Castroneves gladly joins Indy’s elite quadruple winners club

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves takes his time pondering the loot of winning his fourth Indianapolis 500.

Like pouring red-hot liquid bronze into a mold for two bricks chiseled in his name, one of which will be placed on sacred ground: the start / finish brick yard of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Or the chance to chat and laugh with AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, the only other drivers to have won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

For Castroneves, this had special meaning beyond the brotherhood of the race.

The Brazilian rider’s fourth victory in the Indy 500 two months ago took 12 years, and the reality of being mentioned alongside the riders he idolizes still makes him pinch himself.

“Every time I’m with them it blows my mind,” said Castroneves, 46. “They helped me set goals and I really pushed for that, and (Tuesday) I joined their club. I asked them if there was a membership fee or something like that. They said they (would add one) if I win five. “

It had been 30 years since the club added a member and it was Mears. He, Foyt and Unser cheerfully welcomed Castroneves into the fold, and the Associated Press was in attendance for the event this week at the famous racing circuit.

The quartet chatted at a pagoda table before flashing their Indy 500 rings and smiling during a group photo with the towering Borg-Warner Trophy on the brickyard.

Roger Penske, the motorsport titan who scored almost half of his record 18 Indy 500 victories with Unser, Mears and Castroneves in particular, also praised Castroneves even though the No.1 win. 4 came up with Meyer Shank Racing a year after a long tenure with the Penske team.

“He’s part of the family,” the captain said via an online feed. “To see him win his fourth race was great. … I couldn’t be more proud. “

Foyt, Mears, and Unser reflected on their Indy conquests over dinner Monday night before Castroneves arrived. They continued to remember at the table, pointing out that while they sometimes made things seem easy during their careers, it has never been so.

“Some days the race track smiles at you and other days it’s the other way around,” said Unser, 82. It’s not always that you’re going to think you’re going to win because the odds are so slim. There are 32 other guys who want it as bad as you do. “

Having good cars certainly helped, but their victories all involved overcoming tough challenges and a bit of luck.

Foyt was the first to four, winning in 1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77, building his own chassis for several of those victories. Unser (1970, ’71, ’78 and ’87) was not initially on Penske’s Indy roster for the latter, but replaced injured Danny Ongais – his replacement – and drove a March-Cosworth show car from the lobby of a Pennsylvania hotel. Mario Andretti came out late and Roberto Guerrero’s car stalled in the pits, allowing “Big Al” to take over and lead the final 17 laps to tie Foyt.

Mears won in 1979, ’84, ’88 and ’91, with that final victory requiring the late overtake of Michael Andretti on the outside after being passed on the previous lap on a restart before pulling away in a car. rescue.

Castroneves seemed on a fast four-lane with wins in Indy in 2001, ’02 and ’09, although his second victory over Paul Tracy involved controversy and a lengthy post-race review. Overcoming his long gap between his third and fourth Indy wins demonstrated a tenacity that impressed Mears.

“I know when I won the fourth to stand here with two of my heroes, even though the number was the same, I still wasn’t in their category,” said Mears, 69, former mentor of Castroneves in Penske.

“So being able to be with them was amazing. And I’m pretty sure Helio feels very similar that way. He worked hard for that and he did a hell of a job getting that fourth place.”

Of course, Mears also warned his former protege that if he won a fifth Indy he would also feel lonely as the only member of that club.

“The fees will triple if you win five,” Mears said.

Foyt, 86, suggested that today’s tech-laden open-wheel machines could potentially produce a six- or seven-time winner. The need for an engineer to start the engine elicited a colorful response from the sane Texan, who also noted that winning a 500, even once, brings notoriety.

“Anyone who can win the race is a big win,” he said, “because the world knows if you win the Indy 500 it’s like the Kentucky Derby. You can have a bad horse, but if he won the Derby the whole world knows it. “

Winning four Indys is a whole different area and Castroneves lets in every moment.

Although he kept his feet on the ground instead of scaling the fence like he did in May, Castroneves was thrilled with the accolades. He convinced his elite brethren to put their winners’ bling together with his own for photos before grinning broadly with Mears, Foyt and Unser on the track.

Casting his own golden bricks is just one of a series of unique honors Castroneves is receiving for an accomplishment that doesn’t seem to be matched anytime soon.

“It makes me more grateful for what I have done,” he said.

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