Helio Castroneves is a Brazilian racing driver who competed in the North American single-seater championships for more than twenty years, including Indy Lights, Champ Car Series and IndyCar Series. He was the IndyCar vice-champion four times and scored three victories at Indianapolis 500.
For most of his career, since 2000, Castroneves is a driver of Team Penske. In 2018, he left IndyCar Series to drive for Acura Team Penske in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
Castro-Neves became Castroneves
Helio Castro-Neves was born on May 10th, 1975, in Ribeirao Preto, the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. After he moved to the United States Helio changed the spelling of his surname to Castroneves. His first American racing competition was the 1996 Indy Lights Championship. Prior to that, Helio graduated through karting competitions and various Formula 3 competitions in South America and Europe.
Podium finishes in the Formula 3 championships
Helio debuted in the formula racing in 1992, finishing 2nd in the Brazilian Formula Chevrolet. In 1993, he was the runner-up in the South American Formula 3 Championship while next year he finished 2nd in the Brazilian Formula 3 Championship. In 1995, Helio competed in the British Formula 3 for Paul Stewart Racing team and finished third, with one victory in 17 races.
Two seasons in the Indy Lights Championship
The milestone year for the perspective Brazilian racer was 1996 when he started to race in the United States and stayed in North America up to date. Helio debuted in the Indy Lights Championship driving for Tasman Motorsports and scored one victory in the debuting season, finishing 7th in the final classification. It's interesting that his teammate was another Brazilian who later became the Indy champion – Tony Kanaan.
In his second season, Helio was much more successful and he finished second in the 1997 Indy Lights Championship standings, behind his teammate Tony Kanaan. Helio has won three races, Tony won two times but collected four points more than Helio.
Castroneves joined Penske instead of Greg Moore
In 1998 and 1999 Castroneves was competing for Bettenhausen Racing and Hogan Racing in the CART Champ Car World Series, but those teams and their cars weren't competitive enough, so Helio took just two podiums in 39 races during two seasons.
The fatal accident of Greg Moore, Helio's rival in the CART races, who was killed in the last race of the 1999 season at Fontana, determined the future for Helio. Moore has already signed the contract with Penske Racing for competing in the next season, but after his death Penske hired Castroneves.
Maiden CART victory at Belle Isle
In his first season with Penske, Helio scored three victories and finished seventh in the championship standings. Helio's maiden win was achieved at Belle Isle, Detroit. In 2001, Helio again scored three wins but collected more points and finished 4th in the standings.
Sensational rookie victory at 2001 Indianapolis 500
The highlight of the season was a sensational victory at 2001 Indianapolis 500. It was Helio's first appearance at the greatest American race and nobody expected his victory. Helio started 11th and after leading for 52 of 200 laps, he won ahead of Brazilian teammate Gil de Ferran.
In 2002, Team Penske switched to the Indy Racing League and its drivers took four wins in 15 races, but Sam Hornish Jr. took the title. Castroneves finished second and De Ferran was third. Helio scored two victories, at Phoenix and again at Indianapolis 500.
Back-to-back victory at Indianapolis 500
He became one of only five drivers who won the Indy 500 for two years in a row. Helio's victory was controversial because the race was stopped on lap 199. On that lap, second-placed Paul Tracy began to pass Helio for the lead in turn 3 but in the same time, on another part of the track, a crash occurred. The race was stopped and the race officials declared Castroneves the winner because the yellow flags were shown just a moment before Tracy overtook the lead. After protests and appeals, the victory was officially confirmed 37 days after the race.
In 2002, Helio participated for the first time in the Race of Champions, against eleven American great drivers from NASCAR and single-seater series, and he finished fourth.
Gil de Ferran stole the 2003 Indy 500 win
In 2003, the series adopted the name IndyCar Series and Team Penske's drivers again took second and third place in the points standings. The positions were converted compared to the previous season, Gil de Ferran was second, Castroneves finished third. Helio won at Gateway Speedway and Nazareth Speedway but missed the win at Indianapolis 500.
He won the pole position and was trying to become the first driver in the Indy history with three wins in a row, but Gil de Ferran passed by him with 31 laps to go and took the win. It was De Ferran's first win at Indy 500, in his last season in the IndyCar Series.
Sam Hornish Jr. as a new teammate
In 2004, Helio's new teammate was Sam Hornish Jr. The season was dominated by Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing, so Castroneves and Hornish took just one victory each, to finish 4th and 7th in the standings. The similar situation followed in 2005, with just one Helio's victory at Richmond and the sixth place finish at the end of the year.
Third place behind Hornish and Weldon
In 2006, the IndyCar Series season was shortened from 17 to 14 races and Helio won four times. His teammate Sam Hornish Jr. also took four wins and won the title, tied in the points with Dan Wheldon. Castroneves finished third, just two points behind Hornish and Wheldon.
In 2007, Castroneves and Hornish were again teammates in the Team Penske, finishing sixth and fifth in the championship, with one victory each. Castroneves won Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and earned the podium at Indianapolis 500, finishing in third place.
2008 runner-up behind Dixon
Third victory at Indianapolis 500
The overall results in 2009 were worst than the previous year, as Castroneves finished fourth in the standings, but the highlight of the season was his third victory at Indianapolis 500. Helio started from pole and won ahead of Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick. It was 15th Indy 500 victory for Team Penske.
Three victories in 2010 were enough for fourth place in the final classification. The season 2011 was Helio's worst in a career, without victories and in the 11th place at the end. His best results were two second place finishes at Edmonton and Sonoma.
First victory in the first race with Chevrolet engine
In 2012, Team Penske switched from Honda engines to Chevrolet and Castroneves took the victory in the season-opening Grand Prix of St.Petersburg. He later won in one more street course, at Edmonton City Centre Airport, to finish fourth in the final standings.
So close to the titles two more times
In the next two seasons, Castroneves finished two more times as a runner-up, although he won just one race in each season. In 2013, he won at Texas Speedway and finished second behind Scott Dixon. In 2014, Helio's only win was in Detroit and he finished second behind his teammate Will Power.
18th IndyCar season with Penske was the final
The season without victories followed in 2015. With just five podiums Castroneves took fifth place in the final classification. In 2016, at the age of 40, Hélio started his 17th consecutive season with Team Penske. He finished the 2016 season in the third place, without wins.
In 2017, he scored a victory at Iowa Speedway. It turned to be his last IndyCar win because he left the series at the end of the season. Until the end of 2017, he scored six Champ Car wins and 24 IndyCar Series victories, including three wins at Indianapolis 500.
Daytona 24h debut in 2007
Besides his duties as Team Penske IndyCar driver, Castroneves occasionally competed in some other motorsport disciplines, such was sports car racing or touring car racing. In 2007, Castroneves debuted at 24 hours of Daytona, partnering Sam Hornish Jr., Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri in the #60 Michael Shank Racing's Riley-Lexus prototype. They finished 9th overall.
Podiums at Sebring and Daytona
In the same year, Castroneves participated in another great American endurance race, the 12 hours of Sebring. He was driving the #7 Penske Porsche RS Spyder alongside Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. They finished 5th overall and third in LMP2 class.
Castroneves and Briscoe participated in two races of the American Le Mans Series with #5 Penske Porsche RS Spyder, winning the LMP2 class at Petit Le Mans and finishing fourth in class at Laguna Seca.
V8 Supercars adventure at Surfers Paradise
In 2010, it was the time for Australian adventure, so Helio participated in the Gold Coast 600 race at Surfers Paradise in Queensland. He partnered Tim Slade in the James Rosenberg Racing's Ford FG Falcon. They finished 18th in the first race and 19th in the second race. In 2011, Castroneves returned to the Surfers Paradise to drive again alongside Tim Slade. This time, they finished 12th in the first race and 10th in the second race.
In 2012, Helio returned to Brasil, to compete at Interlagos as a guest driver in the Stock Car Series, driving Shell Racing's Peugeot 408.
A new career in the sports car racing
After 18 consecutive years with Team Penske in the IndyCar Series, Castroneves started his new career in 2018. He stayed with Roger Penske but moved to his IMSA SportsCar Championship newly formed Acura Team Penske to drive the #7 Acura ARX-05 alongside defending champion Ricky Taylor. They scored their only win in the fourth round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, finishing seventh in the final classification.
In 2019, Castroneves and Taylor scored no wins, just five podiums, but finished third in the points.
Castroneves didn't leave IndyCar Series completely, driving for Team Penske both at Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Grand Prix but without any notable success.
Best dancer among race car drivers
Besides racing, Castroneves became popular in 2007 as a star of the ABC's hit TV "Dancing with the Stars." Good dancing skills and his charismatic personality eraned him the Mirror Ball trophy. In 2010, Castroneves was invited back to the set of "Dancing with the Stars" to serve as a judge after being voted as one of best ten dancers in the first ten seasons of the show. In 2012, Castroneves again participated as a dancer but just for three weeks.
Spiderman wrote a book about his life
In May 2010, Castroneves released a book about his life "Victory Road - The Ride of My Life". Except as a dancer and book writer, Helio is also widely known as a 'Spiderman'. He earned that nickname because he was climbing regularly to the fence during his victory celebrations.