Helio Castroneves’ drive to 4 to come with a new team, his thoughts on that

INDIANAPOLIS — Nothing against Michael Schumacher (Formula One) or Jeff Gordon (NASCAR), but their five wins each at IMS will never even compare to AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr’s four Indy 500 wins. While five wins anywhere is impressive, four Indy 500 wins is legendary.

Only three drivers in history have won the famed race four times, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, but for the past nine years, three-time winner Helio Castroneves has been knocking on the door.

Over the past 11 years now, Castroneves has had six top 10 finishes, two of which were second place finishes. He almost joined the four-time club in both 2014 and 2017, just missing the mark by 0.060 seconds and 0.2011 seconds, respectively. 

Castroneves, will return this year in hopes of winning a fourth Borg Warner Trophy. This time though, he’ll do so without being with Team Penske. His previous 20 Indy 500 starts were all with Penske, but this year will come with Meyer Shank Racing in the No. 06 Honda. MSR has an alliance with Andretti Autosport, so this could be Castroneves’ year.

“It’s great to be back,’ he said on Wednesday morning from IMS. “Mike (Shank) and Jim (Meyer) really took a chance on me and I appreciate that. I’ve been here so many years so it doesn’t make since why you wouldn’t take that.”

Castroneves said that this move is “an interesting scenario” in the sense that he’s having to relearn everything again. Part of that is delegation. At Penske he just hopped in and did what they told him to do. Now, it’s a balance of what he likes and what they think would be best. 

“The point is, I’m enjoying the scenario of learning the setups up and delegating a little bit more of what used to be with Penske,” he continued. “When you start to put it all together, it only gets a little bit better and better. Experience with the guys with the team, I used to compete against the guys. We have a great chance here.

“I feel really well supported. Mike is giving me all the tools as possible to make this happen. It’s like when I started with Team Penske but now with more experience. I know what to do, exactly what I want. With Team Penske before, I would do whatever you give me. Tell me where to go. That’s the difference.”

Also, this one-off situation is different than the past too. There’s the usual challenges of just showing up and winning in your first series start of the season, but to do so with a new team has it’s own unique challenges as well.

“In this particular situation, it’s not the guys that I’m used to running with,” he continued. “When I had a one-off, you didn’t have to worry about pedals or the seat or the tools that you have because it was there for a long time. This situation is a little bit more complex because you have to adapt to scenarios that weren’t there before. Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to teach an old dog a new trick but I’ve got to adapt or myself version.”

This is the 30th anniversary since we’ve last witnessed a four time winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in regards to the Indianapolis 500. Rick Mears last did it in 1991. That came four years after Al Unser joined the club in 1987. That came a decade after AJ Foyt being the first to accomplish this exclusive feat in 1977.

Since then, no one has been able to do it. Some have been close, but just can’t get it done. Seven drivers have won this race three times but only one of them is active – Castroneves. But, his stats as a one-off have declined. It’s been 11 years since he last won a ‘500 here. Can he win again? He’s moving further and further away from doing so instead of closer. In 2014 and 2017, he was close. 2018, 2019 and 2020 he’s moved further away than ever before.

Then you have Takuma Sato. He’s one of the other two drivers in the field with multiple Indy 500 wins. Heck, only 20 drivers in this world can say that they’ve won this race more than once. Sato, has two wins in four years, but can he realistically win two more soon? He’s already the fifth oldest winner ever at 43. Does he have enough time to get to four wins?

For Castroneves, he just turned 46. The oldest to win this race is Al Unser at 47.

No one else left has more than one Indy 500 win in their career. With the field as competitive as it’s arguably ever been and only four drivers having won this race more than once since 1998, what makes you think we’ll get drivers winners at least three times over the next decade? I mean, we’ve only had two repeat winners of this race in the last 66 years, so Sato winning later this month doesn’t seem likely.

The four win feat may be one of those stats that as low as it sounds, may be unreachable for quite some time.

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