Helio Castroneves

Three years ago, Helio Castroneves etched his name into a rare fraternity of race car drivers when he beat Alex Palou by just .4928 of a second in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. That was Castroneves’ fourth Indianapolis 500 triumph, tying him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for the most in history.

As the only active member of the four-win club, Castroneves has a different role with Meyer Shank Racing in 2024.

The Brazilian stepped away from full-time driving duties this offseason, shifting his focus to an ownership stake in the team. On May 11, for the first time since the 2021 Sonsio Grand Prix when he was a part-time driver for Meyer Shank Racing, Castroneves was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway donning street clothes and not a driver’s suit.

“It’s different, but at the end of the day you focus on that moment, thinking about the track or things like that,” Castroneves said. “It was a good feeling debating with the team, and now my role is getting a little more into it, understanding about the strategy and things like that.”

The passion to become the first driver to reach five Indianapolis 500 victories hasn’t waned. For the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday (11 a.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, Universo, INDYCAR Radio Network), Castroneves trades the ownership hat for a driver’s helmet.

“Back to my comfort zone,” Castroneves said. “This is what I've been doing for so many years. It's like just coming back where it belongs.”

Sunday is Castroneves’ third attempt at a record-setting fifth Indianapolis 500 victory.

Foyt, a veteran of 35 Indianapolis 500 starts who holds the record for most miles (12,272.50) circled around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, picked up his fourth “500” win in his 20th start. He chased a fifth “500” victory for 15 years, but his runner-up finish in 1979 and fifth-place result in 1989 were his only top-five finishes in that span.

Unser scored his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory in his 22nd start, in 1987. He tried six more times for a fifth win and came close in 1988 and 1992, with a third-place result in both.

Mears earned his fourth Indianapolis 500 win in 1991. He made just one more start in 1992 that resulted in a 26th place finish following a crash.

Approaching his 24th start, is the third attempt at No. 5 the lucky one for Castroneves?

“This is an amazing opportunity,” he said. “To be already with this incredible gods of racing, Rick Mears, A.J. and Al Unser Sr., I'm honored and blessed to be in this position.

“Now having this opportunity to do something nobody ever did. People are saying records are made to be broken in any sport. Why not?

“I'm sure a lot of fans want to see that. I want to see that. I'm sure those guys here, they want to try to stop that. But that's life.”

Castroneves already has completed the second-most miles in Indianapolis 500 history and is a combined .5601 of a second away from being a seven-time winner.

Gil de Ferran halted Castroneves’ back-to-back reign from 2001 and 2002 with a victory over Castroneves by just .2990 of a second in 2003. In 2014, Ryan Hunter-Reay defeated Castroneves by only .0600 of a second, which still ranks as the second-closest “500” finish. Takuma Sato bested him by .2011 of a second in 2017 for the sixth closest result.

Can Castroneves who turned 49 on May 10, realistically get No. 5? Unser is the oldest driver to win the Indianapolis 500, at 47 years, 360 days in 1987.

Castroneves thinks age is just a number and feels as great now as ever. Being what he calls as the “third wheel” in a third car for the team, joining full-time drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Tom Blomqvist, that extra data and wisdom could be what he needs to make history Sunday.