Helio Castroneves can win Indy 500 as part-timer - Rick Mears

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears says Helio Castroneves can equal his record at Indy in 2018, despite no longer being a full-time IndyCar racer

Helio Castroneves can win Indy 500 as part-timer - Rick Mears

Though initially reluctant to leave IndyCar, Castroneves has been placed in Penske's new Acura IMSA SportsCar Championship DPi porgramme.

He will still return to IndyCar for the Indianapolis road course and Indy 500 with Penske alongside his IMSA commitments.

Mears has remained with Penske since retiring in 1993 and acted as Castroneves' spotter.

"Helio can win the Indy 500 even as a part-timer," Mears told Autosport, "because for him, the fire's still lit and he's still current. For me, that desire was starting to go out.

"If I'd had the desire to do a one-off at Indy in 1993, that would have been OK because I was still current on the cars, I was still relevant.

"But another year after that, no. I'd have been away for another full year and the longer the layoff, the more you lose.

"But with Helio, he's going to be running in another fast car all next year [in IMSA] - not as fast as an IndyCar, but still fast - and that will help him stay current, his head will still be in race mode."

Mears, who stopped racing in mid-1992 aged 40 following a recurrent wrist injury, said he never regretted not doing one-off Indy returns.

"Returning just for Indy wasn't really an issue or even a consideration because the fire wasn't there," he said.

"So if you compare that to Helio's situation, he's not at that stage at all. He's as eager about racing now as he was when he joined us in 2000."

Mears added that Paul Tracy's arrival at Penske in 1992 had helped him make his retirement decision, but believes that 42-year-old Castroneves has not reached a similar point in his career.

"Paul was very fast, and that put my mind at ease, because it meant my decision to stop wouldn't be dropping Roger [Penske] in a difficult situation," Mears said.

"He already had this very quick young guy lined up.

"And then secondly, I saw Paul's desire, and I knew that to beat him I would have to recommit, refocus - same as you do for all strong team-mates - and I just didn't have the motivation to do that all over again.

"But that's not a stage that Helio has reached yet. He's kept on improving, and over the years he's responded to the arrival of Will [Power], Simon [Pagenaud] and now Josef [Newgarden] and he's learned from them, too.

"He's worked hard to be even better at what he does, and he's stayed quick.

"I think we'll see that again at Indy next May. I'm sure Helio will be up to speed at the road course race and the 500."

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