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Fourth Indy Win Helps Castroneves Build Foundation for Success at MSR

Thursday, October 14, 2021 Zach Horrall, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Helio INDYCAR Brickyard

Helio Castroneves is one of the greatest drivers in the 105-year history of the Indianapolis 500, but even he got goosebumps when turning his first laps on the 2.5-mile oval since his historic win last May, admitting he had the same nervous feeling during a Firestone tire test Oct. 8 that he had when he turned his first laps at the Racing Capital of the World in 2001.

Helio Castroneves is not only the most successful current NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver in the Indianapolis 500 – he’s one of the greatest in the 105-year history of the race – but even he got goosebumps when turning his first laps on the 2.5-mile oval since his historic win last May.

Five months ago, Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the race’s most successful drivers by winning a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Meyer Shank Racing.

Even with four wins, four poles, over 300 laps led and thousands of laps turned on the oval under his belt, Castroneves admits he had the same nervous feeling during a Firestone tire test Oct. 8 that he had when he turned his first laps at the Racing Capital of the World in 2001.

“Every time you go around this place, it gives you goosebumps,” he said. “You’re like, ‘This is awesome.’ It was the same thing inside the car the first few laps. It never gets old. It’s definitely fun to be back.

“This morning when I went out, I was like, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ It’s not easy. Every time you come here it’s new, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of laps you have. Every time you go around you still respect this place like the first time.”

Castroneves, 46, said it has been a whirlwind few months since he beat eventual NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou to the line by .4928 of a second on May 30. The reception to his historic win, the first four-time Indy 500 winner since Mears in 1991, has made him feel young again.

“I’m still on cloud nine. It’s still awesome,” he said. “For me, it was very special to give a young team this incredible boost to go forward. I’m back, I feel like 10 years ago. I think at the end of the day it’s been incredible with the entire fans and people from Indianapolis and from outside, too. People really saw what we did was really special.”

While Castroneves was at IMS testing tires for 2023, when INDYCAR will implement a single-source hybrid system that could produce in excess of 900 horsepower, it was another test in what has been a learning year for he and Meyer Shank Racing.

The 31-time INDYCAR SERIES race winner was in a part-time ride with the organization in 2021, using each of their six races together as a test to learn what they need to be successful for a full season in 2022. While he only produced two top-10 finishes – first at Indy and ninth at Nashville – Castroneves said he and the No. 06 team learned what doesn’t work more than anything else.

It culminated in a strong weekend to end the season last month at Long Beach. Castroneves produced speed all weekend long and qualified third. Pit strategy didn’t fall in his favor in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, resulting in a 20th-place finish.

Still, Castroneves said their performance at the season finale is what should be expected of the team’s full-time effort in 2022.

“You got part of the process, right?” he said. “It was great we were able to show that. I believe next year is going to have fantastic results, and maybe one that’s like, ‘Woah, what happened?’ The series is just so tight. It’s so competitive. It’ll be great.”

Castroneves said he believes a big part of what should be a successful season next year for Meyer Shank is the addition of former Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 Honda.

As an elder statesman of sorts, Castroneves brings over 20 years of INDYCAR SERIES knowledge to the young race team. But even he admits there are areas where he is lacking that Pagenaud can pick up the slack, most notably in consistency.

Castroneves hasn’t competed in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full time since 2017, while 2016 champion Pagenaud has been in INDYCAR full time each year since 2012. Castroneves believes year-over-year knowledge could be the final piece to the puzzle that the two-car team needs to mount a successful campaign.

“Having someone that not only worked at an incredible organization like Team Penske, but also working together and being active is incredible,” Castroneves said. “It’s not like he stopped for a couple years and is coming back. When you have him and his caliber, it only helps.

“Now, having him I believe MSR itself is going to increase and be more consistent. We want to work with the team, work together. It’s different when you have someone who understands how to be a team player. That’s good, because you want to elevate your team, because it will make both of us strong.”

Castroneves and Pagenaud worked together at Team Penske as teammates from 2015-20, and now the winners of two of the last three Indianapolis 500-Mile Races are back together again.

Not nervous, but excited for their new journey together.