When Helio Castroneves first arrived at the Indianapolis 500 in 2001, he made winning the biggest race in the world look easy. He is the only driver in the famed history of the Indy 500 to win the race in his first two attempts.
In 2003, he finished second — .299 seconds behind Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran.
Castroneves was so good at Indy it appeared he’d quickly become a four-time winner of the prestigious event.
But that’s the thing about the Indianapolis 500 — future success is never guaranteed.
Just ask Mario Andretti.
When he won the 500 in 1969, he thought it would be the first of eight or nine Indy wins. But in a career that ended 25 years later, Andretti never made it back to victory lane.
Seven years passed between Castroneves’ second Indy victory and his third, which came in 2009.
Castroneves sat out the start of the 2009 IndyCar Series season because he was on trial for tax evasion. After a six-week trial, followed by six days of deliberations, Castroneves was acquitted of federal income tax evasion on April 17, 2009. He immediately jumped on a plane and flew to Los Angeles, where he competed in that weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Six weeks later, Castroneves became a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 — the first foreign-born driver to accomplish that.
It seemed it would be only a matter of time before Castroneves would join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners ofThe Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Ten years have passed, however, since Castroneves’ last win in the Indy 500. Even the optimistic Brazilian realizes time may be running out on a fourth Indy victory.
“Well, we still have one chance — another chance,” Castroneves told SPEED SPORT Magazine. “Time is running out, but I can’t think about that. I can only think about the present. I can set up for that for the future, but as far as time is running out, last year was the first year I didn’t run the full season. Analyzing all of that, with another year of development for the car and the team; that can also help me develop a better machine. Now, it’s time for me to take advantage of my teammates to improve the car.
“Hopefully, I’ll benefit from them and execute during the month of May.”
Times have changed for Castroneves. Beginning in 2018, he moved from the NTT IndyCar Series to the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Series as one of the lead drivers for Acura Team Penske. He was guaranteed two IndyCar events — both races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
He started 10th and finished sixth in the IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course. He qualified eighth for the 500, but crashed on lap 145. The resultant 27th-place finish was the worst of his career.
“Last year, Roger Penske gave me another chance,” Castroneves said. “How we finished didn’t leave a very good taste in our mouths.”
Castroneves hopes to get that taste out of his mouth by taking a nice swig of ice-cold milk out of a glass bottle in victory lane at the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
“We’ve had very few close calls like in 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2017 with Takuma Sato,” said Castroneves, who will also compete in this month’s IndyCar Grand Prix at IMS. “Those were close, close calls. I would have been much more interested looking to the No. 5 instead of the No. 4. But hey, that’s why the Indy 500 is so difficult. A lot of people have not even won it once. I’m feeling the same pain, but I’m very fortunate to have won three.
“We are so close, so far, trying to get the No. 4.”