Make that a four for Helio Castroneves.
The 46-year-old Brazilian auto racing driver, who was considered too old to race full-time, has claimed his fourth Indianapolis 500 win.
Castroneves has at long last joined the exclusive club in a popular victory for the old guys.
Then Castroneves scaled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fence for his trademark victory celebration at the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
Castroneves wasn’t done yet. At 46 and one of the oldest drivers in the field, he ran along the frontstretch of the speedway waving to the 135,000 fans in attendance. He pumped his arms in the air and waved to the ecstatic crowd, his explosion of emotional energy stopped every few feet by a flood of rivals who rushed onto the track to congratulate him.
“I was drawn by the positive energy of everyone. For a long time these people want to see a four-time winner,” Castroneves said. “I say that because they tell me. Every time we sign the autographs, they are like, ‘I’ve never seen a four-time winner. I want to see it.’ That’s what probably made me thank all of them because they made this place special.”
Almost every member of Team Penske rushed out to meet Castroneves, including former teammate Will Power, who saw the final scoring pylon and had no idea his longtime friend won.
“I was looking up and down, ‘Who is the 06?'” Power told Castroneves in a victory hug. “You’re a legend.”
Castroneves became the fourth-oldest winner in Indy 500 history, behind Al Unser (47, 1987), Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).
“It means a lot,” Castroneves said of the reception. “I’ve been in the sport for a long time, and I hope I have more friends than actual enemies. And even those who don’t like me, I hope they understand that this is a very difficult place to achieve. And that meant we did something very special.”
After more than two decades driving for Team Penske, winning three Indy 500 with them, Castroneves was eventually phased over to the sports car program, where he won the IMSA championship last season before Roger Penske shuttered the team and made the business decision to cut Castroneves loose.
Spider-Man insisted he was not done racing, and Michael Shank agreed. He hired Castroneves for the Indy 500 to complement the one-car Meyer Shank Racing team. Maybe Castroneves would have a shot to win, but he would also boost a team that needed some veteran leadership at one of the most challenging tracks in the world.
His last Indy 500 win was in 2009, and Castroneves has been trying since to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, his former mentor at Team Penske, as the only four-time winners of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Mears was the last driver to join the club in 1991.
“I love Indianapolis! You guys don’t understand it! The fans, you give me energy,” Castroneves said.
Penske, now the owner of the speedway, embraced Castroneves in victory lane, while Foyt welcomed the new member to the four-time winners club.
“He deserved it, he worked hard to get it, and he finally got it,” said Foyt, who was celebrating the 60th anniversary of his first Indy 500 victory. “It wasn’t given to him, and when someone works as hard as he did, I’m glad it happened for him.”
Castroneves, who also won the 500 in 2001 and 2002, was part of the winning Rolex 24 Daytona sports car team in January, taking the prestigious sports car event for the first time. This was the only IndyCar race on Castroneves’ schedule this season.
“I’ve run two races this year and won two races, I’d say that’s pretty good,” said Castroneves, who noted this might be the year for aging veterans. “I don’t know if this is a good comparison, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl and Phil Mickelson won the golf [PGA Championship], so here you go. The older guys are still kicking the younger guys’ butts.”
It was a stark contrast to the recent theme of young drivers taking over IndyCar, which now has six different winners through six races this season. Three of them have been first-time winners, and four are drivers age 24 or younger.
Castroneves found himself in a closing duel with one of the young stars, 24-year-old Spaniard Alex Palou, but he passed Palou for good with two laps remaining and beat him by 0.4928 seconds for the victory.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot. I didn’t expect a second place to hurt that much,” said Palou, who took the series points lead.
Castroneves, who has three runner-up finishes at Indy, said Palou “had a great car and did everything he possibly could. Last year, he didn’t finish. This year he finished second, so that’s a big improvement.”
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) May 30, 2021