Can Helio finally turn dream of 4th Indy 500 win into reality?

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The most hallowed club in the realm of the Indianapolis 500 is made up of three men: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears, who have all earned four victories each in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

For a time, it looked like a fourth man, Helio Castroneves, was seemingly on his way to joining that club. But over the last four years, which has seen the competition only get tougher, the Brazilian’s Indy magic has ebbed with finishes of ninth, 17th, 10th, and sixth.

However, another opportunity awaits him today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he always senses the call of history.

“Every time I go here, it brings me great memories,” the Team Penske driver said Thursday. “But we can’t live in the past. We’ve got to look ahead and we’re doing everything we can to accomplish that. I feel very confident.”

For this year’s ‘500,’ Castroneves is paying tribute to Mears, who now serves as Team Penske’s driver coach, by carrying a special livery that nods to Mears’ second ‘500’ win for Penske back in 1984.

With that in mind, it would seem fitting if Castroneves chalked up Indy win No. 4 today. But in order to finally break through for that incredible milestone, Castroneves and his Shell/Pennzoil crew will have to keep one step ahead of a tight field.

To him, there are no also-rans in this year’s 33-car lineup, which is also the fastest in ‘500’ history.

“I think all the teams and drivers have stepped up their game and that’s why [everyone’s] so close to each other; it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said.

And as such, it will be the little things that likely prove giant once again.

“I thought last year, there were a lot of drivers that had a chance to win and I don’t think that’s different this year,” he said. “Details will make the difference, whether it’s a pit stop, if it’s strategy or things like that.

“Those are the things that will give you an opportunity to win this race.”

Castroneves also noted the importance of being able to keep up at the front of the pack throughout the day and making the right decisions in regards to timing passes out of the draft.

“Normally, in the past, the time to go was the last pit stop but here, the way the things are going, if you’re not there in the Top 5 – especially in the beginning, because it’s so difficult to pass,” he said.

“Everybody seems to be able to have a very good car in the draft. You’ve got to plan [passes] well.”

But if all goes right for Castroneves and he finally earns his fourth ‘500’ title, he’ll no longer have to dream about what it would mean.

“In my dreams, it’s meant the world,” he said. “Just thinking about it, joining a club with only three guys – I hope I can answer that question after the race.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.