INDIANAPOLIS — Helio Castroneves is preparing to make his 20th attempt at making the Indianapolis 500 next weekend. He’s 19-for-19 so far. Aug. 23 could mark his 20th start at the big race, all coming with Team Penske. The previous 19 have gone as well as anyone could have hoped too.
He’s a three-time winner. The first two came in his first two tries. The third came in 2009. He’s since spent the last 11 years now trying to capture that elusive fourth crown which would tie him with only AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most in the 104 year history of this race.
Having said that, three is nice, but he really wants four. That’s why even though when Roger Penske scaled back his NTT IndyCar Series program for 2018 and beyond, Castroneves remained with the Captain and went over to IMSA with Team Penske in hopes that he’d get at the very least an Indy one-off.
That’s been the case the last three years now, but that deal is coming to an end. Castroneves knows just how hard it is to win this race, especially as a part time driver. It’s not easy. He’s 0-for-2 with two of his three worst finishes coming in this span as a part time role.
His 21st Indy 500 attempt, well he’s now having to look outside of Penske. I mean, who could blame him for staying with the team. It’s not like he wanted to step out of his No. 3 Chevrolet full time anyways. But, if he had to and had to be given any ride to race at Indy with and Indy only for, what better seat than the one he has been in.
Now, Penske’s IMSA program is likely coming to an end and his drivers have been told to seek other work for next year. They’ll try to work something out to stay in place in sports cars and will let the drivers know, but in the interim, they are free to look elsewhere.
Castroneves’ passion never left Indy Car and that made him an instant hot free agent target. Ed Carpenter owns a team and is very interested in talking to the popular Brazilian driver.
“I would never rule it out,” Carpenter said of Castroneves joining the team. “I think Helio is an amazing talent. I’m not going to knock a guy for his age, being old myself. We’re similar in age, although I think he’s a couple years older than me.
“I know that the passion is still there for him. It wasn’t his decision fully, I don’t think, to be a full-time sports car driver at this point. His heart has been in INDYCAR the whole time. I’ve had friendly discussions with him just as a friend over his time in sports cars.
“If there’s an opportunity, I would 100% be in interested in working with a guy like Helio. I know he wants to add his name to the list of four-time winners. He’s going to be motivated for that for a while.”
It’s not like Castroneves saw a big drop off before he left anyways.
Forget Castroneves has never won an NTT IndyCar Series championship. Forget that he’s just one win shy of moving into a tie for 10th place on the all-time wins list in the series. Forget that when he stepped away from full-time driving in this series that he was third on the all-time poles list, just 17 shy of first. Forget that also when he retired as a full time driver he was second in second place finishes, sixth in career podiums and tied for fourth in career top fives.
A few mores seasons and all those accolades could have moved Castroneves closer to the top of each major statistical category. But, when Team Penske had to downsize from a four car operation to three, Castroneves was unfortunately on the chopping block and now, it’s time for him to get one more shot to rise up those lists.
He had offers to continue on in pursuit of that first career season title. But, one thing sticks out for the popular Brazilian driver – a fourth Indy 500 crown. He stuck with Penske. Now, it appears the opportunity with Penske may be done past 2020, but that doesn’t mean Helio is done.