Castroneves in the pit lane. (Photo by Penske Entertainment/Joe Skibinski)
INDIANAPOLIS — As Helio Castroneves drove to an emotional win at the 105th Indianapolis 500 to become the fourth, four-time winner of the race, he showed the speed and skill that would put him on the winning track.
In 2021, Castroneves was among the fastest every day in practice, qualifying eighth, riding in the top three for most of the race and eventually passing and beating Alex Palou for the historic win.
That’s when Castroneves started his Drive for Five.
But if the popular Brazilian is to become the first five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, he’ll have to make his way from the back of the pack. He will start outside of row 9 in 27th place after posting a disappointing four-lap qualifying average of 229.830 mph in the #06 SiriusXM/AutoNation Honda for Meyer-Shank Racing.
Only once has Castroneves started lower in the pack and that was in 2020 when he finished from 28th to 11th.
Despite the obstacle, Castroneves still believes he can win the 106th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
“Difficult but not impossible,” Castroneves said. “It will not be easy; I’m telling you. However, it is not impossible.
“I think we have the car for it. We just have to make sure we have the strategy. We’re not just going to overtake people. Everyone seems to have very good speed. The idea is to make sure we go one step further.
“By halftime we should be in the top 12. That is our goal.”
One way to get there is to make the first pit stop on lap 15 instead of extending the fuel burn to lap 30. This allows a driver to drive at high speeds rather than conserve fuel and hope the yellow periods will play in his favour.
“Good question, I don’t know,” he said. “It will be different than last year. Instead of saving fuel, we have to attack. This will be our mode. If things go well, hopefully too, we will continue and not roll the dice.
“If not, then we need to think about taking another opportunity and see what happens.”
Team owner Michael Shank said he will have an “A, B & C” plan for both cars, including Castroneves’ and his teammate, 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.
“Depending on what happens at the start, if we get 5-10 positions up with a good start, that will dictate the plan,” said Shank. “We definitely have to do a little tricking. But nothing is impossible with these two and I really believe that.
“It is certainly more demanding than we would like. We have a lot of work to do when we come back here next year and I’m already working on that. The weather is getting hotter, which means cars will be sliding around more. We adjust the downforce as needed.”
In contrast to Castroneve’s starting position at the back, Pagenaud starts 16th, i.e. inside row 6.
He wants an aggressive race car and doesn’t look for “tricks” to get to the top.
“The race car is great,” said Castroneves. “Qualifying wasn’t what we expected. In terms of our speed, we didn’t get the best out of the 06, but even if we did get the best out of it, it wouldn’t have been in the top 12.
“Off to the race. There is a lot of work ahead of us but we need to keep our heads up, make fewer mistakes and move forward.”
By the end of last year’s race, Shank had won his first career IndyCar Series race as a team owner, and Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
They were the stars of racing in 2021.
“It’s changed a lot,” Shank said. “The win was the greatest thing that has ever happened to us. It helped Helio’s legacy and that’s great. It has helped our business in several ways. We approached this year differently than last year. Speeds have increased this year and we don’t have as much speed as last year, but we’re still working on it.
“It’s so competitive nowadays, it’s a real technology war out there to get speed out of these cars. We will attack it with the same force we always do. Our goal is to give them full balance in the car for the full 500 miles.”
As Castroneves said, “Difficult, but not impossible.”