a truly heroic drive by the double defending IRL Champ.

Sixth place finally fell to another unsung hero, Alex Barron in the #20 Meijer Mo Nunn Racing G Force with rookie Tony Renna a sterling seventh for Kelley Racing and Greg Ray an equally praiseworthy eighth in just the second race ever for Access Motorsports.

Al Unser Jr was the final car to go the full 500-miles and finished ninth but wasn't a factor for the win following a costly extra fuel stop.

Rookie Roger Yasukawa finished tenth in a race with surprisingly high attrition while Buddy Rice's eleventh place effort for Eddie Cheever's team was the best a Chevrolet powered car could do on a day where only the almost genial skills of Hornish Jr kept the Bowtie brigade in touch.

Just 16 cars made it to the finish with rookie Vitor Meira a solid twelfth, Jimmy Kite an excellent 13th for PDM Racing, Shinji Nakano 14th and the delayed duo of Kenny Brack (gearbox) and AJ Foyt IV (radio) completing the finishers.

There was to be no fairytale ending for Michael Andretti who, despite leading a glorious 28 laps in his final race, suffered an engine failure while in contention for the lead on lap 95 while blown engines also put paid to the hopes of Felipe Giaffone (after just 6 laps), Billy Boat (after 7), Jimmy Vasser, Robbie Buhl, Buddy Lazier and Sarah Fisher, whose lap 14 exit resulted in a trip to the outside wall.

The concrete walls also claimed their share of victims on their own, for apart from Sharp and Wheldon, Airton Dare, Richie Hearn, Jaques Lazier and, most embarrassingly on the front straight under caution, Scott Dixon, all leaving the Speedway with bent carbon fibre.

Marathon man Robby Gordon saw his bid for Indy 500 glory come up short when his gearbox packed up with 30 laps to go after running solidly on the lead lap all day. Knowing that the Indy 500/Coca Cola 600 double win will have to wait for at least one more year, Gordon was at least afforded the luxury of a relatively stress-free flight to Charlotte where he will be hoping for better luck with a roof and some fenders to bend.