Helio Castroneves falls just short of Indy 500 glory for the third time

Mike Harding/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Helio Castroneves had an eventful day at the Brickyard, driving under the airborne Scott Dixon early and coming within sight of the checkered flag in the race’s waning moments.

But in the end, 2017’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 ended with the same result Castroneves found in 2003 and ’14 – heartbreaking defeat.

Castroneves benefitted from solid pit strategy from his Team Penske crew and drove through the field to find himself in contention for a record-tying fourth victory in the 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Brazilian surged past Max Chilton for the race lead on Lap 194, but was overtaken just one lap later by Takuma Sato. Try as he might, Castroneves was unable to conjure a move strong enough to pass the Japanese driver over the final five laps, leaving his gilded No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet striding across the line in second.

“I tried everything I could with three laps to go, two laps to go. I went outside,” Castroneves said. “Unfortunately, my tires were overshot a little bit. I would have end up in the wall. I thought was good timing because I would try to make a move again. Man, he just took off and that’s it. That was my last chance.

“Really disappointed for the fans, for obviously my team. They gave me a great car. I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could. Unfortunately, second place is the best for us today.”

The result is Castroneves’ third runner-up result in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, matching his number of wins. The previous two instances came after battles with Gil de Ferran (2003) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014).

The 42-year-old confessed it’s the oldest of the three defeats that still stings the most.

“The first one, 2003,” Castroneves responded when asked the worst of his losses. “I knew that A.J. Foyt Jr. would back off that much in Turn 2, I would go for it. That basically made me lose the race. Obviously, I was about three, four seconds ahead, or two seconds ahead of Gil (de Ferran). It was so bad that I have to slow down to third gear so that we don’t crash. Obviously, Gil came with the momentum and passed me. That would be the biggest one.”

Throughout his media availabilities, as only Castroneves can, the three-time Indy 500 champion carried a smile. Despite suffering yet another agonizing defeat in the grandest race of them all, the 21-year indy car veteran searched for silver linings.

First, he’d managed to add something new to his Indianapolis resume – dodging a flying car.

“I saw they were flying,” Castroneves said of Dixon’s crash. “I duck, I close my eyes. When I open, I was in the grass. Hold on, you know. No, I saw the (No.) 77 (Jay Howard) on the gray. I knew he would bounce back, that for sure, because it happened long time ago, I don’t know, 2011, I think, almost caught me. I knew that would be a thing. When I saw Dixon, I say, OK, he might be in trouble.

“So I was already moving to the left. But the car, when they connect, they came in the pace so fast towards me in the air, wow, I really throw the car into the inside. All of a sudden, I just saw the grass. I mean, I was in the grass. Actually, there was a hump. I don’t know what happened, the car just jumped. I’m kind of like, Hold on, you know. I thought, OK, look around. Everything is fine. When we stopped because of the red flag, we noticed that there was the winglet broken and the front wing was broken, too.”

 

While he may not have achieved Indy legend with a fourth victory, Castroneves did gain ground in his quest for another IndyCar feat: a championship.

The Brazilian shoe’s runner-up result, paired with the struggles of Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, combined to give Castroneves the points lead for the first time this season. He leaves Indy with an 11-point cushion on Sato, Dixon and Pagenaud.

The championship advantage doesn’t completely remove the sour taste of defeat, but it gives Castroneves something to be proud of as he begins the year-long process of preparing for another opportunity at Indy glory.

“After so many things happen, that at least gives you the perspective that I did my best,” Castroneves said. “I really push it. The guys did a phenomenal job. We drove our hearts out, no question. The good news, it sounds like we’re leading the championship. Hey, there is always a positive note. I think that it is very positive.

“Yes, finishing second again sucks. So close to getting the fourth. I really am trying. I will not give up this dream. I know it’s going to happen.”

One Comment

  1. Kathy

    May 29, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Excellent perspective & very well written

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