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Castroneves eyes historic fifth Indianapolis 500 win

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INDIANAPOLIS — Helio Castroneves lost his first battle to position himself in the parking lot of the Global Preparatory Academy, a bilingual school located less than 10 minutes from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He had been to school before, knew he was supposed to park in a back alley, and knew he would lead passenger Romain Grosjean through the cafeteria door to their appearance. But the carpool line was blocked, so Castroneves slowed his bronze Acura through the school parking lot to navigate through traffic.

A fast hatchback suddenly passed Castroneves outside and sped into the empty parking spot in front of him.

“Someone’s in a hurry,” Castroneves chuckled. “Overtaking only counts on Sunday.”

He’ll have to pass plenty of cars this Sunday when Castroneves tries to become the first five-time Indianapolis 500 winner. The Brazilian joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and mentor Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of ‘The Greatest’. Show in Racing” last May in a boisterous surprise that produced one of the most enthusiastic climbing celebrations in racing history.

It took 30 years between Mears’ fourth Indy 500 win for Castroneves to join the club. Mears wants him to stay a while.

“I said, ‘You better be very careful what you wish for here. If you win that fifth, we’ll kick you out of the club and you’ll be on your own. Someone to go out with. So be careful,” Mears said.

Sorry, mate: Castroneves has every intention of racing for his fifth Borg-Warner this weekend. It will be his 22nd start in the Indy 500, more than any other driver in the field, and that experience proved invaluable last year when Castroneves predicted traffic patterns would use the wake of run-in cars to hold back Alex Palou for the win.

He’s back for the second time with Meyer Shank Racing, the team that gave Castroneves the chance to race Indianapolis again at the end of his 20-year career with Team Penske. Winning the Indy 500 last year – the first IndyCar victory for Michael Shank’s organization – elevated what was a one-car program into a team expected to fight for wins at every race.

It helped MSR grow and sign Simon Pagenaud, another Indianapolis 500 winner and Castroneves’ teammate at Penske, and Castroneves’ exuberant personality elevated everyone’s ethos within the organization.

“He’s got an undying spirit in him that’s pushing him to do this and he’s not done yet,” team founder Michael Shank told The Associated Press. “When he comes out of that motorhome, it’s not (wrong). That’s how he feels. He is happy to start the day. We want our group to be on par with him in history. I want to be the team that gets him fifth place, and if it doesn’t work out this year, we’ll do it again.”

Castroneves currently has a one-year deal with Shank which the team are keen to find a way to extend.

Castroneves turned 47 earlier this month and shows no signs of slowing down. He led the students during his school stop in calisthenics and spoke about the importance of what lies ahead of him in Indy.

“There is a chance to make history and I want people to understand how important that is,” Castroneves said. “People here in Indianapolis know that, because they know what the Indy 500 means. I don’t think people in the rest of the motorsport world know where I stand and I’m here to show them how much story is important.

Shank puts Castroneves in the same category of athlete as Tom Brady, who was 43 when he won his seventh Super Bowl.

“Exceptional people never die; there are some people who naturally have within them the courage to exceed all expectations,” Shank told AP. “Now at some point the vision is going to give way, isn’t it? It is what it is, but in my mind, Helio could probably attempt the fifth four or five more times without being too affected by age.

Castroneves didn’t get the qualifying run he was hoping for and starts 27th on Sunday, and his aim is to halve the deficit and be in the top 12 by the halfway point.

“It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible,” Castroneves said.

He is the second oldest driver on the grid, five months younger than Tony Kanaan, a fellow Brazilian. Castroneves recalled the conversation here a year ago centered on the phase-out of veterans during IndyCar’s changing of the guard.

Age doesn’t matter in Indy, though.

“I think a lot more people understand that this place, people talking about age, that was the theme last year of all the younger generations coming in and winning races,” Castroneves said. “Winning last year shows that this place is not about age, it’s not about being brave. It’s about having experience and using it at the right time I feel like after my win last year, people are now looking at guys with a very different experience here than they might have.

More AP Indy 500 coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/indianapolis-500 and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports