Helio Castroneves is a four-time winner of the Indy 500. (IndyCar photo)

Castroneves: Drive For Five

Helio Castroneves appears to be the “Ageless Wonder” of the Indianapolis 500.

Except for a few lines and very small wrinkles on his face, he doesn’t look much different than the boyish Brazilian who in 2001 and ’02 became the only driver in Indianapolis 500 history to win the big race in each of his first two attempts.

William Behrends is a man who should know. As the sculptor responsible for the images on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990, he has created all four of Castroneves’ faces on the permanent Indianapolis 500 trophy.

“His face has changed surprisingly little for 20 years,” Behrends told SPEED SPORT. “His face has changed a lot less than mine has over those 20 years. He looks good. He is clearly in shape. He has aged well, but I like to see the way age matures a face and makes it more distinctive.”

At 46, the driver still has the same jet-black hair of a man in his 20s.

Castroneves sees that face gazing at him every day when he looks in the mirror. He is intimately familiar with that face and the subtle changes that have taken place over the past 21 years.

“The hairline is a bit different with some wrinkles and experience that you have over the years, but it’s hard to capture all of that,” Castroneves told SPEED SPORT. “But Will Behrends did an amazing job on the final details. Even the nose has changed a little bit over the years.”

One thing is undeniable, however. Castroneves has experienced a rejuvenation in his racing career and that was on full display last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the 105th Indianapolis 500, Castroneves proved he remains just as fast, just as highly competitive as ever, especially at the biggest race on the planet.

Castroneves drove into history in that race, becoming just the fourth driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times in their career. The three previous four-time winners — A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77), Al Unser (1970, ’71, ’78 and ’87) and Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88 and ’91) — were there to witness it.

Unser died on Dec. 9, 2021.

This year, Castroneves is hoping to accomplish something the other three four-time winners were unable to do — win five Indianapolis 500s.

Helio Castroneves most recent Indy 500 win came in 2021. (Bruce Martin photo)

The Drive for Five would place him on a pedestal higher than any other Indy 500 winner in history.

Foyt’s quest of a fifth Indianapolis 500 win began in 1978 and concluded with his retirement on Pole Day in 1993. The closest Foyt came to winning a fifth Indy 500 was a second-place finish to Mears in 1979.

Unser became a four-time winner in 1987 and had a pair of third-place finishes in 1988 and ’92. His final Indy 500 was in 1993.

Mears scored his fourth Indy 500 win in 1991. He retired at the end of the 1992 season so his only attempt at a fifth Indy 500 win was a 26th-place effort in 1992.

A rejuvenated Castroneves is very capable of becoming the first five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

Just ask Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb.

Governor Holcomb grew up with Team Penske President Tim Cindric on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Both attended Pike High School.

“For Helio, it’s a Drive for Five, but I’m going to call it the High Five because there will be a lot of high fives occurring,” Holcomb said. “Helio is not done kissing bricks; he is not done climbing fences or leading laps. I can’t think of anyone in all of sports that brings so much electricity in his personality, smile and the person that he is than Helio. He is not an honorary Hoosier, he is a distinguished Hoosier who is a global ambassador for this sport that is part of our DNA, part of Hoosier heritage. His records are etched in the hallowed halls of Hoosier history.

“On a personal level, I’m just glad that decades ago Helio and Roger Penske and our mutual friend, Tim Cindric, got together and created memories that we will cherish forever.”

Those memories include Castroneves winning the first two Indianapolis 500s in which he ever competed in and adding a third Indy victory in 2009.

In the intervening years, Castroneves came close to winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2014 and ’17.

Back in 2014, it was a dramatic duel between Castroneves’ Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda in the closing laps with each driver making daring moves.

Hunter-Reay defeated Castroneves by .060 seconds in what remains the second-closest margin of victory in Indianapolis 500 history.

“I remember R.P. (Roger Penske) got upset with me and said I left the door open,” Castroneves recalled. “I said, ‘R.P., he went through the grass. What do you mean I left the door open? He went through the grass.’

“That wasn’t the case that he passed me because I ended up passing him back before the end. But it was one of those judgments and his car was a little faster, too.”

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Helio Castroneves recently partnered with Meyer Shank Racing for a fresh start to his career. (Al Steinberg photo)

In 2017, the last six laps of the race were a nose-to-tail fight with Takuma Sato, with Sato winning by .201 seconds.

Combine that with Gil de Ferran’s 2003 win by .299 seconds over Castroneves and a combined margin of .56 seconds has kept Castroneves from winning an astounding seven Indianapolis 500s.

“Any time you don’t win a race, it’s tough,” Castroneves said. “Any time you finish second in the Indy 500, especially when you have won before and know how amazing it is, it crushes you.

“But those three losses helped me win last year. I realized I had to wait until the last moment and that is what really helped me.

“Those losses turned out to be a good lesson to accomplish No. 4.”

At the end of the 2017 season, team owner Roger Penske moved Castroneves from the NTT IndyCar Series to the IMSA Acura Team Penske sports car program. Castroneves got to run the Indy 500 in an extra Team Penske Chevrolet in 2018, ’19 and ’20 but was never in the fight for the victory in any of those seasons.

Still, Castroneves won the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title driving for Penske.

But he was ready for a fresh start to rejuvenate his career. He found the right partners to return him to glory in Michael Shank, Jim Meyer and Meyer Shank Racing.

“Mike was honest,” Castroneves said. “I knew Mike before when I raced my first Daytona 24 with him in 2006, so I knew him from the past. What made me realize this would be a good partnership was how decisive he was.

“I knew that he was a guy that was always pushing and giving and loaning his place to keep racing. When we sat down, he didn’t know what to offer me because I was a Team Penske guy. I told him to forget all that, I was a Team Penske guy, but I’m a racer.

“He said, ‘I cannot give you what Penske has, but I can give you the best equipment that I have to offer.’ I said, ‘Mike, I can’t ask for anything more than that. If you give me your best, I’ll give you my best. If we put it together, we can create history.’

“He said, ‘Look, this is what I have for you. I have this here. What can we do to make it happen?’

“I realized then that he believed in me and wanted me there. I wanted to be in a place where I was wanted, without a doubt.

“This story is very cool because I helped him make the offer,” Castroneves continued. “I told him, ‘Let’s do this deal. This is how much I’m worth, Option one. And option two, you pay me zero, except what it takes to get to the races. But every point I make, that’s how much it’s going to cost. If you believe in me, I believe in you. If the team screws up on the pit stop, I’m going to be on the bad end. That’s how much I want to be here.’

“He chose option one. But, if he had chosen option two with the double points at Indianapolis, it would have been fantastic.

“That’s why I felt it was a very good partnership, and with Jim as well. Jim is an incredible person with an amazing heart. They are on the way to be a big team and I want to be able to help and push to that direction.”

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Helio Castroneves isn’t ready to stop at four Indy 500 wins. He’s going for a fifth. (Al Steinberg photo)

What has a rejuvenated Castroneves accomplished in such a short period of time?

He won his only series championships in his final race for Team Penske, claiming the IMSA crown in the final race of the 2020 season. He was on the winning team in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2021 with Wayne Taylor Racing and he won the twice-around-the-clock classic again this year with Meyer Shank Racing.

His biggest win, however, came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

From the moment Castroneves pulled onto the race track in the No. 06 Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing, he was among the fastest drivers every day.

After qualifying eighth, he ran in the top three most of the race and was in front for 20 laps, including the final lap where he took the checkered flag for the fourth time.

The celebration was perhaps the most emotional in Indianapolis 500 history. The winner climbed the fence and ran down the frontstretch blowing kisses to the crowd.

He laughed, he cried, tears flowed down his face as well as down the faces of the fans who witnessed it. He was hugged by Mario Andretti, congratulated by three-time winner Johnny Rutherford, hugged again by Hunter-Reay and former Team Penske teammate Will Power.

“I got out of my car and looked at the scoring pylon and saw No. 06 at the top,” Power told SPEED SPORT. “I asked, ‘Who is in the 06?’ When they told me Helio had won, I couldn’t believe it.

“I was so happy for him.”

IndyCar’s Ageless Wonder had won an Indy 500 for the ages.

He isn’t ready to stop at four Indy wins, however.

“The Drive for Five already started right after we finished the race last May,” Castroneves said. “We know exactly our goals, what directions we need to do. We are going to continue working. We will have a challenge for sure because people will look at us as a target.

“I like that.

“I have an amazing team at Meyer Shank Racing with Jim Meyer and Mike Shank. They give me a chance to go out and do my best,” he continued. “Hopefully, we’ll be doing a lot of high fives at the end of the race. It’s amazing to be part of an elite group with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

“Records are made to be broken. Let’s go out and try to repeat and make it a High Five.”

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