INDIANAPOLIS — 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.”
For Castroneves, Sunday’s race isn’t just another Indianapolis 500.
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 consecutive 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 past 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.
He’s won four more Indy poles, putting him in a second-place tie with Rex Mays and A.J. Foyt, trailing only his driving coach, Rick Mears (six).
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 ended his 18-race winless streak by climbing the fence at St. Petersburg in the season-opener, then took the pole at Birmingham.