Helio, Dario go for history at the Indy 500

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When it comes to their thoughts on becoming a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves (pictured, right) and Dario Franchitti (pictured, left) couldn’t be more different.

Castroneves, the gregarious Brazilian that has become famous at Indy for his joyous fence-climbing victory celebrations, is clearly humbled by his accomplishments at the Brickyard. That said, his humility isn’t completely overpowering. In fact, he approaches the subject of a potential fourth victory in the “500” with what appears to be a mix of anticipation and awe.

And he certainly appreciates his little race with Franchitti to join the four-time winners’ club, one of the bigger storylines going into Sunday’s race.

“I like [the pressure],” he said on Thursday. “I believe it pushes me and it pushes everyone [on the team]. It’s [Franchitti’s] first time and our third or fourth time to be in this position [to win a fourth Indy 500] and I think having competition makes you better.

“I feel that not only myself but the entire Penske team wants to bring it home before they bring it home.”

As for Franchitti, the laid-back Scotsman who has primarily made his mark on Indianapolis in more recent years, he has always been reluctant to discuss where he thinks his place in history may be. When one takes into account his three “500” wins and his four IZOD IndyCar Series championships, one assumes that Franchitti’s place is rather high up already.

But he’s still wary to put himself alongside his heroes of Indy: Drivers such as four-time winners A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser, as well as others like his fellow Scot Jim Clark and Dan Gurney.

“It’s always weird to get involved,” said Franchitti. “There’s something not quite right about feeling in the conversation. I view them on the pedestal.”

Still, while he isn’t as effusive as Castroneves on talking about his achievements at Indy, he is still thankful for the the opportunity he gets every May to be in one of the world’s most iconic sporting events.

“I’ve said it before, but the more you do it, the more you appreciate it,” Franchitti said. “First year [at Indy], I was like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ Then I finished the race and I was like ‘Yeah, I get it.’ [The feeling has] increased year by year.”

Castroneves and Franchitti have had relatively quiet months of May (the former starts 8th on Sunday, while the latter goes from 17th), but all of that is about to change as the spotlight heads squarely towards them. History at Indianapolis is on the line and everyone, from the diehards to the casual onlookers, will be keeping an eye on their progress on Sunday.

This year’s race marks the first since 1987 that will see two three-time winners attempt to join Foyt, Mears and Unser in one of racing’s most exclusive clubs. Castroneves and Franchitti may have different viewpoints on what it would mean to ascend to that legendary status, but both men will give everything they have to get there.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.