Castroneves makes 3rd attempt at Indy’s 4-win club
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Helio Castroneves stood stoically in his garage eating lunch this May.
The gregarious personality that won over racing fans and dancing fans years ago is still there, it’s just been replaced. This month, the Brazilian driver is all about getting down to the business of winning.
“We want to win them all,” Castroneves said. “That’s the objective or the goal of every team, every car.”
He’s chasing history, again, as he always seems to do at his favorite race track, the 2.5-mile Brickyard.
As a 26-year-old in 2001, Castroneves became the second straight rookie to win the race. The next year, he ended a more than three decade drought between back-to-back winners. In 2003, he came back and won the pole before finishing as the runner-up to teammate Gil de Ferran _ making him the first driver in more than half a century to finish first or second in each of his first three Indy starts. Bill Holland finished second, second and first from 1947-49.
Little has changed over the last decade as Castroneves has continued to dominate on Indy’s historic oval, where he has nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts and six in the top five.
When Castroneves won his third Indy crown in 2009, he became the first foreign-born driver to achieve that feat, and with one more win, Castroneves would break up the American monopoly of Foyt, Al Unser and Mears in the race’s most exclusive group _ the four-time winners club.
Sunday would be a fitting time to do it, too. Team owner Roger Penske, who was won more 500s than any owner in history, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first Indy win this weekend.
But that’s not how Castroneves is approaching race day.
“It’s cool when you think of it that way,” he said. “Forty plus four, it would be great for me and for Roger as well. But that’s not how we think about it.”
Instead, the chase for a fourth Indy win seems more like a distraction than a quest.
Team Penske is so focused on the effort that the team owner, Penske president Tim Cindric and Mears have all kept quiet about Castroneves‘ historic quest, and the Brazilian seems content to let it be that way, too.
There’s a reason for all this: Castroneves has turned his focus to the basics.
“It’s fate, I think,” he said. “I guess you have to go through it to make you realize what you need to do, to make a point or come together and we chose to be as close as we could as a team.”
Castroneves needed a change after a dismal 2011 left him without a win for the first time since 2000. Things were so bad, he even wound up 17th at Indy, the second-worst finish of his 500 career. Things were so out of sync that Castroneves drew a $30,000 fine in September after referring to then IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart as a “circus clown” on Twitter.
It wasn’t the funny man those around Gasoline Alley were accustomed to seeing.
So Castroneves changed the script by spending more time during the offseason with his engineer and around racing than he had in nearly a decade.
Part of the reason, clearly, was to get a jump on the new Indy cars. The other part was that Castroneves expected better results in 2012.
The decision has paid big dividends.
Castroneves ended his 18-race winless streak by climbing the fence at St. Petersburg in the season-opener, then took the pole at Birmingham. With finishes of first, third, 13th and fourth in this season’s first four races, Castroneves has come to Indy second in points, trailing his teammate, Power, by 45 and is one of the favorites Sunday, too.
“I think he needed a good start because that’s always the key to getting your head in the right place,” Power said. “The tough thing about racing is that if you have a bad start, you start trying to do things you shouldn’t. When you get the points lead, or close to the points lead, it keeps you motivated more than if you’re way off it.”
With the dominant Chevrolet engines, Power and Castroneves have dominated the season. They combined to win all four races this season and three of the first four poles.
Teammate Ryan Briscoe joined the party last weekend when he captured Indy’s pole shootout last by a mere 9.168 inches _ the smallest margin in 500 qualifying history.
But as fans watch Castroneves‘ historic attempt Sunday, the three-time 500 winner will have something else on his mind _ just scaling the fence one more time.
“We don’t put the emphasis on that (fourth win),” he said. “We just want to be as competitive as we can so we have a shot at winning. After that, then we can start talking about the fourth win.”