Helio Castroneves passed Alex Palou for Indianapolis 500 glory. Palou is ready for a rematch & More Trending News

 

FILE - Helio Castroneves of Brazil celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500.

Helio Castroneves celebrates after successful the Indianapolis 500 final 12 months. The veteran IndyAutomotive driver is seeking to win the celebrated race for the fifth time Sunday. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Somewhat greater than a month earlier than this 12 months’s Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves stood on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Turn 2 along with his palms atop his head, staring in misery on the now destroyed automobile he’d raced to a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory in 2021. Hundreds of hours went into perfecting this automobile. But a sealant difficulty on the pit exit lane despatched Castroneves (and two different Indy 500 winners) into the wall throughout a take a look at day and introduced the crew again to sq. one main into the world’s largest motor race.

Castroneves’ Meyer Shank Racing crew, which the 22-year open-wheel veteran joined for the primary time final 12 months, rebuilt the automobile till it was “perfect” for the beginning of 500 apply final week.

Two qualifying makes an attempt later, Castroneves felt removed from good, backing off the throttle however finishing his four-lap try with the specter of rain looming.

“There’s a line between bravery and stupidity and we were really playing with the edge of it,” he advised NBC Sports.

The Brazilian, who turned 47 on May 10, is vying to grow to be the game’s first five-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and first back-to-back winner since, effectively, he did it in 2001 and 2002. To accomplish that, he’ll need to work his method up from the twenty seventh beginning spot by means of one of many quickest, best fields in IndyAutomotive historical past — together with final 12 months’s 500 runner-up, Alex Palou, who misplaced the race however went on to win the collection championship, one of many solely accomplishments Castroneves hasn’t achieved.

This 12 months, the 25-year-old will begin the 106th Indianapolis 500 from the center of the entrance row. The Spaniard, who’d by no means raced on ovals till he joined the IndyAutomotive collection in 2020, is one of many favorites to win Sunday’s race; he has been among the many most constant automobiles since apply started May 17. He additionally sits second within the collection championship.

But IMS doesn’t care how previous you’re, or how skilled you’re.

“At the end of the day,” Castroneves mentioned, “this place, Indianapolis, is gonna pick who’s gonna be the winner.”

Alex Palou crashes during the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

Alex Palou crashes throughout the 2020 Indianapolis 500. (Marty Seppala / Associated Press)

Palou’s first Indy 500 in 2020 resulted in a crash after 121 laps. But final 12 months, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, he rocketed into the highest 9 qualifiers who would compete in a shootout for the pole. Afraid that his time wouldn’t be adequate, he pushed members of his crew to let him exit for a second run. They agreed — and he crashed.

“I felt really bad for pushing the team,” he mentioned. “Not that much for crashing, but it was more like pushing the limits and not having enough downforce for those conditions. … I knew that was my best car — the best front wing, the best rear wing, undertray, the best everything, and you crash it. And it’s like, oh no, I’m done.”

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But his crew repaired the primary automobile, Palou stayed within the prime 9 and began from sixth, the second row on the beginning grid. Castroneves, who has gained the 500 pole 4 occasions, began eighth. On race day, for 405 miles, the 2 stayed close to the entrance, taking the highest two spots with 38 laps to go, taking part in cat-and-mouse with the lead and biking again to the entrance after pit stops, Palou taking the lead from Castroneves with 5 laps to go.

“I never thought that I would be in the position of leading the Indy 500 on the last laps,” mentioned Palou, who led 35 laps and passed for the lead with 5 laps to go. “There’s always the race, so exciting in the last 30 laps where normally it’s two drivers or three where they just battle back and forth and you don’t know who’s gonna win.

“And there’s always one [driver] that is thinking ahead and one that is not, which it was me, but it was awesome to be in that position of, hey it’s 10 laps left and it’s only Helio and you. And that was like, oh wow. I felt really good. It was something I never did before, it was my first time leading an oval race — the biggest race — but it was good. It felt special.”

With two laps to go, Castroneves made his transfer on the surface down the entrance stretch for the lead, and made it stick heading into Turn 1.

Alex Palou navigates into Turn 1 during the 2021 Indianapolis 500.

Alex Palou navigates into Turn 1 throughout the 2021 Indianapolis 500. Palou completed second within the race. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Defending IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou looks toward the track during practice.

Defending IndyAutomotive Series champion Alex Palou is seeking to win the Indianapolis 500 this 12 months after ending second in 2021. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

“I wasn’t even thinking about it in terms of [Alex’s] age or experience,” Castroneves mentioned. “I was just trying to play the cards right, play what I need to be in front on the last lap because I didn’t care about leading the most laps. I cared about leading the right lap. I used my experience to do that. I read the scenario correct. And it paid off.

“I don’t think [Alex] did anything wrong. … I knew how strong he was, he was definitely stronger than me in terms of leading the race. And so I couldn’t just keep playing around because he would just bring more people to us. … I lost several races in those conditions as well, with experience. So it’s not about just the experience; it’s what the car can do and handle as well.”

Several days after the race, Palou tried to debrief with the newly recrowned 500 champion.

“I was like, were you waiting [to make the pass]?” Palou mentioned. “And he just said, ‘You will never know.’ That’s the best answer he could have come up with.

“He didn’t make it by luck, which I think would have hurt more if there was another first-time winner. If you lose against Helio, I mean, sorry, like he’s 20 years more experienced than me. So it was not meant to happen.”

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Twelve years after successful Indy for the third time, Castroneves crossed the end line, jumped out of the automobile, climbed the fence along with his crew, sobbed and ran backward down the entrance stretch in a victory celebration for the ages.

“The first [Indy 500 win] you never forget,” he mentioned. “I was so eager to win my first oval race that I was like, wait a minute. This place changed my name.

“The second one, not many people were able to [win multiple 500s] over a hundred years, and wow, I can’t believe I was able to match that. And the third one, I didn’t know if I was going to be racing, and all of a sudden I was visiting victory circle. (In 2009, Castroneves was temporarily replaced on Team Penske by Australian Will Power pending the outcome of a tax evasion case, in which he was acquitted.) It took a long time for us to get the last one, which is when people start to think, that’s not going to happen. And that probably added more fuel to my fire to prove them wrong. … And the belief that all of us on the team believed that we need to make that happen, and I feel even more strongly going ahead.”

With his 2021 win, Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the one drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 4 occasions. Castroneves was capable of sit down for a broadcast particular with the four-timers membership eight weeks after his win; in December, Unser died (Unser’s brother Bobby, a three-time Indy 500 winner, died in May 2021).

Helio Castroneves stands by his car during Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 21.

Helio Castroneves stands by his automobile throughout Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 21. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

“For me to be able to experience [it with him], he was one of my rookie orientation [instructors, along with Johnny Rutherford],” Castroneves mentioned. “I will definitely have those precious moments that we had forever in my mind and in my heart.”

Has he considered what a fifth win would imply?

“I dream all the time,” he mentioned. “I can promise definitely, I’m going to fight for it. I have the guys, I have the car, we’ve just got to put ourselves in a position to be there [at the end].”

There are two different entrants with a number of 500 victories: Japan’s Takuma Sato (age 45, winner of the 2017 and 2020 races), and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya (age 46), who gained in 2000 and 2015. Five energetic drivers have one win every. Is there one other four-time winner on the horizon?

“One day it’s gonna happen again,” Castroneves mentioned. “This new generation has the potential to achieve what four of us achieved.”

Minutes after he watched Castroneves cross the yard of bricks forward of him final 12 months, Palou met the media, dissatisfied however smiling.

“[Helio] had three [wins]. Why did he want four — he couldn’t give me one?” he joked. “I just wanted one.

“But it’s OK. We’ll come back next year.”

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This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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