SAO PAULO (AP) — Indianapolis Motor Speedway will feel more special than usual to Helio Castroneves this weekend.
The three-time Indy 500 winner is at the track to participate in his 300th IndyCar race, joining a group that includes some of the sport’s greatest names. He will reach the milestone at the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Saturday, a day before turning 40.
“Not even in my greatest dreams I could imagine a birthday gift so special,” Castroneves said. “God reserved me the honor of completing 300 races in Indianapolis and on the eve of my 40th birthday.”
By starting in this weekend’s road race, he will become only the seventh driver with 300 starts, along with Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr., Al Unser, Michael Andretti and Johnny Rutherford.
“The greatest thing about it all is that I’ll be achieving this with the family by my side, with the same (Penske) team that has been so good to me since 2000 and, more importantly, still being able to remain competitive,” Castroneves said. “I’m still fighting for victories and going after the title with the same enthusiasm that I’ve always had.”
Castroneves will be trying to win his 30th career race, which would allow him to move one ahead of Ricky Mears for 11th place on the all-time list of open-wheel winners in America. And if he wins the Indy 500 later in the month, the Brazilian driver will join Mears, Foyt and Unser as the only four-time winners in the prestigious event.
“It’s an honor to be able to do this job that I love so much for the 300th time,” Castroneves said. “I’m very happy because of all of this, and I’ll be even happier if I can celebrate this 300th race by getting my 30th win.”
Castroneves won the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2001, 2002 and 2009. His victory in 2009 was extra special, coming just weeks after he was acquitted of tax evasion charges that could have put him in jail and ended his career.
“I can still recall that first race at Homestead in 1998,” Castroneves said. “I was just hoping to make it to 50 starts or 100 starts. To have this type of longevity means that I’ve been fortunate to have a great team around me.”
It will be Castroneves’ 261st start with Team Penske.
“I could not think of a better place for him to celebrate this achievement than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” team owner Roger Penske said. “His record speaks for itself and he continues to be one of the most productive drivers competing in the series.”
Castroneves was runner-up in the drivers’ championship three times, all with Penske. He is trailing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya by three points in this year’s title race.
He got off to a good start in Indianapolis this month, setting the second-fastest time in the first day of testing in the superspeedway earlier this week. And he did it despite fighting a bad case of the flu, which he guaranteed will not keep him from enjoying the special moments that are waiting for him this month.
“I went to the doctor just as a precaution,” Castroneves said. “This big boy here is like wine. The older, the better.”
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