Age is just a number, and I can attest to that as I come away from the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend another year older. But another aging hero has truly earned some well-deserved attention, as he proved yet again over the weekend that age is just a number and by no means an indicator or worth. Now two-time winner of the Rolex 24, Helio Castroneves, is an unstoppable contender on the track.
It’s difficult to ignore the success the 46-year-old driver has obtained in just 12 months. Nate Siebens, Senior Manager of Communications for IMSA, began Sunday’s post-race interview celebration by listing off Castroneves’ accomplishments. Since his 2021 Rolex 24 win with Wayne Taylor Racing in the DPi category, he bookended his fourth Indianapolis 500 win last May with this weekend’s Rolex win with Meyer Shank Racing. Even Simon Pagenaud poked fun at his teammate after the announced list, asking, “What’s wrong with this guy?” To be honest, the sequence of events left many of us wondering what has he been putting in his Wheaties, and how can we get a box?
Jokes aside, Castroneves has been a talented force to contend with for years — decades even. In 1998, wo years after he made his move to the U.S. to compete in Indy Lights, he made his move to CART. In 2000, he landed the spot of a lifetime with Team Penske. The next year he would nab his first spot on the Borg Warner Trophy and add two more spots on that trophy over nine years with the team, eventually moving to IMSA for 2018.
Perhaps Castroneves was never an IndyCar champion like his current teammate at Meyer Shank Racing, Simon Pagenaud, but he came close several times, including his first full-time season with Penske in 2002. He had seven top-three season finishes in the series, and 13 top fives in his near 20-year Indy career. Maybe it was too soon to give up on him in IndyCar as his full-time stint in the series was ended.
I often wonder if his time at Penske was wasted after his most recent accomplishments. Much like the 180-degree turnaround in Romain Grosjean’s sudden success in IndyCar after a move from the staleness that is Haas F1, Castroneves isn’t having so much a renaissance as a revolution. Odd how a fight for four Indy 500 wins comes to fruition with a move from a legendary team to a smaller outfit powered by the opposing brand’s power unit. And I don’t think we can attribute it to just the power underneath that Dallara chassis.
MSR team owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer clearly made a great decision. Shank said of Castroneves, “...he’s got everything covered in every spectrum of driving. From the business side to the driving side to the saving fuel to the performance. And a lot of people talk about his age, but I kinda see through that.”
While this is just the beginning of the 2022 season for MSR, who will continue racing in IndyCar, it wouldn’t be too out of line to predict a successful season for the outfit with Castroneves behind the wheel.
But it also poses the question: If the man is on fire and in his true prime, should MSR or other teams take on this opportunity to take a man with a clear winning streak to Le Mans? If two Rolex wins and a fourth Indy win in 12 months isn’t enough to convince someone, maybe the words out of the man’s own mouth will.
“The fire is still burning. One of the quotes that Rick Mears told me a long time ago is, if you don’t have the fire — if you stop thinking about it — it’s the time for you to stop. I can’t live without it right now. Whatever happens, yes, will happen one day, don’t get me wrong. But I still want to be involved. I love this environment. It’s my comfort zone, my therapy — everything.
“… I’m still very much passionate about it. Learning everyday. Having new teammates like Tom and Oliver, and I’ve known Simon from a long time, improving my driving skills and looking to everyone here — it makes a better driver. That’s why I enjoy it. That’s why I have fun — and that’s why I probably push as hard as you can to win that Rolex.”
And according to Simon Pagenaud, Castroneves is only getting better.