INDIANAPOLIS — In 106 past years of the Indianapolis 500, no one has ever won this race more than 4 times. Prior to 2021, only 3 drivers had crossed the famed yard of bricks first on 4 occasions. Then Helio Castroneves stamped his name into the record book by becoming the fourth one to do so. Can he now be the first to win No. 5?
He’s had a quiet month last year. Castroneves was 22nd on the opening day speed chart. He was 22nd again on Day 3 (Wednesday was washed out). On Monday of race week, he was 13th. He qualified 27th and finished seventh.
This week, he was 19th on Thursday (224.280 mph). After a tough start to the year that has seen him collected in two first lap crashes and has him mired deep in the points in 20th (-74), how much longer does he want to keep doing this?
“As long as I have the passion,” Castroneves admitted on Thursday afternoon “Nothing you can change. Nothing can beat it when you have passion and it’s run by good people behind you that you can have the same goal. And work ethic you know, continue to work and make sure that you find those details because technology, competition. I will say evolution, you know, it could change that you can’t run the same computer that you have, like 10 years ago. Right? So you’re gonna continue improving and somehow because of the cars keep changing. You find something new. So as long as I keep having fun.”
Right now, he’s having fun.
AJ Foyt got his fourth win in his 20th start. He had 35 total Indy 500 starts (most ever) but could win in a rear engine, front engine, bricks or pavement. Hell, the guy could win on any surface as he holds the record for most championships (7) and most wins (67). He finished runner-up in the race in 1976 and again in 1979. No one has completed as many miles (12,272.50) as Foyt either.
Al Unser Sr. also has four wins. He did so in his 22nd start as he’s made 27 overall Indy starts. He also had three runner-ups (1967, 1972 and 1983). He finished third four times (1977, 1984, 1988 and 1992) too. On top of that, Unser has led the most laps ever (644) and second most miles (10,890). Unser, had 39 career open wheel wins too (5th most) to go along with 31 runner-ups (6th), 98 podiums (fifth) and 140 top fives (sixth).
Rick Mears has four wins and he got his fourth in his only his 14th start. In fact, in just 15 Indy 500 starts, Mears had nine top fives including a runner-up (1982) and two third place runs (1983 and 1986). Mears had six Indy 500 poles (most ever) but ranks 13th in career Indy Car wins, 13th in runner-ups (22), 15th in podiums (74) and 12th in top fives (111).
Castroneves has four wins in 22 starts. The Brazilian has the third most miles completed too. He’s also had three runners-up and all three rank among the closest finishes in the 106-year history too. Gil de Ferran stopped his back-to-back reign in 2001 and 2002 with a win by just .2990-seconds over him in ’03. In 2014, Ryan Hunter-Reay stopped him by only .0600-seconds which still ranks as the second closest Indy 500 finish ever. Takuma Sato bested him by .2011-seconds in 2017 for the sixth closest result.
Combine those results, Castroneves is .5601-seconds from being a seven-time winner. So, can he get to five at least?
Both Bobby Unser and Al Unser won in 1981 and 1987 respectively as 47-year-olds. Emerson Fittipaldi won in 1993 at the age of 46. Gordon Johncock won in 1982 at the rightful age of 45.
Foyt made 15 attempts after notching his fourth Indy 500 victory in 1977 to score his fifth win. He’d never do so with only scoring two top fives after including a runner-up finish in 1979.
Unser was the next to join the four win club in 1987. He’d try five more times to earn a fifth ‘500 triumph with finishes of 3rd, 24th, 13th, 3rd and 12th respectively.
Mears joined in 1991. A 26th place finish in 1992’s race was his final shot.
“Well, we basically felt we’re feeling very strong and it’s some of the rules changed a little bit bigger than me,” said Castroneves. “This is the actual Indy 500 car. And, and we were able to we were able to have some too many laps on it, but feels like we’re in the right direction. And I’m excited man, it’s great to be back again. In the special with this weather, nice weather. Got to take advantage of these today, obviously. But yeah, we want to take as much as we want to run as much as possible so that we can learn just new aerodynamics bits.
“Every time you’re behind the steering wheel here you always learn something. And it’s funny because you like feel things you like, I didn’t feel this last year. So I’m telling my engineers always the same. It’s like, I know, but I didn’t feel this before. So, it’s funny, because you kind of like understand what the bar you like and that you’ve felt before and what you need to achieve. And that’s what we hear.”