INDIANAPOLIS — On Thursday night, Helio Castroneves was awarded new golden brick by IMS officials in an event honoring the newest member of the four-time Indianapolis 500 winners club. Back on May 30, Castroneves won the 105th Running in dramatic fashion and joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears in the prestigious fraternity.
The reason he was being honored was due to the popular Brazilian driver being back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since that win. See, Castroneves will be making his third start of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season as he will be behind the wheel of his No. 06 Honda for Meyer Shank Racing.
How ironic will it be if Castroneves earned his fifth Indy win on the 2.439-mile road course and not the 2.5-mile oval?
“I don’t mind,” laughed Castroneves when I asked him that question on Friday morning in the shadows of the famous Pagoda. “I don’t mind at all. It will be great.”
Castroneves said that realistically though, it’s just his second race of the season outside of Indy and that this series is just so tough to compete in, this will be about finding a groove this weekend instead.
“I’m still getting my rhythm back,” he continued. “I’m using this type of races to be prepared. I know this sounds cliché but it’s true, this field is just so competitive. If you even are a tenth behind, you’re outside of the top 10.
“We’re still learning. Just my third race with the team, so I’m looking forward to it.”
This weekend is also a different mindset for him. Last week he felt like he didn’t have as much as a disadvantage as he’ll face this weekend. See, for the Indy 500, he knows his way around this track already and he has two weeks to prepare for the big race. In Nashville, everyone was on equal footing in the sense no one has raced there before. For this weekend, the challenge he feels is greater since he’s one of the few drivers in the 28 car field that didn’t race here back in May.
“For me it was better last weekend because since coming back and not knowing much about the car and nobody knows about the track, it kind of helps to get into the top 10,” he said. “Here, everybody knows the track. They’ve already raced here in the GP before the Indy 500.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to make things happen. Continuing moving forward.”
Still, MSR has always produced some good race cars on this road course. Jack Harvey has three top eights in five tries including a top seven starting spot in each. Castroneves, has a good past history here too with Penske as he had a top six in all five tries with them.
“No question. We’ve been really well here in my days in Penske,” Castroneves told me in regards to having past success here still and MSR fielding fast race cars on this track in general too. “Again, when you stay away for a while you’ve got to catch up. We trust in the process because it will come.”
Castroneves, will try to end the year with momentum and to build the notebook and focus forward on what he hopes will be a championship winning season in 2022. He will return on a full time basis next year and do so with this team.
He’s never won a title but has finished runner-up in the final standings four times. Which does he desire more for 2022 then, a first championship or a fifth Indy 500 crown?
“1st, to win the championship, you’ve got to win the ‘500,” he said. “It’s a big boost because it helps with double points. Don’t think that my attention isn’t going to be just the ‘500. It’s the championship. That’s my focus on every race next year.”
First comes this weekend and a notebook building day for his team.