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Eager Castroneves Eyeing Victories in Both Month of May Races at IMS

It almost seems like yesterday, but it has been 10 years since Helio Castroneves climbed the fence along the front straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to celebrate his third Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory.

Many in the stands and watching on TV that day figured it would only be a matter of a short time before the effervescent Castroneves became the fourth member of one of the most exclusive clubs in global motorsports as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Nine editions of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” have come and gone since May 24, 2009, and Castroneves still is searching for that elusive fourth win. He’ll attempt to make his 19th career “500” start – all with Team Penske – in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.

Castroneves’ pursuit of a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Indy winners remains a big storyline entering the Month of May. But there’s another, lesser-known fact about Castroneves and the most wonderful month of the year: He also yearns to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11, too.

“It would be great,” Castroneves said of a win in the NTT IndyCar Series race on the IMS road course. “We’ve been close. We’ve been on podium there. A lot of strategies played out there last year.

“I really like the place. It’s a great racetrack. Very tricky, but I really like it. Hopefully after a year with the new package, I feel like the guys, my teammates, they did a great job improving the car, so hopefully it will be even better this year.”

Castroneves has finished in the top six in all five of his career starts in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course. His best finish is second in 2016, also finishing third in 2014.

Team Penske has dominated the first five years of the INDYCAR Grand Prix, with three wins by Will Power (2014, 2017, 2018) and one by Simon Pagenaud (2016). Castroneves has raced full time for Penske’s Acura prototype team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship since 2018, with the two NTT IndyCar Series races during May at IMS as his only two open-wheel starts in 2018 and this season.

Brazilian native Castroneves will rely on his teammates – Power, Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden – to help him find a quick road-course setup for his first NTT IndyCar Series race of the season.

“The good news is my teammates are in this full time, so I have the luxury to come in and say: “What is it, guys? Give it to me,” Castroneves said with a laugh. “That is the luxury of not being full time. However, I like to do those things (testing) because it helps you to understand when you are starting to put together the puzzle.”

Castroneves participated in the Open Test in February at Circuit of the Americas in Austin and will turn laps on the IMS oval during the Open Test on Wednesday, April 24. He also did simulator work in the offseason to help reacclimate himself to the feel of an open-cockpit, open-wheel car compared to a closed-cockpit, fendered prototype.

It didn’t take long for Castroneves to make the mental shift from sports cars to Indy cars in the simulator.

“It’s good to be back,” Castroneves said. “I did do the simulator. Being in the IMSA program, you’re seated in a different position. Now jumping into the Indy car, I thought: ‘This is not my seat. I’m laying down so much.’ Then I thought, ‘No, this has been your seat for 20 years.’ I’m excited to go back again in an Indy car.”

Castroneves, 43, freely admits he misses driving an Indy car regularly despite appreciating the challenges of his new world in IMSA sports cars. Jumping back into the NTT IndyCar Series – even if for only two races – satisfies his urge to drive an open-wheel car.

“I’m out of the Indy car, but the Indy car doesn’t go out of me,” Castroneves said. “Twenty years doesn’t go away just because I wasn’t in the Indy car.”

But racing in the INDYCAR Grand Prix is more than just a labor of love for Castroneves. It’s especially important because he lacks seat time with the new aero kit introduced last season compared to his teammates and his full-time series rivals.

Every bit of mileage counts, even if the driving style and setups required for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indy 500 are galaxies apart.

“It was extremely valuable to be able to run in the GP,” Castroneves said. “Extremely valuable, for so many reasons. Just for me to get used to it was extremely important. You check the box so you don’t make mistakes when you go to the big one.”

Ah, The Big One. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

That’s still the one race that drives Castroneves more than any other. That’s the event that keeps the spring his youthful step. Nothing replaces that chance to be just the fourth driver to see his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy four times.

He will be even more focused on victory this May because of the biting disappointment of last year. Castroneves placed a career-worst 27th in the “500,” crashing out of the race on Lap 146 after spinning while exiting Turn 4. It was the first time he failed to complete all 200 laps since 2011 and only the second time in 18 Indy 500 starts that he wasn’t running at the finish.

“I still don’t know what happened in the accident last year,” Castroneves said. “I’m still very confused about that. But I’ve turned the page, and hopefully we will set up the car in a way I think will be fast, and we can go for the win.”

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