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Race Day: Helio Reloads For A Fourth Victory

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2011

Helio Castroneves will be racing to enter a very exclusive club of drivers in today's Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series).

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves better hope Race Day spotter Rick Mears is better at identifying cars than he is at counting championships today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Mears, one of three four-time winners of the Indy 500, will be Castroneves’ eye-in-the-sky during the 100th anniversary edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Mears, who won his fourth Indy 500 in 1991, also won in 1979, 1984 and 1988 in cars fielded by team-owner Roger Penske. Castroneves won in his first two Indy starts for “The Captain” in 2001-02 and added his third in 2009.

Helio’s initial bid to join A.J. Foyt Jr., Al Unser and “The Rocketman” in the exclusive four-time winner’s club fell flat last year in the form of a ninth-place finish after qualifying on-pole. Noticeably less buzz has surrounded Castroneves this Month of May, particularly after he qualified 16th at 225.216 mph. But part of Mears’ job apparently is to motivate Castroneves, as evidenced during a Team Penske dinner with media covering the race earlier this week.

At one point Mears said to Castroneves, “You could do better than me and become the first five-time winner. “

Castroneves: “I got to win the fourth before I can win five.”

Castroneves is well-aware an afternoon of “more challenges” await him on the 2.5-mle

Helio Castroneves wins the 2009 Indy 500. (RacinToday.com photo by Mark Henderson/Really Really Big Industries)

oval where he has recorded nine top-10 finishes in 10 starts.

“That’s a great opportunity to show how good my car is, how great my guys are on the pit stops,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Dallara/Honda. “This is great. I’ve started in the back before (11th in 2001 and 13th in 2002) and you just got to take your time. Automatic, this thing is going to unveil during the race and you’re going to find the route to a good position. But you’ve got to put yourself in a very competitive position if you want to win this race. That’s one of the keys.”

Penske teammates Will Power and Ryan Briscoe will start fifth and 26th, respectively, in a bid to give Mr. Penske his record 16th Indy 500 victory. That’s only three sets of strategies in a wide-open field of 33 starters.

“Oh boy, put everything that you planned together because always something happens,” said Castroneves, who is a shockingly low 17th in points after the IZOD IndyCar Series’ first four events on street and road-courses. “Always something unexpected. And the timing to make it happen – to go for it – that’s the hardest part. We hope we can find that on Sunday.”

Castroneves – who won the pole and the annual IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition last year – has only a seventh-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park to hang his helmet on this year. He is hoping the season’s first oval race will shake this high-profile team out of its doldrums.

“It’s just the type of scenario where the momentum is not there this year,” Castroneves

Roger Penske is going for another Indy 500 victory today.

said. “So it’s natural to think that way. And I think people realize they wouldn’t count us out just because of what happened in the season and in qualifying. They know the potential. If they have been watching, they know how strong we are and it’s good. It’s good to get them unprepared – sometimes it’s a nice thing to have.

“If it’s meant to be, it will be. Last year because of the pole position and the way we get it every day of the month we were basically up there (atop the practice sheet). So I think the expectation is like OK, that I have everything in the bag. Trust me, even Roger made sure to ask, ‘Hey, what happened?’ Right now it’s just different. So I guess we just got to break the routine at this point. We know what we need to do and I feel this place here, it’s a good opportunity so that we can break that and make it happen. I feel very confident.”

A fourth Indy 500 victory in this historic edition would further solidify Castroneves’ standing as a “Legend of the Brickyard.”

“Well, certainly it means a lot,”  Castroneves said. “This place here, I always said it’s magical, you know? And I tell you, it’ll be great…to join myself with the incredible legends. Oh boy, just to think about it is incredible. It would be a dream come true. And I would do everything I can and my team will do everything they can so that we can make that dream come true.”

Two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr., INDYCAR driver coach and consultant, concluded the annual Public Drivers’ Meeting Saturday by discussing race rules and guidelines with the competitors.

Unser instructed the starting field that the restart zone for the double-file restarts has

IndyCar driving instructor Al Unser Jr. shakes hands with rookie driver Pippa Mann at ROP two weeks ago.

been moved from the front straightaway to the entrance of Turn 4. Cars will line up two-by-two on the backstretch and will begin racing as soon as the green flag flies as they approach the restart zone at the Turn 4 entrance.

“As it will be double-file, you have to make sure to take care of each other as you enter and go through Turn 4 and head down the front straightaway into Turn 1,” Unser said. “There will be a great deal of congestion in that corner. This race is won by survivors and smart-thinkers, not just the fastest race cars. Control your own destiny, make good decisions and respect this racetrack.”

The switch is a compromise to the announcement made by Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR’s president of competition and racing operations, during a private meeting with drivers prior to the final hour of practice during Friday’s Carb Day. After instructing drivers that the restart zone for Sunday’s race would begin about 900 feet from the start/finish line, officials opted to move it back to the entrance of Turn 4. Theoretically, the change will give drivers more room to adjust to traffic.

“The owners, along with the IndyCar Series, decided to make a compromise and move it into the north chute starting so they can be more single-file as they enter Turn 1,” Unser Jr. told The Associated Press. “Indianapolis is very unique as far as single-groove. It’s not a banked track like, say, Texas, where they run two abreast comfortably.”

As previously announced by Barnhart, INDYCAR will add two sweepers at each end of the track. Before the race restarts, one set of sweepers will drive through the first two turns at the north end of the track, while the other two will clean up the two turns at the south end. The intent of staggering the sweepers side-by-side is to create a clean track.

Open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. will not only pace the field for the 100th anniversary edition of the Indy 500, he’ll also get to take part of the car back to Texas.

Jim Campbell, the U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for General Motors, presented a plaque featuring the steering wheel from the 2011 Chevrolet

A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears. Foyt will be doing double duty today.

Camaro convertible Pace Car to Foyt during the Public Drivers’ Meeting and “A.J. Foyt Day.” Foyt, first four-time winner of the Indy 500, was a late pace car replacement for entrepreneur Donald Trump. Foyt holds the record for Indy 500 starts with 35 between 1958 and 1992.

“I think A.J.’s really thrilled to drive the pace car, for what Indianapolis means to him,” said Vitor Meira, who will start today’s race 11th in Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda. “Even though he accomplished so much here and he has a lot of special memories about this place, it’s definitely going to be another one special. But it’s very tough to talk about what A.J. feels or not.”

Meanwhile, 2010 Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing owner Chip Ganassi accepted a “Baby Borg” trophy from James Verrier, vice president of BorgWarner. The Baby Borg is a miniature replica of the famed Borg-Warner Trophy, which bears the bas-relief likeness, name and average speed of every Indy 500 winner.

Gary Garfield, chief executive officer of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, presented the 2010 Indianapolis 500 winning car owner’s ring, made by Herff Jones, to Ganassi. Garfield also presented the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series champion’s ring to Franchitti.

Driver Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi.

In addition, Franchitti was presented the Louis Meyer Award commemorating his 2010 victory, sponsored by the American Dairy Association. Louis Meyer began the tradition of drinking milk in Victory Lane in 1936 when he drank buttermilk after his win. Deb Osza, general manager of Milk Promotion Services of Indiana, presented Franchitti the award.

Continuing its longstanding tradition with the Indianapolis 500, Ken Keltner of Herff Jones presented each of the 33 qualifiers for this year’s race with starter rings. Keltner also presented Foyt with a Herff Jones ring for serving as pace car driver.

Making his 66th Indianapolis 500 appearance, 1969 winning car-owner Andy Granatelli presented Dan Gurney with the STP Unsung Hero Award. Gurney made nine Indianapolis 500 starts between 1962-70, finishing second in 1968 and 1969. His Eagle chassis won the race in 1968 and 1975 with Bobby Unser and 1973 with Gordon Johncock. Teamed with Scotsman Jim Clark in a Ford-powered Lotus chassis in 1963, Gurney also was at the forefront of the rear-engine revolution at IMS.

“I’m here for one good reason: love,” Gurney said. “Love of giving to others, love of my country, love of my family and friends, and love of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the greatest track in the world.”

The Marmon “Wasp” Ray Harroun drove to victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 will be featured in two ceremonial laps during pre-race festivities for the 100th anniversary edition.

Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner, will drive the No. 32 Marmon “Wasp” during both laps. It will be only the third time the car has been driven on the famed IMS oval on Race Day since Harroun crossed the finish line in 1911.

The first lap with the “Wasp” also will feature cars built during the era of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Other drivers and cars in this lap:

•1989 and 1993 Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi: 1909 Alco Black Beast.

•1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier: Inter-State from 1911 era.

•1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Lyn St. James: 1911 Buick.

•Willy T. Ribbs, first African-American starter in the Indianapolis 500 in 1991: 1909 “Blitzen Benz,” which set a speed record of 141.732 mph in 1911 that stood until 1919.

•Indianapolis 500 veteran Derek Daly: National race car from the 1911 era.

Also, 11 Indianapolis 500 winners will drive 11 Indianapolis 500-winning cars in another parade lap.

Leading the winners’ parade lap will be Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Mari Hulman George and four-time winner A.J. Foyt Jr. “Super Tex” will drive the Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Coupe that served as the pace car at the 1977 Indianapolis 500, Foyt’s fourth career win. Also driving in the winners’ lap will be legendary winning car-owner Andy Granatelli, in a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible Pace Car.

Other drivers and cars in the winners’ lap:

•1963 winner Parnelli Jones: The No. 32 Marmon “Wasp” that won in 1911 with Ray Harroun.

•1999 winner Kenny Brack: The No. 9 Target G Force/Oldsmobile that won in 2000 with Juan Pablo Montoya.

•2003 winner Gil de Ferran: The No. 66 Sunoco McLaren that won in 1972 with Mark Donohue.

•1983 winner Tom Sneva: The Belond Salih/Offy that won in 1957 with Sam Hanks and 1958 with Jimmy Bryan.

•1969 winner Mario Andretti: The Boyle Maserati that won in 1939 and 1940 with Wilbur Shaw.

•1990 and 1997 winner Arie Luyendyk: The No. 30 Domino’s Pizza Lola/Chevrolet Indy in which he won in 1990.

•1986 winner Bobby Rahal: The No. 14 Miller that won in 1928 with Louis Meyer.

•1974, 1976 and 1980 winner Johnny Rutherford: The No. 4 Pennzoil Chaparral/Cosworth in which he won for fellow-Texan Jim Hall in 1980.

•1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987 winner Al Unser: The No. 82 Lotus/Ford that won in 1965 with Jim Clark.

•1992 and 1994 winner Al Unser Jr.: The Blue Crown Spark Plug Diedt/Offy that won in 1947 and 1948 with Mauri Rose.

•1968, 1975 and 1981 winner Bobby Unser: The No. 8 National that won in 1912 with Joe Dawson.

ABC will televise the Indianapolis 500 for the 47th consecutive year Sunday, with live pre-race coverage starting at 11 a.m. (EDT) and race coverage at noon.

What began as highlights on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” in 1965 with Jim Clark’s victory in a Lotus/Ford moved to a same-day, primetime program in 1971 and became a live telecast (except in Indianapolis) in 1986.

ESPN on ABC’s production will use 64 cameras, including a 360-degree rotating onboard camera mounted behind the driver on multiple cars. Unique views will come from Batcam, a high-definition camera running on a cable over pit road and the frontstretch that can move at more than 80 mph.

All 33 cars will carry GPS boxes for the Sportvision RaceFX system to provide telemetry and pointers to help identify the cars for viewers. ESPN will use a radio replay system that can record, play back and edit radios from any of the 33 drivers, and viewers will learn more about the technical aspects of the sport with segments from the Emmy-winning ESPN Craftsman Tech Garage.

In addition, the IMS Radio Network will broadcast live, with pre-race coverage also starting at 11 a.m. (EDT). Coverage also can be heard on SiriusXM, the Official Satellite Radio Partner of INDYCAR. SiriusXM listeners can hear the race on Channel 94 on XM and Channel 212 on Sirius Premier.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2011
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