The last time we saw a driver win his fourth Indianapolis 500 was Rick Mears, when he won it in 1991. Is 2012 the year we finally see Helio Castroneves join this exclusive club?
Helio grabbed his third victory at Indianapolis in 2009. It was a long dry spell since his second win, but once he pulled his Penske machine into victory lane for the third time, people began to wonder when, not if, he would get his fourth. Helio may not share the same personality as the legends Foyt, Unser, and Mears away from the track, but they all showed the drive, determination, and pure skill needed to accomplish their outstanding achievements.
Helio knows what Indianapolis means, and he truly appreciates and relishes in the history and tradition of the greatest race in the world. His passion for this race is electric, and his love for the people involved is immeasurable.
Paul Tracy will tell you that Helio has only won the 500 twice, and that will never change. Some people say he was extremely fortunate on that day. While that may or may not be true, the fact is nobody has ever won the Indianapolis 500 four times without some amount of luck and good fortune.
Foyt, Unser, and Mears all had a little bit of magic in getting their respected fourth win at Indianapolis.
Foyt’s fourth win in 1977 came as a surprise, as Gordon Johncock’s motor went up in smoke as he was leading with just 15 laps remaining. Mears’ fourth victory at Indy in 1991 was helped by a late caution flag that allowed him to close on Michael Andretti, who held a 15 second lead.
Unser won his fourth 500 in 1987 when Mario Andretti famously slowed with mechanical problems while leading. He was actually let go by Penske Racing before the season, but was the replacement driver for Danny Ongais after he wrecked earlier in the week.
Helio has been dominant at times at the Speedway, yet struggled in 2011, which was a microcosm of his entire season. For the first time since 1999, Helio failed to win at least one race during the season. Now, it appears he is no longer the top dog in Penske’s stable, as fellow driver Will Power has finished runner-up in the Championship standings the past two seasons.
While Power has the better overall package, it would be a mistake to think that Roger Penske will not have all three drivers on the same level heading into the 2012 Indy 500. In fact, the championship is an afterthought when you come to Indianapolis. Helio knows that time is ticking, and he is going to have to do it soon. He has the experience, the equipment, and the talent to rewrite the history books this year.
While May 27 is still far into the future, you can rest assured that Helio is thirsty; both literally and figuratively.