Maybe the NTT IndyCar Series Just Needs an Old-Fashioned Villain

·5 min read
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
  • Ever since Paul Tracy retired from IndyCar a decade ago, the American open-wheel series really hasn’t had a villain.

  • Maybe there is finally another villain in our midst, as Romain Grosjean has had a number of run-ins with several drivers, including his own Andretti Autosport teammate, Alexander Rossi.

  • Mr. Nice Guy Helio Castroneves says, “We can’t copy other series. It just needs to be natural, needs to be the personality of the person."

NASCAR has Kyle Busch. And before him, it had the late Dale Earnhardt.

In other words, villains. The kind of drivers who don't take nuthin from nobody and the kind of drivers fans either love—or love to hate.

But ever since Paul Tracy retired from IndyCar a decade ago, the American open-wheel series really hasn’t had a villain, per se. It seems like all of today’s drivers are cut from the same white bread, hum-drum cloth.

Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images

Maybe that will change. We’ve seen some action this year, particularly from Formula 1

expatriate Romain Grosjean, who has had a number of run-ins with several drivers, including his own Andretti Autosport teammate, Alexander Rossi (make that soon-to-be former teammate, as Rossi moves to Arrow McLaren SP next season. Then, it’s likely the feud with Grosjean may ramp up even more).

Grosjean has cussed out Rossi on his team radio several times, done a hard stare at him when he climbed out of his race car and even prompted team owner Michael Andretti to call an impromptu team meeting after tempers boiled over once again at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in early July to try and get his boys to behave.

And then there’s Helio Castroneves. Everybody loves the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

Who better to ask than H3lio (his Twitter handle) whether IndyCar needs a villain driver, be it Grosjean or someone else like, say, maybe a Conor Daly (it couldn’t hurt his career, that’s for sure).

Autoweek asked Castroneves about villains during a Wednesday teleconference in preparation for Saturday night’s race at WorldWide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis—a place where Castroneves has done quite well, including one win and has never finished outside the top 10 in his six career starts.

Photo credit: Robert Laberge - Getty Images
Photo credit: Robert Laberge - Getty Images


So, Helio, does IndyCar need a villain for fans to love and/or hate?

Castroneves immediately flashed his famous smile and started laughing, quickly quipping:

“Should we call Paul Tracy back? I don’t know. I mean, we talk about Grosjean has been kind of rough these days. All joking aside, Grosjean is a good guy, kind of like a teammate. I have no issues with him.

“We can’t copy other series. It just needs to be natural, needs to be the personality of the person. If (drivers) want to take that role, they not only need to embrace it, but to own it.


“Whatever you do, there’s going to be consequences. At this point, I think the series is competitive enough to show how challenging it is. The whole entire group of teams and drivers are extremely tight and that’s why it’s hard to pick one guy all the time to be a good guy or a bad guy.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough year for Castroneves, who is 18th in the standings, 226 points behind series leader and former Penske teammate Will Power. Sure, Castroneves won his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 last year, but this is his first full-time season in IndyCar racing since 2017.

Castroneves Hopes to Return in '23

Castroneves has struggled, particularly getting used to the aeroscreen, which has caused him to adjust his driving and the use of his steering wheel.

But the 47-year-old Castroneves, who is in the final stages of negotiating a new multi-year contract extension with Meyer Shank Racing, has no intention of hanging up that steering wheel or his firesuit any time soon.

“This is something that comes natural, you can’t put a number on it,” he said. “I feel obviously I wouldn’t believe myself if I don’t feel I have the potential, dedication and I know I can do the results, and the team and people behind.


“So the reason I’m still going for it is I because I believe in all the aspects and I’m going to keep moving forward until I get the results. Honestly, if you get to a point where you’ve got to realize (about retirement), but as of right now, I don’t feel like I have that in my guts. I feel like I have a lot left in the tank. The number is just an age.

“I didn’t expect how difficult it was. We did make some changes internally so that these last three races, we continue to improve. This aeroscreen literally threw a curve ball to find a sweet spot and has taken longer than I expected for myself to adapt and to understand what the car needs. It’s either one side or another and never able to find it. We could be better, but remember that it’s the first full-time season that I’m in and certainly we’re preparing for bigger things in the future.

“We feel St. Louis is a place that can work. We keep pushing. That’s one thing I’ll never stop, it’s to keep pushing. Whether it’s on the race track, qualifying or during pit stops, I’ll never stop.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski