This year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge has the chance to be one of the most significant ever as Helio Castroneves begins his “Drive for Five” victories in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” after securing his record-tying fourth win last year.
But for the driver of the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Meyer Shank Racing, everything is the same, save for a little extra publicity and promotion. Castroneves isn’t ready to change what has propelled him to this point in his career.
Still, the significance of this moment, in which Castroneves is the first driver to attempt to win a fifth “500” since Al Unser in 1993, has not been lost on the industry, the fans or Castroneves. After victories in 2001, ’02, ’09 and ’21, he’s now tied with A.J. Foyt, Unser and Rick Mears for the most wins in Indy 500 history.
“I don’t think anything is different,” Castroneves said. “The difference is now I have my daughter and my wife, everyone talks about it, and we’re excited. I don’t think I change anything. Maybe that’s me. I enjoy every moment for it. I did all the promotion I could, everything I could do, because it’s part of it. Now, I’m not thinking about it. I’m thinking about the details.”
The biggest detail for Castroneves heading into Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, live on NBC, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network) is that he’s using the same car he drove to victory last year when he started eighth and led 20 laps.
Castroneves arguably has flown a bit under the radar this Month of May. He’s been near the middle of the pack on the practice speed charts, and qualifying weekend left much to be desired.
With a session that was interrupted by rain, Castroneves only had once chance to put up a fast four-lap average speed before rain ended Day 1 of PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying early. He believes if he had a chance to make a second run, he would have improved upon his four-lap average speed of 229.630 mph, good for just the 27th starting spot.
“We didn’t do a very good job in putting the bits together (for qualifying),” he said. “I don’t think even if we did that, we would have had enough speed to get into the Top 12. However, it would have made our lives a little bit easier to qualify in the top 20.”
Once in race trim, Castroneves said the performance of the car mirrors what he felt last year. During final Indianapolis 500 practice Friday on Miller Lite Carb Day, Castroneves clocked in 18th fastest with a top speed of 224.971.
“I feel the race car very much like last year,” he said. “We are lacking a little bit of speed, but based on this past Monday and Carb Day, that shouldn’t be a problem. We just got to be patient, and hopefully by mid-race we’ll be up there fighting with the guys for the win.”
The 31-time INDYCAR SERIES race winner said he’ll start the 200-lap race Sunday trusting that his 32 other competitors will make it an easy start for him and not create bad situations that make his rise through the field tricky. But he noted that “doesn’t happen often.”
He’ll also rely on his experience on the famed 2.5-mile oval to climb toward the front because he’s been here before. In 2020, Castroneves started 28th and finished 11th.
“Obviously, being back there, we just got to use our experience and maneuver, and also have help from the team, because that comes in very handy in times like this,” he said. “It’s a combination, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to do. I’m not worried about that. I know what I got. I know what my car can do. We know that. We just got to execute our job.”
Only three times in Indianapolis 500 history has a driver come from that far back to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and only once from 27th.
Fred Frame lined up 27th when he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1932. The lowest a race winner has started is 28th – Ray Harroun did it in 1911, as did Louis Meyer in 1936.
So, should Castroneves win the race Sunday, he’ll put himself alongside those historic names as winners from deep in the field. But we already know Castroneves is no stranger to putting himself alongside some of racing’s greats.