Helio Castroneves, one of the most successful NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers of his generation, certainly looks the part as Meyer Shank Racing’s new co-owner and driver coach.
Standing on the pit box at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the recent Rookie Orientation Program for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Castroneves spoke to MSR’s new driver, Tom Blomqvist, with the clarity of the veteran he is. There was just one problem: Castroneves still feels like a driver.
That’s because he is even at age 48.
“Remember,” the young-at-heart Brazilian said following a break in the action. “I’m still doing the Indy 500.”
Indeed, Castroneves will drive a third MSR entry in next year’s 108th Running, and he makes it clear he is still immensely focused on winning for a record-setting fifth time at IMS. That he is tied with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for the most “500” wins in history is just a moment in time.
Five is his drive. Which brings the conversation back to his advisor role.
Asked if this new role is something he is adjusting to after 391 career series starts, Castroneves wasted no time in responding.
“I am not,” he said before breaking into a hearty laugh. “I saw my name up there (on the headset) and I thought, ‘Hey, that means I can do some laps.’
“Look, it’s been interesting, for sure. I still feel very much that I should be behind the wheel, but I’ll go with the flow. It’s been a learning curve in that aspect, and in life, you adapt in some circumstances. But I am enjoying it. I am very grateful to Mike (Shank), Jim (Meyer) and the entire Liberty (Media) Group to open up this chapter and channel for me to keep it going.”
Most drivers at Castroneves’ age have moved on to different parts of their lives, and Castroneves is trying. He shares ownership in a Pennsylvania car dealership with his former car owner, Roger Penske, and he works closely with The Concours Club, which bills itself as Miami’s automotive resort. But he still itches to drive professionally, and he still does.
Earlier this month, Castroneves co-drove with Blomqvist and Colin Braun to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s season-ending race, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, in Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb Agajanian’s Acura ARX-06. The victory came as a book end to the season as the car won the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the third consecutive year Castroneves has won the prestigious event.
Castroneves hopes to return to Daytona for next year’s race even as MSR has announced it will not field a sports car team in 2024. Castroneves also plans to continue with Tony Stewart’s Superstar Racing Experience series, where he competed in three of the six races this year.
The only race he has confirmed for next season is the “500.” He said he is pursuing more opportunities outside of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“I like to keep sharp, I like to keep (driving),” he said. “Probably going to do some (sports car endurance races) and some more SRX, as well. Plus, I won the last three (Rolex 24 At Daytonas) at that place (Daytona International Speedway), so it will be nice to do it again.”
Whatever happens with the rest of Castroneves’ driving career, his place among the greats is assured. His 31 race wins is tied with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti for 10th place in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history, and among active drivers only Scott Dixon (56) and Will Power (41) have more. Josef Newgarden has 29, but after that Alex Palou (nine) is next among the drivers expected to compete in the series next year.
Castroneves ranks third in most seasons with a series win (17) – 11 were consecutive – and his 50 career poles stands fourth all time. Only Mario Andretti has made more starts in the series, although Dixon could match Castroneves’ total in the seventh race of the 2024 season.
It’s worth noting that Al Unser and Bobby Unser are the oldest “500” winners at age 47, but five drivers started the race after turning 54. Foyt was 57 and 129 days in 1992.
The record Castroneves figures to hold forever is most IMS fences climbed. He said Newgarden missed an opportunity in May.
“I saw him getting out of the car, and (I wondered) where is he going?” Castroneves said. “When he went under the fence, I’m like, ‘Ah, I think that’s a rookie mistake – he should have celebrated by climbing the fence.’
“But look, it was fun, and a lot of people enjoyed it, which I think that’s the way it should be. It doesn’t matter who it is, every victory shows how hard it is to get there, and you need to express emotions in a good way.”
That’s what Castroneves has done all those years as a driver. He has entertained. Forgive him if he’s not quite ready for that to end.