Today’s thrilling duel for the 98th Indianapolis 500 between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves was like watching two heavyweights delivering haymakers in the 15th round of a championship super fight.
The former Verizon IndyCar Series champion and the three-time Indy 500 winner swapped the lead several times after the race returned to green with six laps left. But somebody had to lose the duel, and that somebody was Castroneves, who missed out on his fourth ‘500’ crown by .0600 of a second.
Altogether, it was a much stronger performance at the Brickyard for Castroneves than those he had turned in following his third Indy win in 2009.
He led just four laps across the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but today, he put the No. 3 Pennzoil “Yellow Submarine” Team Penske Chevrolet up front for 38 laps.
But that was of little comfort to Castroneves, who showed mixed emotions: Graciousness toward victors Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport, pride in his team’s efforts, and disappointment in coming up just short.
“[Finishing second] certainly doesn’t take away the performance that we had,” he said immediately after the race. “It’s a shame, I wanted to give this to [team owner] Roger [Penske] so bad.
“It was a great fight…Unfortunately – second, it’s good when second sucks.”
With two laps to go, Castroneves had pulled off an impressive outside pass in Turn 1 of Hunter-Reay and it appeared that on his fifth attempt, he would finally join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr., and fellow Penske legend Rick Mears as a four-time champion of the ‘500.’
But Hunter-Reay was not done yet and proceeded to go to the outside of Castroneves on the front-stretch as the white flag waved. The two crossed the Yard of Bricks pretty much side-by-side, and Hunter-Reay finished the pass before they entered Turn 1.
Castroneves gave it one last shot off of Turn 4, but it was not to be for him. He later admitted that he was thinking about what he could have done differently.
“I didn’t think [Hunter-Reay] was going to go for the outside obviously,” he said. “That’s why I was really hugging the inside lane. But I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“It was a great race. I tried man, trust me…Today, I did everything, my team did everything we possibly could have done to win this race. So close to win four.”
But the Brazilian was still cheered up a bit by Mears, the man that he’s been trying to pull even with on ‘500’ victories for five years now.
“Rick was very happy for me on the radio, and that is worth a lot,” he said. “Everyone was excited for a great result. They saw it.
“We were fighting really hard as a group, as a team, the entire race. We were driving smart, trying to make sure we put ourselves in that position.”
And after re-establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with at Indianapolis, Castroneves’ motivation to claim a fourth Indy win appears as strong as it’s ever been.
“Right now, at this point, I feel that the team, myself, the entire group is eager to make it happen and win another as soon as possible,” he said. “That’s just a testament to the series the way it is, because the cars are so close, giving an opportunity for everyone.
“At this point, it just give me more fuel to come back here and make it happen.”