Even four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500 have first-time moments. Such was the case for Helio Castroneves on Monday when the reigning champion entered the studio of sculptor William Behrends in Tryon, North Carolina.
Since 1990, Behrends has been the artist responsible for portraying the likeness of Indy 500 winners on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy. One unique alteration to the process that began in 2015 is the race winner now making the trek to the small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in order for Behrends to better capture their personality in a life-sized clay image before the next few stages that result in an egg-sized sterling silver cast on the trophy.
The experience was like nothing the 46-year-old Castroneves had experienced after his three previous Indy 500 victories. Sitting in the same place where Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Takuma Sato and Simon Pagenaud shared in the experience quickly gave the Brazilian a sense of the moment, but it also soon generated some of his characteristic lighthearted antics.
“There is a lot of history there, but the good news is I’m getting wittier and prettier, or I think Will is making me prettier. It’s one of those,” Castroneves quipped. “I prefer to say that I’m getting wittier and prettier. Will is the guy taking the picture and putting it there on a trophy. But look, what an experience.
“I don’t remember doing this before. Even though this is my fourth (win), it’s my first time being there for this sculpture and it was really cool to just understand the details, the little stuff. You don’t see it but when you hear from Will talking about it and we’re spending a couple of hours just having a conversation, he’s working on this clay figure, details to which for me was already amazing. He’s like, ‘No, no, no, I can improve here.’ That takes time and talent, which in any business when you’re good, that’s exactly the commitment you do to achieve success. That’s why I understand the Borg-Warner Trophy higher; to do that for the 32nd time is an amazing job.”
Castroneves, who will drive full-time for Meyer Shank Racing in 2022 after delivering the team’s first IndyCar win at the Brickyard back in May, admitted that being a four-time winner of the Indy 500 is “still surreal,” as his face will be the first on a new section of the Borg-Warner Trophy.
— Borg-Warner Trophy® (@BorgTrophy) December 13, 2021
The formation of that face is the tricky part, and leaves Behrends to find the unique characteristics of every race winner so each stands apart from the others once it is cemented on.
“You know, these things are so small and I want something that if you’re standing 10 feet from the Borg-Warner Trophy, you can recognize who that is,” said Behrends. “I want to really accentuate what are the most distinctive features of that person’s image. You know, ‘Hey, Tony Kanaan’ — his nose, of course. We talked about that (on Monday). Everybody has a look, and it is similar to a caricature but it’s not. A caricature is sort of exaggerating those distinctive features about a person’s face. But, I sort of look at those things.
“With Helio, he’s got a great face for this. First of all, he’s got a very, very happy, expressive face — great smile, strong features, good bone structure — and so I sort of bring that out in the image.
“The first one I did was Arie Luyendyk in 1990, and back then he had hair down to his shoulders. So, all that hair, I put that in there. And that was kind of breaking the mold. That was very unusual for how those images had been done in the past. I wasn’t sure what Borg-Warner was going to think about it. I thought it was gonna be a one-off for that year, but they didn’t mind it.”
While the devil is in the details, Behrends admitted that the face of Castroneves hasn’t changed much over the years.
“He is the ageless wonder,” Behrends said. “I wish I had aged over these 20 years as well as he has. You know, he doesn’t look 20 years older than he did in 2001.”
It’s no surprise, though, that Castroneves told the creator of many faces of one distinct feature he must be sure to capture.
“I told him about my hair,” admitted the 31-time IndyCar race winner. “As long as he keeps it very nice and thick, and he did say that I have nice hair, so please, if I start getting bald don’t don’t ever do that. But right now it’s still there. The hairline is a little higher, but it’s OK. Other than that, it’s still there, and he did a great job.”