Helio’s Mission Is to Dump The Funk

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 27 2011

Helio Castroneves came close to busting his slump last weekend in Edmonton. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

His current winless streak is at 12-and-counting, a modest figure for most IZOD IndyCar Series mortals. It only feels like forever to three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves, who showed signs of driving out of a puzzling, season-long funk during Sunday’s Edmonton Indy.

Castroneves’ runnerup result to Team Penske teammate Will Power was the closest the Brazilian has come to climbing a fence in 2011 and only his second top-five of the season. Castroneves finished 0.8089-seconds behind Power after 80 laps around the revamped 2.224-mile, 13-turn City Centre Airport circuit. Ironically, it’s the same venue where a penalty for blocking Power during the final laps in 2010 handed the victory to Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

With the championship out of reach, Castroneves is looking for the victory that would extend his series record to 12 consecutive seasons. Castroneves won three times in 2010, most recently at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan last September on a day when he led 153 of 200 laps.

Castroneves, who started ninth Sunday, recorded his 28th second-place result – two behind Bobby Unser, Al Unser Jr. and A.J. Foyt Jr. on the all-time list. Castroneves and fellow-Brazilian Tony Kanaan (fourth place Sunday) also tied Johnny Rutherford for 12th on the career Indy-car list with 99 top-five finishes.

“I’m so glad that finally this momentum, it’s changing,” said Castroneves, whose lone previous top-five finish was scored during the second Firestone Twin 275 at Texas Motor Speedway in June. “This season, the way it’s going, it’s a great result for the team. I do believe from now on we’re going to have different results on the racetrack.”

Castroneves moved to third behind the cars of Alex Tagliani and front-running Power on Lap 39 and inherited second when Tagliani pitted on Lap 49. He was on Power’s tail from Lap 57 after the final round of pit stops to the final straight. At the same time, IndyCar points-leader Dario Franchitti filled Castroneves’ rearview mirrors en route to a third-place finish.

“Certainly I have to thank my guys,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Penske Truck Rental Dallara/Honda. “They did a helluva job fixing the car from the warm-up. The entire weekend I was having issues with the braking. We did some changes that certainly fixed (the problem). I was able to avoid a lot of crashes in the beginning of the race. For the first time the double-file restart played in my favor.

“Once we were up there, it was just like good old times. I was really catching Will. He had a pretty good lead. As soon as we put the reds (soft-compound Firestone Firehawk tires) on, I was just going for it, going for it. Suddenly he just started locking the wheels and stuff like that. I had one or two chances, but it’s one of those things I wanted to pass, but the way my season was going, it was hard. He was just smart enough to be in the right place, use the ‘push-to -pass’ for not give me a slight chance. With that, he was able to win a very good race.”

Castroneves advanced three spots in the point standings to ninth, 176 points behind three-time/reigning champion Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Power, who won for the fourth time this season, closed to within 38 points of Franchitti with seven races remaining.

Next up is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 7. The race will be televised live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network.

Some numbers to note from the Edmonton Indy at the Edmonton City Centre Airport, the 10th event of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season:

2 _ Wins in Edmonton for Will Power, who also won at the venue in 2009.

4 _Consecutive top-10 finishes for Dario Franchitti. It was his sixth consecutive top-10.

6 _Sebastien Bourdais’ finishing position in the Canadian events at Toronto and Edmonton. The sixth-place finishes are the Frenchman’s season-best results for Dale Coyne Racing.

13 _ Positions gained by Danica Patrick and JR Hildebrand, most in the 26-car field. Patrick finished ninth in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. Hildebrand was 11th in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car.

18 _Cars that finished on the lead lap, a season-high.

20 _ Drivers who have recorded at least one top-five finish this year after Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing finished fifth at Edmonton.

44 _ Straight races for Danica Patrick without a DNF, extending her IndyCar Series record.

78.9590 _ Seconds it took Bourdais to record the fastest lap of the race on the final circuit of the 80-lap event.

82 _ Podium finishes by Franchitti, seventh on the all-time list.

103 _ Top-five finishes for Franchitti, most among active drivers.

620 _ Laps led by Franchitti in 2011. He has led 44.3 percent of the laps this season.

1,398 _ Laps completed by Franchitti of a possible 1,398.

Twenty-one of 27 cars entered in the Honda Indy 200 are scheduled to be at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Thursday to run through setup programs for the second natural-terrain road course race of the IndyCar Series season.

The test is open to the public and free from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with viewing from the infield and the

Scott Dixon to test Mid-Ohio.

Keyhole. The Honda Indy 200 weekend is set for Aug. 5-7.

“You still have to focus on the areas that you think the car needs improvement or development pieces, but there’s nothing better than having your competition there to sort of gauge how that’s going,” said Scott Dixon, who has top-five finishes in each of the past four years at the facility that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Dixon won at Mid-Ohio in 2007 and ’09.

“That’s why a lot of teams pull together,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Dallara/Honda.”I know a lot of times when we book a test we try to book it with Penske or Andretti or KV _ teams that you know you can benchmark yourself off. I think you’ve seen a pattern over the last few years _ Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Alabama _ there’s been a lot of those tracks where everybody sort of organized a test day beforehand and they try to go to get information.”

Scheduled to participate are: Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport; Sebastian Saavedra of Conquest Racing; Sebastien Bourdais and James Jakes of Dale Coyne Racing; Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing; Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing; Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso of KV Racing Technology – Lotus; JR Hildebrand of National Guard Panther Racing; Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing; Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman and Simon Pagenaud of Sam Schmidt Motorsports; Ed Carpenter of Sarah Fisher Racing; Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing and Dixon and Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Pagenaud competed in the IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in early April, filling in for the injured Beatriz (fractured wrist) in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car.

Three weeks ago, Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Will Power joined Jakes for a test session on the course. Franchitti is the defending race winner. Power started from pole and finished second in 2010.

Viewership of VERSUS’ broadcast of Sunday’s Edmonton Indy doubled the 2010 race at City Centre Airport. The 80-lap event won by Will Power registered a 0.60 rating – making it the highest-rated IndyCar Series race on the cable network this season.

Through seven races, VERSUS has seen a 25 percent ratings increase over its 2010 season average.

“While I’m excited, as we all are, to see it I’m not surprised by it,” said Robby Greene, president and COO of IMS Productions. “We have a fantastic product that gets better each week. While this does represent our highest rating thus far, we are seeing the signs regularly that growth is happening and an explosion is imminent. New sponsors, new cars, new tracks and promoters mixed with the fastest and most versatile seat in motorsports – what doesn’t spell growth in that formula?”

Preparation for one of the largest events to visit downtown Baltimore took another step on Monday, when cornerstone track walls were set up in front of the Inner Harbor Amphitheater for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix scheduled for Sept. 2-4.

The work signaled the first segment of construction of the 2.0-mile, 13-turn street circuit around Camden Yards and the Scenic Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore.

“This is an exciting day for the Baltimore Grand Prix,” said Jay Davidson, president/CEO of the event. “All of the years of planning are now truly coming to fruition before our eyes. This event also brings home the fact that in 40 days, there will be thousands of fans lining these streets to see the spectacular sight of race cars going 180 miles per hour down Pratt Street.”

More than 2,200, 12-foot long, 39-inch cement race walls will line the perimeter inside and outside the race circuit. In addition, portions of the circuit will be lined with a total of 650 tire pallets consisting of 25 bundled, interlocked tires.

During the next 40 days, crews will construct a debris fence encompassing the entire 2-mile course. Additional fencing will be built behind the race walls to create a “no-man’s land” – a restricted area between the spectator areas and the circuit. Work will be done between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid peak drive times.

Martyn Thake, who has overseen construction on circuits for the Grand Prix of Denver, Mexico City Grand Prix and Houston Grand Prix among others, is lead person for the design and build.

“This may be the best racetrack I have ever been a part of and with the Harbor and Camden Yards anchoring the site it will be one of the best-looking street tracks,” Thake said. ”There will also be several opportunities for passing, due to the wide streets and long straightaway’s and plenty of places for the fans to see all the action. Baltimore is joining a very select and exclusive club as one of only about 15 cities in the world that host a street race, and this circuit is really going to look fabulous on TV.”

In addition to the circuit, construction crews will begin work on ancillary projects including grandstands, hospitality tents and pedestrian bridges.

Removal of the track and other areas will begin immediately after conclusion of the race on Sept. 4 and will take close to 30 days to be disassembled.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 27 2011
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