INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Maybe it was a little premature to kick Helio Castroneves away so soon.
Age was not on his side, of course, and time was running out to join this elite club of four-time Indianapolis 500 winners.
But after a 46-year-old school, one of the hot young stars in the final laps of the world’s biggest race, then climbs 16ft over the fence at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, well, maybe Castroneves deserves it. a second look.
“Helio’s performance numbers … I didn’t really stop him from running,” said team owner Michael Shank, who gave Castroneves a six-race race this season that kicked off on Sunday with the Indianapolis 500.
The deal with Meyer Shank Racing – in a remaining car purchased from DragonSpeed Racing that Ben Hanley qualified 33rd in the Indy 500 last year – was an opportunity to bring Castroneves back to the Indy 500. And that was all he had on his calendar besides the Rolex. 24 at Daytona in January with Wayne Taylor Racing and Tony Stewart’s six-race Superstar Racing Experience kicking off next month.
Better than nothing, right?
“I keep looking for something else that I love, something else that I want to do,” Castroneves told The Associated Press on Monday. “I haven’t found anything yet. I want to run. I should absolutely run full time and my goal is to run full time next season.
He proved this Sunday with a masterful drive in Indianapolis that placed Castroneves in the exclusive four-time winner club, which last welcomed a new member 30 years ago. The Brazilian won his third Indy 500 in 2009 and has tried for 12 years to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners.
But after two decades of driving for Roger Penske, Castroneves had aged outside the organization and there really was no room for him. Shank threw a lifeline at him that brought him back to Indy and made him the fourth oldest winner in the 105-year history of the race.
Castroneves then threw a crazy party in front of the 135,000 spectators, making it the biggest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
He climbed his first fence as a race winner at the age of 25, so overcome with emotion he forgot that race officials warned the riders to put down the party antics . That fence climb at Belle Isle in 2000 resulted in a $ 6,000 fine from CART, but the crowd loved the “Spider Man” the director and Castroneves claimed that the check he handed over was torn up on the spot.
He won two more races and climbed two more barriers before arriving at Indy for the first time in 2001, won the race, also climbed that fence and a star was born.
When last year’s Indy 500 went without spectators for the first time due to the pandemic, the mood was particularly gloomy. When Castroneves passed 24-year-old Alex Palou on Sunday with two laps to go and the crowd erupted, the energy pushed him to the finish line and the adrenaline helped him to climb new heights of lattice and wire fence.
“I have the strength of a spider; I must have been bitten by a spider, “ Castroneves told the AP. “There was so much emotion, so much passion. I’ve seen fans cry. I was crying. I was going to climb and climb and climb and enjoy this moment with them.
Has he ever done it
As his career drew to a close, Castroneves shifted it to another speed. He won the first professional championship last season when he won the IMSA sports car title in his final season as a Penske driver.
Then he opened that year by winning his first Rolex watch in the prestigious sports car race. Since January, he’s been training every day like he’s still a full-time IndyCar driver, even though there was nothing on his schedule until Indianapolis this month.
Now, in two races so far this season, Castroneves has secured two wins, including this elusive fourth Indy 500.
Castroneves “Absolutely without a doubt” thinks he should race a full IndyCar season, but he only has five races with Shank on his schedule, plus six race Superstar racing experience.
That’s why he climbed the fence more than once on Sunday. And why he sprinted nearly a mile down the front stretch so he could greet the adoring crowd. During his nearly 20-minute victory lap in the back of a convertible, fans in the stands scaled the fence in their own tribute to Spiderman.
His peers rushed to the track to congratulate him, many of whom were Penske employees and former teammates. On the victory lane, Roger Penske himself hugged his former driver.
Simon Pagenaud, his former teammate who finished third, marveled at the sight he got as Castroneves played with runner-up Palou, who led for 35 laps in his second 500 and traded the lead late with Castroneves.
“Alex was showing his game too early. Helio knew exactly where he could take him and all of a sudden you saw him, he jumped at his throat like a tiger, “ Said Pagenaud. “He has an idea of this place. The more you love the place, the more the place loves you in return. There is something really strange about this.
“All Helio thinks about is the 500. He knows when he’s going to fight for the win. He keeps it to himself. He uses it for energy.
Shank and team co-owner Jim Meyer both said they watched Castroneves perform “A chess match” for 500 miles as the rest of the peloton raced as if it was a regular event.
Castroneves did not dispute any of the ratings.
“I have a lot of miles there,” he said smiling.
Castroneves has been wearing the ring since 2009 which he won for his third Indy 500 victory because, he says, “My mentor Rick Mears said you wore the last one you won.”
On Monday, he sported the huge diamond-encrusted ring he received after the race, but said she would join the other three in a safe and wear a smaller replica once she arrived. .
He is already considering starting a five-time winner club – he is said to be the only member – as he fights for the full-time job he believes he deserves next year.
Mears, still a consultant at Team Penske, said he was “So tickled” to have Castroneves in the four-time winner group and noted that his path was slowed down by three finalists. After a few days and his emotions have calmed down, Mears said, it will be interesting to see how Castroneves envisions his new place in the story.
“Just being in this group for myself, even though I had the same numbers as them, four wins, I still didn’t feel up to their level,” Mears said. “They were two of my heroes. So it was a very special thing for me. And I’m sure he feels very similar. But the other thing is I think it’s going to be so good for our sport and so good for our industry. He’s a great champion, so optimistic, and it’s real and people love him.