Helio Castroneves, a part-time driver in his first IndyCar race away from Team Penske, pulled off a historic victory in the 105th Indianapolis 500, becoming only the fourth driver to have won the race four times.
His victory elated the crowd of 135,000, the largest to watch a sports event since the coronavirus pandemic began, and the affection was mutual as he climbed a fence in joy, then ran down the track waving and saluting fans.
He joined Meyer Shank Racing last November after Team Penske moved on and he had driven in only two IndyCar races this year. “I only ran two races and I won two races,” he said in a postrace interview. “I think I still got it, don’t you think?”
At the age of 46, he acknowledged that the victory, a perfectly run race against a field of up-and-coming drivers showed that he has plenty left in the tank.
“I don’t know if this is a good comparison or not, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl and Phil Mickelson won the Masters, so here we go,” he laughed in a postrace interview. “Old guys can still get it [done], kick the young guys’ butts. We’ll teach them a lesson.”
He joins A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears (lastly in 1991) as the race’s only four-time winners. Castroneves won in 2001, 2002 and 2009, but was something of a free agent when he joined Meyer Shank.
With roughly 15 laps to go, Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud and Castroneves were all in the running, but the final lap came down to Castroneves vs. Palou, who could not overtake Castroneves. After he climbed out of his car, there was a lovefest among Castroneves, fans and big names in racing who ran out to embrace him. It was sheer joy.
“I love Indianapolis. You guys don’t understand; the fans, they give me energy,” he said. “This is absolutely incredible. From the beginning we were so comfortable, happy, calm, but right now I’m just excited.”
Maybe four words summed it up best.
“What an incredible feeling.”