NEW YORK — Helio Castroneves figures plenty of today’s fans have never seen a driver win the Indianapolis 500 for a record-tying fourth time.
He can change that Sunday. So could Dario Franchitti.
It’s been 22 years since Rick Mears became the third driver with four Indy 500 victories. He won No. 4 in 1991 to join A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in the exclusive club. This will be the first time since 1987 that two three-time winners will start the Indy 500.
“What an incredible opportunity for the fans to have not only one but two guys trying to make history,” Castroneves said Monday while promoting the race with Franchitti in New York City. “Forget about the names, forget about who it is. But imagine people who didn’t even see the last time when the guy won four times.”
Scotland’s Franchitti or Brazil’s Castroneves would be the first foreign-born four-time winner. Castroneves won his third in 2009, so he’s now used to the pressure of trying to tie the record. Since then, Franchitti won No. 2 in 2010 and No. 3 last year.
Castroneves qualified eighth, while Franchitti will start 17th after a frustrating day Saturday for Chip Ganassi Racing. Franchitti, a four-time IndyCar champion, wrecked early in the season opener and is just 15th in the standings.
Then again, things didn’t look much better a year ago — and he went out and won.
“Last year, we had an even worse start to the season,” Franchitti said. “We were sitting here this time last year having qualified 16th, and we were thinking we’re in trouble. Honda brought an updated engine to the race, and all of a sudden we’re in the game.”
Franchitti, who turned 40 on Sunday, remembers when he thought he’d retire at 35. Instead, much of his success has come after that age. All three Indy 500 victories were in the last six years.
Another big milestone with the No. 4 in it could come a week after his birthday. But Franchitti won’t try to put that accomplishment into context until it actually occurs.
“To kind of tempt fate a little bit, and say what it would mean and what it would feel like and all that stuff, is kind of wasted energy right now,” he said.
The 38-year-old Castroneves, who earned his first two Indy 500 victories back-to-back in 2001-02, has the advantage of working with Mears on Team Penske.
Mears won his first three in 1979, 1984 and 1988 before earning the record-tying victory three years later.
Foyt and Unser had to wait much longer between Nos. 3 and 4 — Foyt’s wins came in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977, with Unser’s in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987.
Compared to that, not much time has passed since Castroneves’ last victory.
“If the preparation’s right, the opportunity right, it’s going to come up naturally,” he said.