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Castroneves Enjoying A Very Merry Month Of May

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2015
Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves has big plans for May and Indy. (Photo courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series)

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves has big plans for May and Indy. (Photo courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series)

No Verizon IndyCar Series driver is poised to enjoy the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than Helio Castroneves.

Team Penske’s longest-tenured driver, Castroneves will mark his milestone 300th series bugindycarstart Saturday in the second annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road-course. But that’s only the first entry on Helio’s crowded dance card. The Brazilian will celebrate his 40th birthday on Sunday, a day before the official opening of practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, figures to be a solid contender not only for pole position during qualifications on May 16-17 but also for a record-tying fourth victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 24.

At IMS, Helio’s perpetual smile flashes full-throttle.

“Yeah, no, it’s always awesome to be here,” said Castroneves, anticipating qualifying and the
Firestone Fast Six Friday afternoon for Saturday’s 82-lap event. “The fans are incredible, just to see everyone already is exciting. Besides that, what a special moment for me to wake up every day and to do 300 times something that I love. And for me, it’s fantastic. It’s a blessing. I can’t think it’s very difficult for a person to do what you want when you dream, and I’m one of those persons that is very fortunate to be able to keep doing with the same enthusiasm that I had in the past when it was the first time.

“So the 300th, it’s probably, feels like just my first time. I’m very excited about that. And hopefully the result will be a celebration so that we can make part of history as well.”

Castroneves’ 300th start will place him seventh on an impressive all-time list of open-wheel icons. Only Mario Andretti (407), A.J. Foyt Jr. (369), Al Unser Jr. (329), Al Unser (320), Michael Andretti (317) and Johnny Rutherford (315) have competed in more races dating to 1946.

Castroneves was fifth on the time chart (1-minute, 10.9290-seconds) Thursday after two practice sessions on the2.439-mile/14-turn IMS road-course. Three-time series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing posted the top lap of 1 minute, 10.6971-seconds in his No. 9 Target Chevrolet.  A 45-minute morning practice Friday will determine qualifying groups for the first of three segments of knockout time trials in the afternoon.

Last Sunday, Castroneves was second-fast (226.468 mph) to Penske teammate and 2000 Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya (39.6874-seconds/226.772 mph) after logging 88 laps with Chevrolet’s new superspeedway aero kit during an Open Test for the 500. Castroneves said the idea of hot-lapping in the mid-230s around IMS’ 2.5-mile oval next week “keeps me young” against peers like JPM and the current generation.

“When you’re going out there, I’m a competitive guy,” said Castroneves, who will be making his 261st career start for team-owner Roger Penske on Saturday. “When I go out there I want to beat everybody else. And when those young guys show me different routes, hey, it’s up to you to keep your mind open. And I do believe this is one of the strengths that I have. I’m not…sometimes I am stubborn but I try to obviously make myself improve to analyze and to make sure, ‘OK, that route is better, I’ve got to do it.’ One example, it’s moving my driving style from braking with the right foot to the left foot. Those things take time and, soon enough, it paid off in the end.

“So today those are what keeps me going. It’s not about age for me. Age is just a number. If you’re thinking about the past, drivers and special legends, they used to race until what, 54? Mario, what was his last race? I still have 14 more years. That’s my point _as long as you’re competitive, as long as you’re giving your heart effort, the results shouldn’t change.”

Castroneves scored his Indy 500 wins in 2001, 2002 and 2009. In doing so, he became the 10th three-time champion and quickest to the milestone in only nine attempts. Castroneves’ 29 career series wins are tied with Rick Mears – Team Penske legend and current consultant – for 11th place on the all-time list. Foyt, Big Al Unser and Mears are the only four-time winners of the Indy 500.

“Like the first time, every time I come over here or every time we start a season, I always have Rick as my consultant,” said Castroneves, whose 43 career Verizon P1 Pole Awards place him fourth on the all-time list. “Let’s put it this way _ I keep asking him a lot of questions. I can’t believe he didn’t say, ‘Roger, I’m leaving. This guy is asking too many questions.’

“But it’s great to have him spotting for me. Every time I always learn something forever. Whatever he says, it becomes words of wisdom. That, for me, it’s just a very fortunate situation because not many teams are able to have someone like Rick Mears right beside you. I’m very happy to have him around.”

Team-owner Penske, who celebrated his record 15th Indy 500 victory with Castroneves in ’09, indicated Helio continues to shoulder the legacy of his organization’s “unfair advantage” at the famed Speedway.

“Helio really exemplifies what it means to be a member of Team Penske _ both on-and-off the racetrack _ since joining our team in 2000,” Penske said. “His record speaks for itself and he continues to be one of the most productive drivers competing in the series. I know he will be doing everything he can to join Rick Mears as a four-time Team Penske winner of the Indianapolis 500 in a couple of weeks.”

To that end, Castroneves will approach the Memorial Day Weekend classic quite pragmatically.

Well, it’s a matter of putting everything together,” said Castroneves, who placed second last year to Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by 0.0600-seconds in the second-closest finish in race history. “Every time you come over here, it’s not about thinking the number of how many you won. It’s the matter of executing. Last year was super-close – too close – and obviously we did everything during the Month of May to put ourselves in that position. But I don’t think that, ‘Oh, that’s it, I’ve got to win four.’ You know, I’ve got to win and no matter if it’s the Indy Grand Prix or the Indianapolis 500 or the championship. I want to give my best.

“Obviously, it’s the Indianapolis 500, and if you give yourself a small moment to think about a fourth, what a great, incredible moment would it be being part of history. I do believe, and the fans are witness of that, so many people come to me and say, ‘Man, I want to see you win four, you know?’ And that’s the beauty of it, when you have these type of people that are young, now it’s even teen-ager, or older: ‘I saw your first win and I want to see you win four.’ So those things motivate me to go out there and give extra. This place is automatic, it brings the best out of me.

“And if I don’t win a fourth (this month)? Well, then we come back next year. We never think it’s not going to happen. I always dream big, and I do believe big dreams come true.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2015
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