Nothing lasts forever. It may be a harsh reality, but the only certainty in life is change.
For Helio Castroneves, that change has come. Team Penske has announced that the popular Brazilian driver will not be driving in the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time next season. The news isn’t all doom and gloom though, as Castroneves will still have a seat with the team for the Indianapolis 500 in May. In addition to that, Helio will be driving one of the team’s new Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype IMSA entries in 2018.
Castroneves will turn 43-years old two days before his next IndyCar start. The open-wheel veteran has two decades of top-level experience under his belt, and will be a tremendous asset to the sportscar program, along with teammate Juan Montoya. Still, his gregarious personality is something that will definitely be missed throughout the paddock next season.
Despite having one of the most charismatic, engaging personalities in the series, Castroneves is one of the fiercest competitors the sport has ever seen. That is something that can not be taught, or learned. You must be born with it.
At the 2000 Detroit Grand Prix, Castroneves notched his first victory with Penske, in just his seventh start with the team. Running on pure adrenaline, he ran towards the fence, and proceeded to climb his way up. Spiderman had arrived.
When it came to the championship, you could see the fire in Helio’s eyes. The exuberance that oozed from his bones was transformed into a diligent focus. That same passion and persistence is ever present when talking about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Castroneves is one of nine people on earth that have three Indy 500 wins. In addition to his 3 wins in his 17 Indy 500 starts, Castroneves has three runner-up finishes, and sat on the pole four times at Indy.
The career numbers speak for themselves; 30 wins, 93 podium finishes, 50 poles, and more than 6,000 laps led. He has a total 41 runner-up finishes in his career. Only Mario Andretti (56) has had more. Since the 2000 season, Castroneves has finished in the top six of the championship standings every year except for 2011. He has finished in the top four of the standings an astounding 13 times, including four runner-up finishes.
Roger Penske and Rick Mears are two people that Castroneves has tried to emulate. Getting into the auto sales business, Helio has developed into a company man. Joining Mears, AJ Foyt, and Al Unser as the only men to have four Indianapolis 500 wins is still his ultimate ambition. What about that other thing? The thing he can no longer pursue.
The elusive championship may forever haunt Castroneves, but is it actually just white noise?
In April, Castroneves told the Daily News his stance has not changed on this subject. “I wouldn’t trade any of my Indy 500 wins for a championship.” He elaborated, “Imagine, in a hundred years of racing, only three guys did that. How cool that would be to be a part of it, to join this club. We’re going to work extremely hard to make that history happen.”
There are plenty of athletes that failed to win a championship during their career. The list is long, and includes names like Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Barry Sanders, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams just to name a few.
Have these men been overlooked or forgotten by history? Of course not, and neither will Castroneves.
What defines a champion? A champion hates to lose, but is not afraid to lose. They strive to find out just how great they can be, discovering their true potential. The recipe for a champion is courage, determination, and sacrifice.
Helio was never one to back down, play it safe, or concede a position. He was always attacking, always charging, always pushing himself to the limit. Coração de um campeão. In the Portuguese language, it means the heart of a champion. You see, a champion is simply someone who became, and is, the best that they can be.
Regardless of what the statistics say, Castroneves will always be just that; a champion.