INDIANAPOLIS, May 24 (Reuters) - For nine years Helio Castroneves has been chasing an elusive fourth Indianapolis 500 victory that would earn him entry into the Brickyard’s most exclusive club of champions.
In more than a century of racing at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway only three men - A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears - have finished on Victory Lane four times, and with a win on Sunday, Castroneves would become the first non-American to join that group.
So who better to ask for advice than a driver like Mears who has been there and done that?
Mears’s advice to Castroneves was simple: “Shut up and drive”.
Castroneves and Mears are both in the Roger Penske stable and between them have contributed seven of “the Captain’s” record 16 Indy 500 wins.
For 20 years, 18 of them with Penske, Castroneves has raced and won 30 times in Indy cars to become one of the series’ most popular drivers.
But at the end of last season, Castroneves moved from IndyCar to Penske’s sports car operation in a deal that would allow him to return to Indianapolis to chase 500 history.
And Mears, a Penske consultant, is back as Castroneves’ spotter and mentor, just as he has been for all three of his wins.
“My man Rick Mears is going to be spotting for me again, which is great,” said Castroneves. “He has not only won four times but I will share my wins with him, he really helped.
“When we have doubts about which way to go he always has a wise answer.”
On the surface, the stoic Mears and the bubbly Brazilian seem a motorsport odd couple. Castroneves is never lost for words and Mears is a man of few.
“I ask him, ‘what do I need to do, Rick?’ and he is like, ‘I don’t know, I’m not driving a car,’” Castroneves said before breaking into a loud laugh.
As it is, almost every May, Castroneves has been blazing fast at the Brickyard.
He posted the top speed in last Saturday’s qualifying setting him up nicely for Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout for pole position.
However, he could not quite find the same speed on Sunday and qualified eighth to sit in the middle of row three sandwiched between Danica Patrick and 2008 winner Scott Dixon.
While the transition back to IndyCar has been smooth, Castroneves said it was not without its challenges.
“There are all these buttons that weren’t there before,” said Castroneves. “I have been driving an IndyCar for 20 years and now it is like completely different.
“I’ve been driving IndyCar for so many years it is kind of like in my DNA.
“At this point there is nothing you can do, you just have to drive and go for it.” (Editing by Ian Ransom)