Castroneves takes another crack at elite Indy 500 club

(Reuters) - Helio Castroneves will head into the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for what could be his last shot at joining the exclusive club of four-time winners given the Brazilian fan favourite is currently without a full-time ride for 2021.

FILE PHOTO: Aug 15, 2020; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves during qualifying for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If Castroneves is to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears in the elite club, he will need to lean heavily on his mastery of the sprawling oval to overcome his worst starting position in his 20-year career at the Brickyard.

Castroneves, who became the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500s in his first two starts in 2001 and 2002 and won again in 2009, expects his experience to give him an edge when the green flag waves for the start of the race.

“No question, every time you go to the track you better understand the process,” Castroneves, who will start in 28th position, told Autoweek. “But also, every time is different, be it equipment or time to prepare.

“This time, for example, we only get a few days to prepare, and that should help us.”

Castroneves stopped full-time IndyCar racing after the 2017 season and moved to the International Motor Sports Association’s (IMSA) SportsCar Championship.

But before the switch, long-time Penske driver Castroneves had an agreement in place to run the Indianapolis 500 with the team for three more years culminating in the 2020 edition.

“I have to say it’s past due,” three-times Indy 500 runner-up Castroneves told Autoweek of his chase for an elusive fourth victory on the famed track.

“However, it’s a place where the track picks you. You can do everything right, your team can do everything right. Car, equipment, experience, everything is good, but sometimes you can be the fastest guy out there and it’s just not your day.”

Castroneves, who has been with Penske since 2000, feels he has plenty left to offer behind the wheel and told Autoweek that while he is open to other racing series he would prefer to stick close to what he knows best.

“I’d go racing on another planet, if you asked. But, obviously, it makes more sense to stay at IndyCar or IMSA, because I have the experience,” said Castroneves.

“To start all over again, I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it, but it makes more sense, after all these years, to stay in one of those series.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge