The clock continues to tick on Helio Castroneves, not that the Team Penske driver cares to acknowledge the inevitable.
There’s still so much he aspires to achieve in his Verizon IndyCar Series career. The 41-year-old Brazilian wants nothing more than to win his fourth Indianapolis 500 and join A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. in that elite club. He’s still chasing an elusive first series championship after coming close so many times, finishing in the top five a dozen times in 15 years.
That’s why Castroneves isn’t keen on discussing retirement. His focus must be on the here and the now, not when his glorious ride must end.
“Like Rick (Mears) said once, you will know when it’s time,” Castroneves said recently. “It will depend on a lot of things. I believe I have many more years to come, but it all depends on other factors, results, the team. That’s why it’s difficult to answer that question.”
Since joining Team Penske in 2000, Castroneves has won 29 races, 46 poles and finished in the top five 129 times. His 29 career Indy car wins are tied with Mears, Team Penske’s driver coach, and teammate Will Power for 11th on the all-time list.
Castroneves was once again a serious series contender with a third-place points finish in 2016, thus earning a new contract with Hall of Fame team owner Roger Penske. Castroneves has finished second in the points four times, third three times, fourth four times and fifth once.
As much as retirement is a topic typically broached by reporters, so too is a winless streak that has reached 43 races, the longest stretch of his career. Just like his pursuit of a series title, he’s continually been close. He’s finished second seven times since celebrating that last victory at Detroit in 2014.
“If you start looking at stats, it’s not about a lack of trying, not a lack of talent, not a lack of trying to pursue your dreams to make it happen,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be. But I don’t want to let this happen when I’m racing. While I’m racing, I’m giving 100 percent.
“I have to say that I can’t wait for the next year to start because I feel that our potential is great. I don’t want to give any more chances to my teammates.”
Not that anyone needs reminded, Team Penske looked to strengthen its series hold this offseason. After finishing 1-2-3 in the points with champion Simon Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves, the team hired fourth-place finisher Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing to replace two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. And Montoya has agreed to return for May’s Indianapolis 500 to give Penske an impressive five-car lineup in the owner’s quest for a record 17th victory.
“It gives me more motivation to go out there and try to beat everyone,” Castroneves said. “We’re going for the win. We want to bring it home for Team Penske and I’m as excited as anyone else. We’re going to do everything we can to bring another win home for Roger.”
Last May, Castroneves was in the hunt for that fourth Indy 500 victory with 24 laps led before JR Hildebrand clipped his car’s rear bumper pod on lap 161. Castroneves finished 11th.
“We were strong, we were pushing, we were right up there,” he said of the race before he encountered “a very unfortunate situation.”
The ultimate goal of a fourth Indy 500 win is never far from his thoughts. He won his first two starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001 and 2002, then added the third win in 2009. He’s also finished second twice, third once and fourth once in 16 starts.
“You know me, probably everybody else knows, I want to bring this fourth win home for the team and be part of the history and join my heroes,” Castroneves said. “Hey, I’m still full of energy to make not only four but keep going.”
Team Penske recently announced that Hitachi Group has expanded its partnership agreement to sponsor Castroneves’ No. 3 Chevrolet in eight races next season. He also recently received his eighth Capacete de Ouro (Golden Helmet), one of the highest honors given to Brazilian racing drivers by “Racing” magazine during the 20th anniversary of the awards in Sao Paulo.
“I love the sport,” Castroneves said. “I really want to keep going as long as I can.”
Tick, tick, tick, the time is running out on Helio’s chances to win a championship, as well as grabbing his fourth Indy 500 victory. That illusive fourth Indy 500 win would cement Castroneves’ position in the history of this sport. To be put in the same category as “Super Tex”, AJ Foyt, Jr., Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears is like being deified!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!