Retired or not, Rinaman back for more Penske magic at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Once upon a time, Rick Rinaman retired. Truth is, he never really did.

Rinaman, 68, former chief mechanic for Helio Castroneves, returned again last week as part of the crew for Castroneves’ car for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. It will be Rinaman’s 34th Indy 500 with Team Penske, which has won the race a record 17 times.

“A lot of people would put the Indy 500 on their bucket list,” Rinaman said. “It’s on my bucket list to keep working it.”

Castroneves, whose three previous Indy 500 victories came with Rinaman as crew chief, didn’t realize his longtime colleague was part of his crew until he reached the team’s garage when practice opened May 14.

Helio Castroneves“When I saw him changing my springs, I was like, ‘That’s so cool to see him again,’” Castroneves said. “It’s like going back in time. He probably sees me the same way. I miss the guy. He’s not only a great crew chief but a great person as well.”

When asked how many winning Indy 500 crews he has been part of, Rinaman ticked off eight with five drivers – Castroneves, Emerson Fittipaldi, Rick Mears, Al Unser and Will Power – including four as a crew chief and four as a mechanic.

Then he stopped to add another.

“Wait, make that nine,” Rinaman said. “I spotted for (Juan Pablo) Montoya (when he won in 2015). I’ll take that as a win.”

That was the first year after Rinaman “retired,” and he’s been back at Indy every year since.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have even had the chance to work with drivers like that, much less just being around them. It’s been pretty rewarding, I would say. When you look at the success those drivers and this team have had, it’s pretty incredible. If you couldn’t produce with Fittipaldi or Mears or Unser, then something else is wrong.”

While Rinaman has spent time again turning wrenches on Castroneves’ No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet this year, fellow Penske veteran Joel Svensson is the chief mechanic. On race day, Rinaman will be Castroneves’ eyes in Turn 1 as a spotter, with Mears doing the same in Turn 3.

“It’s wherever the workload is busiest,” Rinaman said. “I’m fortunate that I get a lucky draw now and then.”

Luck has little to do with it, Castroneves argues. Rinaman’s career in racing includes time with legends like Dan Gurney, Paul Newman and Ayrton Senna, who tested an Indy car for Penske in 1992 and insisted that Fittipaldi’s seat, which didn’t fit Senna, would be fine.

“All the drivers I’ve ever worked with, if they are an inch uncomfortable, it’s a major deal,” Rinaman recounted to Autosport. “He jumped in the thing and drove.”

Castroneves, 44, acknowledged with a smile that his team is a bit grayer – and wiser – than most others.

“This is a geriatric team” Castroneves said. “The good old boys are back in town.”

With veterans like crew chief Rinaman, Svensson and Dan Miller on the team – and Castroneves in the seat – wisdom is a virtue.

“The experience is definitely on Helio’s side, I’d say,” Rinaman said.

Castroneves will start on the outside of Row 3 in Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500. Race coverage begins at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Tickets remain available at IMS.com.

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