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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 40: Best Hispanic-Latino Indy 500 Driver?

Today’s question: National Hispanic American Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. To salute the rich legacy of Hispanic and Latino drivers in the Indianapolis 500, who was the best of that group in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Curt Cavin: I am more conflicted on this question than any other we’ve had. Recent history leads me to Helio Castroneves, whose statistics -- four victories, three second-place finishes, eight top-five finishes and four poles – are unmatched. Emerson Fittipaldi, a two-time Formula One World Champion, led the Brazilian movement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, won a pair of “500s,” should have won at least one more and led 505 laps, which ranks seventh in race history. Then there’s Juan Pablo Montoya, a threat to win each time out. And would you believe Tony Kanaan has led more laps at Indy (346) than Castroneves (325) or Montoya (193)? Man, this is a difficult call. In a coin toss, I’ll take Fittipaldi based on the fact he was leading in 1991 when his gearbox failed during his last pit stop and was lapping second-place Al Unser Jr. on Lap 185 when he hit the Turn 4 wall in 1994.

Zach Horrall: To Curt’s point, Hispanic and Latino heritage at the Indianapolis 500 has run deep in recent decades. However, I’m going to side with Juan Pablo Montoya on this one. He has two wins in six starts, including his first-ever start. Quite literally, Juan wins at Indy 33 percent of the time he’s entered in the race (nice number, huh?). Plus, he has only finished outside the top 10 once when he crashed in 2016 and finished last. Even with that, his average finish is 9.2. His tenure here has spanned three different race teams in three different decades. I think there’s more to come from Juan at Indianapolis.

Paul Kelly: It’s hard to believe that Emerson Fittipaldi was the first Hispanic/Latino driver to win the Indy 500 only 32 years ago, in 1989. Since then, Hispanic/Latino drivers have won the race nine additional times. And while Emerson and Juan Pablo Montoya both pulled off two wins apiece and Gil de Ferran and Tony Kanaan both produced stirring and popular victories on Memorial Day weekend, it’s impossible to ignore the body of work at 4790 W. 16th St. by Helio Castroneves. Others lead him in such categories as laps led and races led, but when it comes to the only metric that really matters – winning – Helio is a cut above all other Hispanic and Latino drivers. He earned his fourth victory last May, twice as many as Emerson or JPM. That victory also came with the nascent Meyer Shank Racing, which dispelled any notion that Helio’s first three victories came mainly due to Team Penske’s domination of Indy between 2001-2009. Add in his four career poles, and Helio is clearly the greatest Hispanic-Latino driver in Indianapolis 500 history.

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