Castroneves Needs To Solve His Math Problems

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 23 2012

Team Penske's Helio Castroneves is determined to re-enter the ranks of the IndyCar Series' elite drivers in 2012. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Helio Castroneves says he has done the “simple math,” and his recent IZOD IndyCar Series numbers point to a popular driver nevertheless mired in a puzzling and prolonged slump.

The veteran in Team Penske’s three-driver lineup, Castroneves failed to win a race during 2011 –snapping a streak that had seen him post at least one victory for a record 11 consecutive seasons. His 36th and most recent pole and 25th and most recent win were both scored at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in September 2010. That was 18 races ago, including the cancelled season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

Castroneves’ two second-place results in 2011 were trumped by 10 finishes of 17th or worse. The Brazilian led only 34 laps all season, while his 11th-place point standing placed him third on the Penske pecking order behind championship runnerup Will Power and sixth-place Ryan Briscoe.

Given that background, Castroneves is anxious to silence his growing legion of critics beginning with Sunday’s season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Practice is scheduled to begin today, with qualifying on Saturday at 1:55 p.m. (EDT). The 100-lap/181-mile event on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit will be broadcast live on ABC at 12:30 p.m. (EDT), with additional coverage on the IMS Radio

The new Dallaras take to the track for practice on Friday.

Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 211. Both the radio broadcast and live timing and scoring also can be accessed at www.indycar.com.

Road-racing specialist Power qualified on-pole at St. Pete last year en route to a second-place finish to Dario Franchitti, the four-time/reigning series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Castroneves’ trademark optimism was boosted during offseason testing of the revolutionary Dallara DW12 chassis and new, purpose-built Chevy IndyCar twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engine supported by Ilmor Engineering. Penske’s drivers posted the three fastest times during the recent Open Test at Sebring International Raceway. Castroneves paced the group with a lap in 52.14-seconds, while all three drivers were separated by a miniscule 0.066-seconds.

“For me, certainly I feel great in 2012 with new fresh equipment, certainly a new Chevy engine, working with the engineers not only on the engine side but on the race car,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil-Ultra Team Penske entry. “I am determined, I am pumped. But at the same time I’ve got to do a simple math here. I’m not good at math, but even I can figure it out. When you don’t finish – in 17 races you finish only seven races, you’re not going to have a good result in the championship. So for me it’s to be more consistent, obviously. Now the rules are pretty much set-and-done, so I’m ready.”

Castroneves’ 11th-place finish in the final standings – two points behind NASCAR defector Danica Patrick – marked the first time he had placed outside the top-10 since joining Roger Penske’s CART organization in 2000. But even more galling was Helio’s failure to win a race. Franchitti won four events last year to raise his career total to 30 while Power’s six victories jacked his count to 15.

Reminded that he has been stuck on 25 wins for over a year, Castroneves joked, “Yeah, (but) Will Power is still behind me. Let’s make that official here. But the point is, I’ve been stuck on 25. I agree. Thanks for reminding (me of) that. I certainly don’t like that. I want to increase that. But again, we can’t make that

Helio Castroneves' last victory came at Twin Ring Motegi in 2010.

as a problem. At the end of the day, you know you want to win a race but you want to win a championship, as well. And hopefully that’s going to be our goal, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to accomplish. It motivates me a lot. Every year that I don’t get, I get very upset.

“You’ve got to turn (it) around. You’ve got to not be frustrated. You’ve got to just go out there and find ways to put yourself in that position. Like I said, last year, unfortunately, when you’re four or five laps down, you don’t put yourself in that position to win a race. So we’ve just got to – you’ve just got to reset the button, everything, and start all over again.

“That’s why it’s great to have a new car, new engine, because it just gives you opportunities like that –especially the team that we have. When you get an opportunity to win it, for yourself to win, the rest comes naturally, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.“

Team Penske has opened the season with a podium finish in five of the last six years. Castroneves has one pole and two wins on the Streets of St. Pete, where Team Penske has notched three poles, four wins and seven podiums in the event’s previous six editions .

Again, in addition to the new Dallara DW12 chassis, this opener will mark the return of engine competition to the series among Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus with their turbocharged V-6 packages.

“I think it will be unpredictable,” said Castroneves, who at age 36 is one of the series’ elder statesmen. “Certainly having a new car, even though we tested a fair amount, I still think it’s going to be…we’re going to a place that you don’t know how the tires are going to hold up with this car. Hopefully you know the engines, I’m talking about all of them in general, if you’ll be able to sustain everything. But with the technology that we have today, especially Chevy, we’re pretty confident that we’re going to go without any issues and I feel pretty strong.”

Throughout its storied open-wheel history, Team Penske has posted 159 race wins, 12 National Championships and 204 pole positions. In addition, Penske Racing has won the Indianapolis 500 a record 15 times, including three by Castroneves.

Earlier this week, Auto Club announced an extension of its partnership with Penske Racing through the 2016 racing season in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup as well as the IndyCar series.

Castroneves will carry the AAA colors at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., (April 1), the Streets of Long Beach (April 15), Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (June 9) and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Sept. 15). Briscoe will drive the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske entry while Power, who has won the Mario Andretti Road Course title in each of the past two seasons, returns in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car.

“Right now I’m just excited at the start of the season. I want to start the season,” Castroneves said. “I think everybody feels the same way. And with that, the rest of it will come natural.”

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

A field of 26 cars and drivers has been entered for the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The complete list with number, driver, hometown, car name/engine and entrant:

2 Ryan Briscoe, Sydney, Australia, IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

3 Helio Castroneves, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Chevrolet, Team Penske

4 JR Hildebrand, Sausalito, Calif., National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, Panther Racing

5 E.J. Viso Caracas, Venezuela, Citgo – PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

6 Katherine Legge (R), Guildford, England, TrueCar Lotus-Dragon Racing Lotus, Lotus-Dragon Racing

7 Sebastien Bourdais, Le Mans, France, Lotus-Dragon Racing Lotus, Lotus-Dragon Racing

8 Rubens Barrichello, Sao Paulo, Brazil, BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

9 Scott Dixon, Auckland, New Zealand, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

10 Dario Franchitti, Edinburgh, Scotland, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

11 Tony Kanaan, Salvador, Brazil, GEICO/Mouser Electronics KVRT Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

12 Will Power, Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

14 Mike Conway, Bromley, England, ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda, A.J. Foyt Enterprises

15 Takuma Sato, Tokyo, Japan, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

18 Justin Wilson, Sheffield, England, Sonny’s BBQ Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

19 James Jakes, Leeds, England, Boy Scouts of America Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

20 Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Fuzzy’s Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing

22 Oriol Servia, Pals, Spain, Lotus-DRR Lotus, Lotus – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

26 Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., Team RC Cola Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

27 James Hinchcliffe, Toronto, Canada, Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

28 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

38 Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, Service Central Honda, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing

67 Josef Newgarden (R), Hendersonville, Tenn., Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

77 Simon Pagenaud (R), Poitiers, France, Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports

78 Simona de Silvestro, Thun, Switzerland, Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus, Lotus-HVM Racing

83 Charlie Kimball, Camarillo, Calif., Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen Honda, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing

98 Alex Tagliani, Lachenaie, Canada, Team Barracuda-BHA Lotus, Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian

Note _ All cars use 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Dallara DW12 chassis, renewable E85 ethnanol fuel and Firestone tires.

(R) _ Denotes Sunoco Rookie of the Year Candidate

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 23 2012
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