Castroneves still chasing fourth Indianapolis 500 victory

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Trying to persuade Helio Castroneves to rank his three Indianapolis 500 victories is tantamount to asking an adoring mother or father to rank their children in order of affection.

Ask him what it would be like to win a record-tying fourth – at the 100th running of the iconic race Sunday and on the 50th anniversary of Penske Racing – it is impossible for Castroneves to deny: It would mean more than any other victory in an open-wheel career spanning nearly two decades.

“It’s a special number,” he said. “It’s something bigger.”

The road to immortality began in 2001, when as a rookie he weathered a lengthy rain delay and a battle with Gil de Ferran to first get his face engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy. He took a victory lap and then parked on the yard of bricks, climbing up the catch-fence with several crew members in a wild celebration.

He made the same climb the following year, when a crash just before Paul Tracy passed Castroneves on the 199th lap gave him the victory. There were protests and appeals hearings, and many still believe Tracy deserved to win the race, even though Castroneves had the victory officially upheld that July.

There was no such controversy seven years later.

Two months after he was acquitted of federal charges of tax evasion and conspiracy, he won the race from the pole position in dominant fashion, never allowing Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick to make a run.

Three victories in less than a decade.

It’s almost hard to fathom he’s been chasing No. 4 for so long.

“The good news is we’re here. We’re pushing,” said Castroneves, who will start outside on the third row Sunday. “We’re finding every inch in the track to make sure that we can make it happen.”

For all his wins, there have been just as many near-misses.

Castroneves was leading the 2003 race with about 30 laps to go when de Ferran passed him, the two of them eventually giving Team Penske another 1-2 finish. He finished third behind Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon four years later, and was fourth in 2008, when Dixon drove to victory after a late restart.

None of those was as painful as two years ago.

After a late wreck had brought out a red flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti joined Castroneves in a high-speed game of musical chairs. Castroneves took the lead with two laps to go as Andretti began to fade, only for Hunter-Reay to overcome him on the final lap. Castroneves made one more move, coming out of the last corner, but wound up second by 0.0600 seconds – the second-closest finish in race history.

“Listen, every time we don’t win, that’s part of the sport, but you remember it for a long time,” Castroneves said with a brave smile. “The team does not have a short memory. They always remember the success. But I remember the ones that I didn’t get. They hurt more.”

The fact that he could smile about a defeat, even if it was merely a facade, is one of the reasons he’s been so successful. The Brazilian’s effervescent personality permeates Gasoline Alley, and the perpetual optimism that he carries onto the speedway has allowed him to overcome plenty of misfortune.

“He’s got this spark when he drives. You see it sometimes,” said Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. “He has that something special, for sure. His spirit makes him so he doesn’t give up. He believes he can.”

That personality may rub some the wrong way, but it’s also made Castroneves plenty of fans.

“He behaves like a 22-year-old. He’s such a good spirit,” Pagenaud said. “It’s inspiring.”

Castroneves is back this weekend in Roger Penske’s renowned “Yellow Submarine” car that he nearly won in two years ago, and that Rick Mears made famous in the 1980s. And if he can guide it to victory lane Sunday, he will join Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in the exclusive club of four-time winners.

That mere thought made Castroneves reminisce about his first trip to Indianapolis.

“I came here to do something, an appearance, and I came to the track but I went to the museum – that’s as far as I went,” he said. “I remember touching the trophy and said, `One day, my face will be on here.”‘

Three times and counting.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III