A full 22 years after their last tour, the CART IndyCar Series comedy duo of Castroneves and Swan have been reunited.
More precisely, two of the biggest characters in the IndyCar paddock in Helio Castroneves and his crew chief Matt Swan have resumed their working relationship at Indianapolis with at Meyer Shank Racing, and amid the regular laughs and ribbing, the duo hope to earn their first win after more than two decades of trying.
For Swan, who joined the former Hogan Racing CART IndyCar Series team in 1998, the arrival of Castroneves in ’99 marked a major upturn in the team’s competitiveness. Saddled with the wrong chassis (Lola) and the wrong engine (Mercedes-Benz), the little team suffered through a litany of problems, but did manage to earn a pole at Gateway on the way to placing 15th in the standings.
Throughout the challenging circumstances, it was Swan’s snarky humor that kept things light as the sophomore IndyCar driver showed immense promise. On the receiving end of the Napa, California native’s barbs, Castroneves came to expect the constant needling and took delight in giving it back to his chief mechanic.
The Brazilian would depart at the end of the 1999 season for Team Penske, where he’d go on to win three Indy 500s. With Hogan closing its doors soon after Castroneves’ exit, Swan was hired by Chip Ganassi Racing where he spent 19 years and 11 months working on most of its Indy car programs and taking a leadership role in its composites department.
With the ex-Hogan tandem pitted against each other for nearly 20 years at Penske and Ganassi, it was their departures from both outfits where a reunion became possible this May. For Swan, the switch from Ganassi to MSR came as a result of his wife Liz — Hogan’s former PR director — taking a new job in Columbus, Ohio.
With her husband in a new managerial role on the outskirts of Columbus at MSR — and their old pal Castroneves saying farewell to Penske during the offseason and signed on at MSR for six races in the No. 06 Honda — Swan is back in a familiar position, standing at the right-front corner of his old friend’s car on pit lane and leading the No. 06 Honda crew.
And, of course, heckling Castroneves as often as possible.
“I remember very vividly Matt always saying something funny or inappropriate to me at Hogan, and in the beginning, I was like, ‘Who is this crazy guy?’” Castroneves told RACER as the two sat next to each other. “But I was still kind of new and didn’t speak very good English, so I just went with it, man. But I was always able to go to him and honestly, he really made me part of the team.
“He was always making fun of me, but it wasn’t mean or bad. It was like making me part of the new Hogan family I was in. And I always thanked him for the connection that he made with me for the mechanics and engineers.”
Swan’s future wife was the closest to Castroneves during 1999 as she chaperoned the young 24-year-old ace throughout long CART championship season.
“In ’99, Liz and I had just got married, but these two acted like they were the married couple all year,” Swan said in his wry tone. “Right after we got married, we decided we were going to have our son Conor, but yeah, thanks to this guy, I spent most of that year at Hogan with everybody everybody telling me the kid was going to come out with dark hair speaking Portuguese…”
Outside of their interpersonal comedy routine, the familiarity and friendship between Castroneves and Swan has only helped as MSR goes for pole position with the 46-year-old driver and his old/new crew chief. Among the biggest stories on the first day of qualifying for the Indy 500, the No. 06 Honda made it into the Fast Nine and Swan has one thing in mind for the rest of the month of May.
“It’s pretty incredible to have an opportunity to do big things together,” he said. “I’m not the type to go, ‘I hope I get to win this, or I get to do this.’ But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that winning the Indy 500 with my guy here hasn’t stuck in my old brain. How cool would it be if something really special happened this month.
“Truly, honestly — and I’m doing my best to be sincere here, which as you know goes against my nature — but I just want to get Helio his fourth Indy win. He’s had all kinds of success before at Penske, and I was really fortunate to work with Dario (Franchitti) and everybody at Ganassi, but this just means a lot for two old farts to get to play together again and maybe end up with something to tell our grandkids about.”
Unable to close the call by saying something nice about his driver, Swan signed off in his usual style, which had Castroneves laughing.
“That is,” he said, “provided Helio doesn’t **** things up…”