One has to wonder if Hélio Castroneves and his sister were brought up on federal tax-evasion charges because of the ebullient former Dancing with the Stars champion’s celebrity status, but the point is moot. With off-season legal problems behind him, Castroneves has picked up where he left off at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hélio’s statistics at “the Brickyard” are gaudy. In eight starts at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing Castroneves has amassed going on US six million dollars in earnings. Only racing legends Arie Luyendyk (17 starts) and Al Unser (27 starts) have earned more, and Hélio should surpass each in, this, his 9th year.
Castroneves won each of his first two outings at Indianapolis and nearly won his 3rd in 2003, finishing just after Brazilian Gil DeFerran and just before Brazilian Tony Kanaan. Hélio’s average starting position is 5.6, but from 2003 on it’s been 3.5. Castroneves has started from the first two rows five times and his eight finishes include the two victories, the 2nd place finish, a 3rd and a 4th among 33 possible finishing positions.
Hélio was the 2001 Rookie of the Year, and the 2004 Scott Brayton Award winner for character and racing spirit. He won the 2002, 2006 and 2007 Pit Stop Challenge competitions and is in the final again this year. As the 2009 fastest qualifier he will be starting from the pole position for the third time.
Castroneves previously captured the pole in 2003 and 2007, and when he won it this year he did so the day before his 34th birthday, at a younger age than Rick Mears did in his 9th appearance. Mears holds the all-time record with six Indianapolis 500 poles, but Hélio already has the Indy Racing League record for all races with 27.
Winning the pole at Indy is lucrative; the pole sitter gets a US$ 100,000.00 prize. But for Hélio winning the pole has not translated into winning the races. So, in an ironic twist, it might be worth asking if Hélio can overcome being the fastest qualifier to win the Indianapolis 500 a third time.
When Castroneves won the race in 2001 and 2002 he started from the 11th and 13th positions respectively, his worst two starts and two of the only three times he failed to start in the first two rows. On the other hand, when Hélio has been on the pole at Indy he has finished 2nd and 3rd.
Its clear that Castroneves, who leads all Formula Indy drivers with 79 career top-five starts and 98 career top-10 starts, will be in the mix, provided he isn’t bitten by bad luck. Keep an eye on the red and white Team Penske #3 car in the nationally televised event on race day, Sunday May 24th.
See the complete starting grid for the Indianapolis 500 at http://www.indy500.com/grid.
Phillip Wagner, a long-time contributor to Brazzil Magazine, has covered the 500 since 2001. He is the co-founder and director of Georgia based Rhythm of Hope in Brazil, www.rhythmofhope.org, which is actively seeking door support after recently gaining federal nonprofit status. Phillip maintains, and invites Brazzil readers to see, a chronicle of his work at http://rhythmofhope.spaces.live.com/.