Thanks to his triumph in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves joined a select group of pilots: those who have won four times the mythical test, the maximum amount of celebrations in the oval of the Indianapolis Engine Speedway up to now. The name of the Brazilian is now next to that of great legends of American motorsport such as AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr. y Rick Piss, nothing less.
But getting here hasn't been easy for the 46-year-old. During his life he had several troubles, some sporting and others off the track. In fact, he even changed his last name and won a famous dance reality show.
In 1993, for example, he learned how tough motorsports can be. That year he lost the title of the South American Formula 3 in Buenos Aires in a definition that is still remembered. His executioner was Fernando Croceri, who won the championship thanks to the courtesy of several Argentine rivals who "raised" at the end of the race for the crown to stay in Argentina ...
After that defeat, the then 18-year-old continued his sports campaign in the British Formula 3, where he achieved third place in the 1995 tournament. That same year he also finished third in the Zandvoort Master.
Unlike many of his compatriots who sought to reach the F1, Helio decided to target the second most important category of monoposts in the world at the time: the CART in the United States.
He did school in the Indy lights, the anteroom division, supported by Marlboro and after being runner-up in 1997 he reached the famous Yankee series, where it took him two years to become a winner from his landing with the legendary Team Penske.
Those first victories were accompanied by a major change in his life. To make life easier for Americans he decided to change his surname from Castro Neves to Castroneves.
The first great joy in motorsports came to him in 2001 with his first success in the Indy 500, at a time of American motorsport convulsed by the fight between the CART and the nascent category Indy racing league, which finally won the battle and became the current IndyCar. In 2002 Castroneves proved that the previous year's triumph was no accident and repeated victory, becoming the first to do so after Unser Sr.'s double in 1970 and 1971.
At that time, Castroneves was not only talked about for his qualities behind the wheel, but also for his charisma and personality. The Brazilian stood out, above all, that he did not mind exposing his emotions, something that he tried to reflect after each triumph by climbing the fences that surrounded the circuits. Hence its nickname of Spiderman.
His popularity allowed him to reach one of the famous reality shows of those years in 2007: Dancing with the stars, who won brilliantly with the professional dancer Julianne Hough. That success did nothing but increase his fame. In fact, in 2008 it increased the sale of its official merchandising by 68 percent compared to the previous year.
But not all were good times. In 2009 he was accused of evading taxes of more than two million dollars between 1999 and 2004. The case mainly involved a $ XNUMX million sponsorship that Castroneves obtained from the Brazilian firm Coimex and its $ XNUMX million license agreement with Penske.
The bad drink was an anecdote since in mid-April a jury acquitted him of the charges. For those things of fate, to put it in some way, Castroneves took revenge in the best possible way for everything that happened: in May he achieved his third win at Indianapolis.
In IndyCar he continued until 2017 and although he won several races, he never achieved the crown. His best seasons were those of 2002, 2008, 2013 y 2014 with the runners-up. However, the thorn of being champion in motorsports in 2020 at IMSA with the scepter that he shared with Ricky taylor.
During that period away from the monoposts He always had the Indianapolis 500 on his schedule, proof that it raced with Penske from its debut in 2001 through the 2020 edition.
After the three wins and the two second places of 2014 and 2017 in 2021 Castroneves accepted the challenge of competing with the second car of the Meyer Shank Racing. The eighth place he achieved in the classification made it clear that the Brazilian was in good shape and many put him as a candidate because of his experience.
The forecasts did not fail. The good performance of his car and his mastery did the rest: In the last laps of the strenuous test he fought with the Spanish Alex Palau, who he beat on the outside when there were only a couple of laps left. Thus he crossed the finish line first, reached glory and entered the great history of one of the most important competitions in the world.