‘I still have a lot of fire in me’: Helio Castroneves determined to race 2021

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Helio Castroneves will race Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month for the 20th consecutive year, and he hopes to leave with a guarantee to return with a new IndyCar team in 2021.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is looking for a new ride as Team Penske puts its sports car program on pause because of a split with Acura in the premier IMSA DPi class after this season.

Castroneves told Jeff Olson of the IMSA Wire Service this will be his final Indy 500 start with Penske, but he is hoping to land a full-time ride in the NTT IndyCar Series next year.

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“Hopefully with the experience I have — not only in IndyCar, but in sports cars — I’ll be able to find myself in a good position and will be able to help a team, whether it’s an experienced team or a young team,” Castroneves, who has raced for Penske since 2000, told Olson. “I’m open to a conversation. I’m ready to keep it going.”

The Brazilian has three Indy 500 victories in 2001-02 and ’09 and also finished second at the Brickyard in 2003, ’14 and ’17 with Penske. But even those impressive results might not rank with the drive he pulled off Sunday at Road America.

With 5 minutes remaining, Castroneves deftly steered his No. 7 Acura into the lead through a torrential downpour at Road America and then hung on for his first DPi victory in more than two years with co-driver Ricky Taylor.

“There hasn’t been one like this,” Castroneves told Olson. “It was managing traffic, managing attacks from other competitors, and then dealing with such difficult conditions. All of this was in one race. In IndyCar, you have one or the other. You don’t have all three at once. For me, it ranks right up there, no question.”

Helio Castroneves new IndyCar team
Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor celebrate their victory Sunday at Road America (IMSA).

Taylor told Olson that it was “a special performance. … He dug down pretty deep for that one. He wanted it really badly. You could really see it just by how he was driving. I was thinking he was going to have to pull out some magic, and that was really some magic.”

It also should provide a timely boost to Castroneves’ value, answering questions about whether the Brazilian, who turned 45 in May, still has the verve to be world class.

“This is exactly why I love racing so much,” Castroneves said. “You reinvent yourself. You learn. You prove to yourself that you’re still capable of doing things. I still have a lot of fire in me. There’s a lot of fuel to burn. It was great to be able to show what this group of people can do. There was a lot of risk, but with risk comes great reward.”

When he moved full time to IMSA in 2018 (and became a spot starter for Penske at Indy), Castroneves made no secret he wanted to continue racing (preferably in IndyCar at the time), and a conversation with Mario Andretti before last year’s Indy 500 confirmed that his racing dream was worth chasing well into his 40s.

I said, ‘Mario, why did you stop racing?’” Castroneves told Olson. “I could see in his eyes that he never wanted to retire. He was 54 when he stopped. Age is just a number. He still had that sentimental feeling. If guys as incredible as Mario can do it, why can’t I? As long as you have the desire, the work ethic and the love for the sport, you can keep racing.”

Castroneves will begin preparing for a run at a fourth Indy 500 victory Aug. 12 when IMS opens with a nine-hour practice at 9 a.m. (NBC Sports Gold).

The 104th Indy 500 will be held Aug. 23 (1 p.m. ET, NBC).