Why Helio Castroneves Won’t Win a Record Fifth Indianapolis 500

Jackson Wheeler
12 Min Read

  • A lot has changed for Helio Castroneves since then his most recent 500 in 2023.
  • He will no longer race full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series for Meyer Shank Racing in 2024.
  • Right now, the only race that is on Castroneves’ dance card as a competitor in 2024 will be the 108th Running of the Indy 500 on May 26.

Winning the Indianapolis 500 even just once is the biggest milestone in an IndyCar driver’s career.

Then there’s drivers like A.J. Foyt, the late Al Unser and Rick Mears, who all won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing a record four times each.

As the world was coming out of the 15-month grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Helio Castroneves finally joined the most exclusive club in IndyCar history when he also won the Indy 500 for the fourth time in his career in 2021, followed by one of the most emotional victory celebrations the Brickyard has ever seen.

105th running of the indianapolis 500

Helio Castroneves got his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory in 2021.

Stacy Revere//Getty Images

Instead of the typical 300,000-plus fans that pack Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the last Sunday of every May, only 135,000 fans were allowed to attend the 2021 edition of the 500 due to lingering Covid restrictions, further enhancing the value of each ticket paid for by the fans who were lucky enough to be on hand to witness the celebrated event (as opposed to the delayed 500 a year earlier that didn’t run until August 23, 2020 and which fans were not allowed to attend, again due to Covid).

Castroneves earned his fourth Indy 500 in virtually unheard of fashion: after previously winning his first three 500s for Team Penske, Castroneves captured No. 4 in his first-ever start for Meyer Shank Racing.

Since then, Helio has gone through two more starts in the 500 in his quest to become the all-time winningest driver of the world’s biggest race. Unfortunately, the Brazilian native has fallen short both times, finishing seventh in 2022 and 15th in 2023.

A lot has changed for Castroneves since then his most recent 500. He will no longer race full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series for MSR in 2024, as he has accepted a role as part-team owner and performance consultant and driver coach for MSR (similar to what Mears does for Team Penske and Dario Franchitti does for Chip Ganassi Racing).

Right now, the only race that is on Castroneves’ dance card as a competitor in 2024 will be the 108th Running of the Indy 500 on May 26, as he makes yet another attempt at winning it for a record fifth time. Or as Helio likes to say with a smile on his face, he wants a champion’s ring “for my thumb” to go along with his other four Indy 500 champion’s rings.

Will Helio be able to win No. 5? The odds are long, but not totally against him. Even so, while he may have the talent and the team, he needs that one intangible – good fortune – if he is to do what potentially could be the last time we ever see a five-time winner of the 500 in our lifetime.

As we analyze Castroneves’ chances, let’s look at three reasons why he could do it, as well as three other reasons why that ship may have potentially already sailed forever.

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Helio Castroneves has just one IndyCar victory since winning at Iowa Speedway in 2017.

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Why Helio Can Still Win a Fifth Indy 500:

• When you win the Indy 500 once, it’s unlike any other achievement you’ll ever earn in your racing career. It doesn’t get any easier to win Nos. 2, 3 and 4, but experience is a key element in being able to win the 500 multiple times. Sometimes it may take a little longer than expected, but it’s still a doable thing. Consider that in his 23 starts in the 500, Castroneves won three times in nine years (2001, 2002 and 2009) and then waited 12 years before earning No. 4. During that tenure, he’s completed 4,398 laps at IMS over the years. If anyone knows the ins and outs and nuances of the 2.5-mile superspeedway, it’s Helio for sure.

• Meyer Shank Racing will not be competing in the IMSA sports car series this year? So what, you may ask? MSR is taking 2024 off from racing in IMSA and is devoting every dollar of available resource to not only strengthening its IndyCar program, but also its hopes of helping Helio win No. 5. Helio and former teammate Simon Pagenaud (who has not secured an IndyCar ride for 2024, but is likely a strong prospect to still run in the Indy 500 for another team) have been replaced for the full 2024 season by former Arrow McLaren SP Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and sports car ace Tom Blomqvist. But there will always be room for Helio at MSR for as long as he wants to compete in the 500. We strongly believe he has at least two more starts in the 500 within himself, perhaps more considering the outstanding physical shape he keeps himself in.

• With Tony Kanaan retiring at the end of the 2023 season and Takuma Sato’s plans for 2024 still uncertain, there’s a very good likelihood Castroneves – who turns 49 on May 10 – may be the oldest driver in the 500. While that in itself is something to consider when gauging his chances of winning, there is an added bonus of inspiration and motivation by becoming the oldest winner ever of the 500, for sure.

al unser sr, 1987 indy 500

Al Unser became the oldest winner of the Indy 500 at age 47 in 1987. Helio Castroneves will be 49 if he makes the 500 field in 2024.

George Tiedemann//Getty Images

      Why Helio Won’t Win a Fifth Indy 500:

      • Without sounding contradictory, while Helio is one of those rare individuals who could potentially win the 500 even at his advanced age of 49, age is also a reason why he may not win. Consider that since he won Indy in his first start for MSR in 2021 (at the age of 46), Helio finished seventh in the 2022 Indy 500 and faded to a 15th-place showing in this past season’s race. Extrapolate things a bit more and Helio finished 18th in the final season standings in both 2022 and 2023. Wait, there’s more …

      • In the 39 IndyCar starts he’s made since his triumph in the 2021 edition of the 500, Castroneves has not been a factor in any race since then. In fact, his best finish to date since then has been the aforementioned seventh in the 2022 edition of the 500. Not counting the 500, his best finish since joining MSR was eighth at Mid-Ohio in 2022 and four finishes of 9th or 10th. He has failed to earn any podiums since his Indy win in 2021 and his best finish in 2023 was 10th at Texas and 11th at Nashville.

      • Buried in Castroneves’ statistics was something very notable that took place in 2023: In 17 starts, he finished on the lead lap just seven times (second-lowest of his career). He also crashed out in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg and again at Toronto. You can make a case that given his age, perhaps Castroneves has lost a step or two. That’s not a knock at him, far from it. But it’s reality. Unser was the oldest winner of the 500 to date at 47, while Foyt was 42 when he won his final 500 and Mears won his last 500 at the spry young age of just 39.

      Place in History is Guaranteed

      There’s no denying that Castroneves is one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar. Everyone seems to like him, from fans to media to fellow competitors.

      Even if you’re a fan of, say, Scott Dixon or Will Power or Alex Palou, or a neutral member of the media, you can’t help but like Helio, his bubbly personality and talent that has won 31 races, earned 94 podium finishes and captured the pole position 47 times, all in a grand total of 391 career starts (between CART, Champ Car and IndyCar).

      Sadly, for a guy who has won and done so much in IndyCar, there remains—and always will remain—one achievement that he never attained. Namely, he’s never won an IndyCar championship. He came close four times, finishing runner-up in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014.

      Sure, winning a fifth 500 is a formidable task, perhaps even more difficult than winning his fourth 500 was (even though he made winning No. 4 look somewhat easy as he hurtled toward the checkered flag). Even if Castroneves never wins the 500 for a fifth time, his lofty place in IndyCar history and lore is guaranteed.

      The odds of anyone ever winning the 500 four or five times in our lifetime is extremely unlikely when you consider that of the current crop of active drivers, no one—other than two-time winners Juan Pablo Montoya (who is essentially semi-retired) and Takuma Sato (whether he’ll make the 500 again this coming year is questionable at best)—has won the 500 more than once (that includes last year’s winner, Josef Newgarden).

      Even If Helio doesn’t win another 500, there’ll be no shame. Disappointment, sure. Frustration, possibly. But for a guy who has become nothing short of an icon in IndyCar lore, it’s safe to say there’ll will only ever be one Helio.

      Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) @JerryBonkowski

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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