Hélio Castroneves recounts amazing Indy 500 celebration, race strategy after record-tying win
About 20 hours after taking the checkered flag in one of the biggest motor sports events on the globe, Hélio Castroneves says he's still "over the moon," managing the wild waves of emotion he's experienced since winning Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
It wasn't just any win for the 46-year-old Meyer Shank Racing driver. It was his fourth Indy 500 win – with a thrilling finish – and a record-tying victory that elevated the already legendary driver into an elite category with A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser Sr. (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991).
But win No. 4 came 20 years after his first and 12 years after his most recent one. Previously winning the 2001, 2002 and 2009 Indy 500s all with Team Penske, Castroneves is now the first driver to win "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" with two different teams.
And he did it by patiently out-smarting the field, which set the record for the fastest Indy 500 in history with an average speed of 190.690 miles per hour.
They say you never forget your first. We have a feeling @H3lio will never forget his fourth, either.#INDYCAR // #INDY500pic.twitter.com/JxOr7qB5kl
Less than a day after Castroneves climbed the fence lining the frontstretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, kissed the bricks and doused himself in milk, For The Win spoke with the 2021 Indy 500 champ.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
So how does it feel, the four-win club? Has it sunk in yet, or did it sink in right away?
Castroneves: Actually, [I was] taking pictures right behind [here] with the car, and I saw the newspaper. I'm like, I started getting emotional again. It is an incredible feeling.
Rick Mears sent me a message and like, "Call me when you have a chance. I know you're busy." I was like, I want to, I'm dying to call him. We've known each other for a long time, and I really cherish the friendship, and so it feels great. And I don't know how it feels right now, to be honest, like shocked in the moment.
Helio Castroneves poses with Monday's edition of the Indianapolis Star and the Borg Warner trophy to celebrate winning the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Grace Hollars, Indianapolis Star)
Have you slept at all?
Castroneves: I went to sleep at three o’clock in the morning trying to answer the messages. I had about 400 messages, and half of them was from Team Penske, which is great. My friends from there, which is really cool to have them cheering me up and what a special thing.
After the race, you jumped into Conor Daly’s arms, you celebrated with your old Team Penske teammates, you got a kiss from Mario Andretti. What does it mean that all these other people — a lot of them who are competitors of yours — were so excited to see you win the Indy 500 for the fourth time?
Castroneves: It shows respect, and what we did here was something special. We’re part of history here, been 30 years since a driver won four times, I think. A lot of the fans love to see that. Probably some of the drivers, they say, “If I cannot win, I want to see or I want to be part of history.” Well, it happened. So I feel when everybody expressed their feelings, the way I see it, it’s respect.
“You’re a legend of the sport.”
After winning the #Indy500 for a record-tying fourth time, @H3LIO Castroneves got to celebrate with some former teammates at @Team_Penske, current teammate @jack_harvey42, and @MarioAndretti. pic.twitter.com/tTabIf5Yf8
What was the highlight of your celebration?
Castroneves: I don’t know, I had so many! With the crowd. I have to say, the crowd chanting my name, that was something that I was very touched by. That was something very special.
“HELIO! HELIO!” pic.twitter.com/rYpGSOMIfg
After you climbed the fence last night, you crouched down for what seemed like a moment of disbelief. What was going through your mind immediately after you won?
Castroneves: I couldn’t contain my emotions. Well, this is something that my mom always said. You know, “You got to be yourself, and if you’re happy, you’re happy. If you’re sad, you’re sad.”
But yesterday, I couldn’t contain my emotions. How incredible we were able to achieve that, the way we did it — that’s why I was so emotional.
You talked about winning one for the old guys and mentioned Tom Brady. If you could have a celebratory drink with Tom Brady tonight, what would you want to say to him?
Castroneves: I want to say how he did it, because that was my first question after the Super Bowl was over. It’s like, “That is incredible.” I want to ask [him] how he did it.
Well, I gotta change that question now. I would say, “How long you want to keep going? I will follow your footsteps.”
Helio Castroneves, left, passes Alex Palou for the lead during the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
Simon Pagenaud pointed out between Lap 185 and you making your move to the front, you were just playing along and trying to figure out what was going on. And team co-owner Mike Shank said he realized a little bit earlier that he thought you were playing a chess match. Is that what you were doing, just planning and waiting?
Castroneves: Yeah, my car gave so much opportunity for me to do what I want, and because of that, I had the luxury to be stalking people and not want to pass. And that was my goal, waiting for the right opportunity for us and put myself in the position and studying a little bit my opponents. That, for sure, was a great strategy.
And the team noticed that. I didn’t talk much. I guess they realized what I was doing, and they just let me do my thing. And my thing turned out to be the right thing.
Does that mean you’re the smartest driver out there?
Castroneves: Yesterday, for sure. Not always. But yesterday, for sure.
You said you had the luxury of being able to stalk your opponents. How far out are you planning that? Is that your plan from the beginning of the race, or do things shift a little bit once you get to the halfway point or 50 laps left?
Castroneves: No, that was Lap 2, probably, I already started doing what I need to do, and from there on, that’s what paid off. In fact, the first yellow, we saw so many good contenders have issues, and we’re the same strategy. But we were just a little bit better, and that’s what it takes.
Helio Castroneves pours the traditional bottle of milk over his head after winning his fourth Indy 500. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
Going into Sunday’s race, did you have any kind of feeling that the day might be a little extra special?
Castroneves: I felt confident. I felt focused. I felt good. I felt trust. I felt ready. But again, this place is not about what you feel. This place, basically, [is about] who is the winner? And I had all the checkbox lists. So I put myself in this opportunity to make that happen.
Is a fifth Indy 500 win possible? Is that something you’d like to pursue?
Castroneves: Absolutely. I mean, come on! People have doubts. Yes, it was 12 years of waiting, but I never stopped believing. That’s why I’m still doing it. And I tell you what, there was a lot of people around me that believed, as well, and that’s why Mike Shank and the entire group believed me. So what we did, what we had, was awesome. But we can do more.
Years from now, what do you hope you remember about Sunday’s race?
Castroneves: I believe there was so many mixed feelings from not only myself but the entire fans. First time after the pandemic that everybody was able to get out their houses and join the incredible day, which was a beautiful day. But I want them to remember, we did something special. Not many people were able to see a four-time win, and yesterday we were able to see that. And I’m glad I was able to provide that.
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