Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Helio Makes Magic Again

 Like many others, over the last few years I had documented what I thought was the tail end of Helio Castroneves' career.

He doesn't have his fastball, I once said, another time I said that when he stopped being a full-time driver after the 2017 season that his chance at winning a fourth Indy 500 was gone. I probably said a few other things, but you are getting the idea.

I'm hear to say, I was not quite right, as Arthur Fonzarelli once succinctly said. 

I wasn't right, because right now Helio may be one of the hottest drivers on the planet. In the last two-plus seasons he has won the WeatherTech SportsCar DPi championship, his fourth Indy 500, and, as of Sunday, his second consecutive Rolex 24 overall win driving for Meyer Shank Racing (last year he won with Wayne Taylor Racing), who will also be running him full-time in IndyCar in 2022.

Editor's note: Congrats also go out to Helio's teammates Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist and Simon Pagenaud, and everyone involved with MSR. It was an incredible effort by a team that just seems to keep getting better and better all the time.

I think what all of this leads to is that maybe it's time to step back and reassess Helio's racing legacy.

In other words, he's an all-time great.

Look at it this way: on top of his two Rolex wins (and a class win at the 2008 Petit LeMans) he's 10th all-time in IndyCar with 31 wins, fourth with 50 poles and has four wins and four poles at Indy. 

Obviously, the elephant in the room is his lack of an IndyCar championship. It's kind of crazy thinking he never won one at Team Penske, but he was in the hunt almost every year. From 2002-2017 he finished in the Top 5 in points 13 times.

In any sport, athletes are measured by championships -- it's why we play, right? But the margin is so thin in Helio's case (he's finished second in points four times), does he really need a championship to cement his legacy?

In IndyCar history, a total of 42 drivers have won a single championship. I'm going to say without a second's pause that Helio's resume is better than all but a handful of them.

As a fan of the Indy 500 first, success at the Speedway carries a lot of weight with me. Meaning, Helio's record at IMS pushes the lack of a championship.

Along with his four wins and four poles, he has nine total Top 5 finishes and 15 Top 10 finishes in 21 total starts. Over the course of his career, he's completed the full race distance (factoring in the rain-shortened races in 2004 and 2007) 17 times.

He is, without a doubt, one of the All-Time greats at the Speedway, which means to me that he is one of the All-Time greats of IndyCar


More Rolex News

A total of 12 full-time IndyCar drivers took to the track at the Rolex 24, and five came home with Rolexes for overall or class wins. We've already mentioned Helio and Simon, but also receiving new timepieces were Colton Herta, Pato O'Ward and Devlin DeFrancesco, who teamed up with Eric Lux to win the LMP2 class for DragonSpeed.

Also having a great weekend at Daytona International Speedway was Robert Wickens, who returned to competition 3 1/2 years after his horrific crash at Pocono in 2018. Competing for Bryan Herta Autosport in the touring class of the Michelin Pilot Challenge, Wickens opened the 4-hour race behind the wheel and after close to 90 minutes in the car, turned it over to Mark Wilkins as the pair worked together to put it on the podium in third place.

Like me, I'm sure most of you have followed along with Robert on his journey via social media, and it's nothing short of inspiring. Add to it the fact he and his wife, Karli, announced they were becoming parents later on this year, and 2022 is starting off in a good way for Wickens.

Speaking of fastballs, Robert still has his. He was pretty hacked after qualifying seventh for the race and afterwards was talking about the goal this year was to win the series title. He showed in his first race that he is still super competitive, both in his mindset and his driving, so why not?

After all I've watched him go through, I'm a believer!

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