By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves will have his work cut out for him if he is to win a record-breaking fifth Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, but the defending winner of the race is ready for the challenge that lies ahead.
When the driver of the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda crossed the Yard of Bricks last year to capture his fourth Indy 500 win, he joined the likes of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears as the only drivers to ever win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that many times.
Should he win the day on Sunday, he’ll be vaulted into unheralded territory at the Racing Capital of the World, as the one and only driver to win the biggest race in open wheel racing five times.
However, to be able to accomplish that feat, he’ll have to do so from the 27th starting position. In all of his previous Indy 500 starts, Castroneves has only once started further back than that, and has never won from that deep in the field.
“Difficult, but not impossible,” Castroneves said of his chances. “I do have a great team. I do have a great car like I proved last year, so I guess it is a little bit different having four or five cars in front of you compared to 15-20, but I’ve been in this situation before and I know what to do.”
Castroneves will be joined by a number of other heavy hitters to start deep in the field after getting caught out during qualifying. Even though they would rather have better starting positions for Sunday’s race, Castroneves noted that being surrounded by experienced drivers could be an asset when it comes to managing traffic when the green flag drops.
“We have Colton [Herta], we have [Juan Pablo] Montoya, we have [Alexander] Rossi. Marco [Andretti] is there too, and [Scott] McLaughlin. You have a good group of guys. Hopefully if we organize ourselves together, we can actually move to the front. That’s the goal for sure.
He added that having more of the rookies starting ahead of the veterans will be a hurdle that they will have to clear as they move forward.
“We can’t control that. Unfortunately, this is outside of our control,” Castroneves said of the drivers with limited experience starting ahead of him and the other veterans. “We just have to put ourselves in position that we don’t get caught in any of those mistakes.
“The team is going to be very important now. Pit stops, strategy, that can put us in maybe a different sequence that eventually could end up getting us up there. It’s happened before. That’s why I’m not concerned about the position that we’re starting in. We’ve just got to be a little more careful.”
Despite the obstacles that lie ahead of him and the team as a result of their issues in qualifying, Castroneves noted that his confidence is high in how the car will perform in the race, given the data they’ve been able to gather in practice.
“We didn’t do a good enough job in qualifying, I admit, but we win as a team, we lose as a team,” Castroneves said. “That’s why I said, let’s work it, let’s put our heads to what we need to do to fix it, and we did. We know that the car is good in traffic. Lacking a little bit of speed, yes, but that doesn’t make me afraid of not going for it.
“When we were doing the test, I was still able to pass the fastest cars. Might be a little bit difficult to hold it, but I was able to pass. That’s where you start understanding what you need to do and I feel that we can do it.”
Castroneves added that coming into the race as the defending winner provides added motivation for him and the team to make things happen on Sunday.
“We’re still the defending champion until the green flag drops and we’ve got to execute like that,” Castroneves said. “Just because we start in the back, we can’t let ourselves – the motivation goes away. We’ve got to keep working because this place pays off. Gambling, if you take a risk in strategy, until the last minutes, it ain’t over. We’ve got to work. We’ve got to put ourselves in a good position to do that, as well. That’s what I keep telling everyone.”
Even though the odds may be against him to pull off the “Drive for Five,” Castroneves is showing no signs of backing down. With history on the line, he is more than ready to go to battle and see where the cards fall when the checkered flag flies.
“I want to do something nobody ever did. Right? That’s what A.J. [Foyt] said. Records are meant to be broken. We tied the record and it would be phenomenal to do something that nobody ever did.
“Am I going to fight for it? Absolutely right. Is it going to happen? We’re going to see on Sunday.”