Castroneves Thinks No. 4 Is Within Reach At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 23 2013

Helio Castroneves goes for a fourth Indy 500 victory on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – There was a time when Helio Castroneves thought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was an easy place to figure out.

The colorful Brazilian driver came to Indy for the first time in 2001 and surprised everyone, including himself, by winning the race.

A year later, he returned to Victory Lane, the first driver ever to win in his first two tries at the speedway and the first driver to repeat since Al Unser in 1970-71.

In 2003, Castroneves was extremely disappointed to finish second to Penske Racing teammate Gil de Ferran. This place was easy, right?

“I never thought it was easy, but having all that early success did make me think I had a chance to win every year,’’ Castroneves said.

That’s when the historic track on the Westside of Indianapolis began to show its teeth to Castroneves.

After consecutive ninth place finishes, a crash in 2006 relegated him to 25th, by far his worst finish here.

“Those first two wins came so fast, then nothing,’’ he said. “I began to wonder would I ever win Indy again?’’

He did. In 2009, Castroneves was dominant, winning from the pole.

“The first thing you do is celebrate and thank your team,’’ he said. “Then you start thinking about the next win. It hasn’t happened, yet.’’

Not even close.

Since the third win, Castroneves has finished ninth, 17th and 10th. It’s the worst stretch he’s had in 12 years coming to the speedway.

“I do think about the (wins) that didn’t happen because the recipe was there,’’ he said. “We know we can do it (every year). It’s all about putting ourselves in that situation and the key to this place is when (to be in the right place). That’s the toughest part to find.’’

He remains an optimist heading into Sunday’s 97th running of  “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’’

“When I walk into this place, I get the chills,’’ Castroneves said. “We went to the (speedway) museum the first night (in town) to see all the history of this place. It’s incredible. It’s never the same. Always, there is something different.

“There are so many things that can go wrong and so few things that can go right. That’s why this team has won 15 times because they found a way to look for those moments that makes it right.”

Castroneves, who will start eighth in the 33-car field, is among the favorites again this year, with a chance to give team owner Roger Penske his 16th Indy victory.

“Obviously, in the situation we are in right now, we’re certainly feeling very confident. We know what we need to do,’’ Castroneves said.

And, don’t forget, Castroneves has a secret weapon when he comes to Indy: Rick Mears.

Team Penske advisor and driver coach Mears is a four-time Indy 500 winner, along with only A.J. Foyt and Unser.

The self-effacing Mears said, “I just kind of stand back and watch if anything pops up that I might be able to help with. I try to help, that’s the main thing.’’

But Castroneves says Mears has done a lot more than that for him.

“I say to Rick he didn’t win four, he actually won six and a half because he’s been there since my first one,’’ Castroneves said, drawing a laugh from Mears. “Certainly, without him and the Team Penske I would not be able to do what I did.’’

If he does get that fourth win on Sunday, Castroneves will appreciate it even more than his wins here in the past.

“I know now, for sure, this place is very hard,’’ he said. “It doesn’t give you anything.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 23 2013
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