Why Helio Castroneves Refuses to Give Up Chase for a Record Fifth Indy 500 Win
For a guy who turns 48 today (May 10), Helio Castroneves shows few signs of slowing down.
The Brazilian driver remains motivated by two primary goals: winning his first-ever IndyCar championship, but even more timely and more importantly, to earn a record-breaking fifth Indianapolis 500 win in the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 28.
“(As far as) expectations for me, it's obviously the big one, it's the Indianapolis 500,” Castroneves said. “That's the one that we feel that we have the same car, we have all our bets on to that. However, I'm not going to give up on the other ones (the season’s other 16 races), either. I feel that we have as much of a chance as anybody in some of the places that I feel comfortable.
“We want to be able to have a podium (other than his 2021 Indy 500 win, his last previous podium was in 2017, before he shifted to IMSA racing the following three seasons). We want to be able to show what we can get, and we can. IndyCar is so competitive. There's so many scenarios that you're like, ‘I will never see that.’ That's why we're going out there thinking that we do have a chance to repeat what we did in 2021 (winning the 500), and obviously have a better result in the road courses and street courses, as well.”
Castroneves is in his second full season with Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) and always gets excited about the month of May, especially since he joined the exclusive four-winners club of Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and the late Al Unser with his win in the 2021 classic.
That win was almost in storybook fashion, as it came in his first race with MSR, a triumph that would lead to Castroneves and former Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud joining forces for full-time rides with MSR in 2022.
Admittedly since his fourth win in the 2021 500, Castroneves has struggled, with his best showing in any IndyCar race since then being seventh in last year’s 500. This season, his best showing has been 10th at Texas. In the other three races thus far, he’s finished between 21st and 23rd.
But arguably the most popular driver in IndyCar isn’t giving up on his dream of becoming the winningest driver in Indy 500 history (his previous wins were 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2021). Nor, after four seasons of finishing second in the final standings (2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014), he still hopes to finally earn that elusive first-ever IndyCar championship.
Castroneves, who has 31 IndyCar wins in 25 years of competition (in CART/Champ Car and IndyCar), has said several times that he could see himself racing for at least a few more years, which would put him into his 50s. Legendary drivers like Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt both raced into their 50s – Foyt was 57 when he competed in his last Indy 500 in 1992, while Andretti was 54 in his last Indy 500 in 1994 – so Castroneves would not be an anomaly.
While Castroneves believes he still has several more Indy 500 starts in him, such is not necessarily the case with two of his 40-something peers.
2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan is making his IndyCar swan song in this year’s 500, his 22nd start in the world’s biggest auto race, driving a fourth car for Arrow McLaren Racing.
Also from Brazil, Kanaan has four other podium finishes in the 500 in his career, including a runner-up showing in 2004 and an inspiring third-place showing in last year’s race while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.
He said he anticipates to be “crying like a baby” during prerace ceremonies before this year’s race. And even though Kanaan, also 48, says there are no ifs, ands or buts about it, that this year’s 500 will be his last 500 and 399th career start in an IndyCar race, he has joked on occasion that if he were to win the 500 again, he may have to reconsider his retirement plans or never racing again in an IndyCar again.
And then there’s two-time (2017 and 2020) Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato, another driver who is 48. Sato is racing only on ovals this season for Chip Ganassi Racing, with the Indy 500 being one of five ovals on his schedule.
Sato has not said anything about retiring or whether this could be his last Indy 500. But if he were to win the late May race for a third time, it would be hard to envision him not continuing on for yet another 500 attempt and potential win in the next few years, even if they’re strictly one-off starts like Kanaan is doing this year.
The only other driver who might consider another Indy 500 one-off (or two) is two-time winner (2000 and 2015) Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya, who turns 48 in September, finished 9th and 11th respectively in the last two editions of the 500, but is not in the field for this year’s race.
Montoya is very active in the developing career of his 18-year-old son, Sebastian, which potentially means Juan’s Indy 500 ship has already sailed for the last time.
There are no other active two-time winners remaining, which means Castroneves may be the last member of the Four-Win Club—and potentially five—for quite some time. But right now, even though his current contract with MSR ends after this season, don’t place any bets on this being Castroneves’ final 500.
“Look, I just won the Daytona 24 Hour,” he said of this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. “Do you think I'm thinking of retiring right now? There isn't a thought of that.”
If and when the time comes for Castroneves to retire, he says he’ll know it.
“It has to feel natural, I can't force myself,” he said. “I can't put a number or date that I can say this is it. As of right now, I am enjoying very much what I'm doing with IndyCar … and my mind is only thinking about that.
“I'm just going to continue working and get that result that I really want, that I know I'm capable and I know what the team is capable. Whatever happens in the future remains to be seen.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski