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Castroneves Climbs To Victory At Iowa Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 10 2017

Helio Castroneves partied like it was 2014 after winning at Iowa on Sunday. The party came complete with a fence climbing. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

With rumors of a sports car future at Team Penske emerging as an inconvenient truth, Helio Castroneves served notice Sunday he squarely is focused on punctuating the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with his first championship.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner snapped a three-year, 54-race winless streak via a dominant drive into Victory Lane after the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. In doing so, Castroneves closed to within eight points of championship leader Scott Dixon after 11 of 17 races.

True to his “Spiderman” persona, Castroneves quickly exited his car post-race and scrambled up the banking to climb the frontstretch fence. After reaching the top, he briefly one-handed the fence in a salute to the fans. At age 42 _ and with chatter of a possible move to a Roger Penske/Honda sports car program beginning in 2018 _ Castroneves reveled in a win he said felt like the first of his 30.

“Yeah, appreciate more,” said Castroneves, who is celebrating his 20th season in Indy car competition. “But when I say like for the first time, it’s just like I remember this feeling before, and I didn’t think that climbing the fence would get a little bit harder this time. But it still had the same feeling looking at everybody’s face through the fence and everybody is excited for me. That’s a feeling that nobody can take away from you, and that’s what motivates me more to come back now and do what I just did.”

Penske reportedly is close to finalizing a Honda Daytona Prototype international sports car program next season, a move accompanied by a reduction in its Chevrolet-powered INDYCAR lineup from four to three cars. Castroneves is rumored to be paired with Juan Pablo Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 champion, who ran a limited, two-race Month of May schedule at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As first reported by Racer.com, Penske likely will continue to enter JPM and Castroneves in the Indy 500, as the latter pursues a record-tying fourth victory after his second-place result to Takuma Sato of Andretti Autosport in the 101st edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Castroneves made his 338th career start Sunday. In addition to 30 wins, he has bagged 50 poles and has finished as the championship runnerup four times since joining the Penske juggernaut in 2000.

Castroneves led 217 of 300 laps around the high-speed, 0.894-mile Iowa oval Sunday, winning by 3.9647-seconds over JR Hildebrand of Ed Carpenter Racing.

“We’ve been close (to winning) so many times, and finally luck was on our side,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. “We’ve been working so hard together. We had a little bit of an issue in the beginning but after we set up the car it was great. What a great finish.”

Castroneves posted his first win since the opener of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on June 1, 2014. The Brazilian’s 30th career victory moved him into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time victory list. Castroneves had been tied with retired Team Penske great Rick Mears, who now serves as Helio’s spotter on ovals.

“Finally, everything came together,” said Castroneves, who also overtook Al Unser for fourth all-time in laps-led and now has 5,947. “And 30 wins, we just passed Rick Mears, which is my hero. I’m honored to be part of this organization and I can only thank (team-owner) Roger Penske, (team president) Tim Cindric and the entire team for supporting me. It’s easy to be behind you in good times, but they’ve always been there no matter the time, so for me that’s priceless. I’m going to continue focusing on this season, and there’s more to come.”

The race’s decisive pass came on Lap 268, when Castroneves darted past Hildebrand and leader Marco Andretti into first place. Castroneves steadily pulled away to give Team Penske its 192nd Indy car win _ most all-time_ but its first at Iowa Speedway. Castroneves is the ninth different driver to win a race this season, a list that now includes all four Team Penske drivers.

“To see that run that Helio made all day long, I think he controlled the race,” said Penske, who calls Castroneves’ race strategy. “We had very good pit stops, you could see that, but you’ve got to have reliability and you’ve got to have a guy behind the wheel who knows how to climb the fence.”

Castroneves reiterated that he benefitted from the input supplied by teammates Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden.

We tried a lot of different setups between all four cars, and man, I picked the winner one, so it was really good,” Castroneves said.”In the beginning we missed a little bit on the setup, then we made some adjustments after the first stop or second stop and the car was fantastic.

Yeah, it was a long time (between wins) but you can never stop believing, and my team never stopped supporting me on that. Everything went great. Didn’t have a yellow at the wrong time, we didn’t have issues with the tire or anything else or mechanical. Everything was really, really good, and when you have a day like this, you’ve got to execute.

“It’s great momentum to carry on for the championship, and this is exactly what we need. Now we’re going to Toronto to another place that we run really well in the past, and I’m really looking forward to that one. So we’ve just got to carry good momentum, and with that, we just keep doing what we’re doing, putting ourselves in good position to win races.”

Hildebrand, driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing, equaled his career-best finish first accomplished when he was runnerup at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 to the late Dan Wheldon. Ironically, Hildebrand was driving the same car Newgarden raced to victory at Iowa in 2016 for ECR.

“It feels good,” said Hildebrand, who qualified a career-best second on Saturday and led 38 laps in the race. “I definitely think that, under some slightly different circumstances, we had a car to win out there. The guys made a great call to pit early and get out into the lead at the end and try to hustle all the way.

“I think if we’d been on equal tires with Helio, we’d have had something for him there at the end. But all in all, really excited for the crew to get on the podium here again.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, a three-time winner at Iowa, equaled his season-best finish of third place for Andretti Autosport in the No. 28 DHL Honda.

“When we showed up here this weekend, like last year, we had a really ill-handling car,” Hunter-Reay said. “Felt like it just always wanted to turn around, get into the wall. Within an hour and a-half of the practice time that we had, we made some good changes to it, especially in the warmup. And we made the right changes going into the race. So credit to the engineering team of the No. 28 car. We definitely got a good setup on it.

“We spent the whole race catching up on front wing. Had too little front wing in it, which is kind of a byproduct of searching around for setups to land on. These cars are so sensitive here. You can dial the car out so easily. You can miss the setup by just a little bit and be way off the pace. I was very thankful, especially after last year where I was a fish out of water at a track that I absolutely love. This was nice to be back in the rhythm and going from 15th to third. Definitely it was nice to finish a race without some other variable interfering.”

Pole-sitter Power led 23 laps in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy before finishing fourth for “The Captain.” Point-leader Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished eighth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda and has collected 403 points through 11 races. Team Penske drivers hold the next four positions in the standings, with Castroneves second (395 points), reigning series champion Pagenaud third (372), Power fourth (350) and Newgarden fifth (347).

Three drivers _ Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly _ were eliminated in single-car crashes, though none was injured. The race also was red-flagged for eight minutes after 208 laps for light rain.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action July 16 with the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Exhibition Place. The race will air live at 3 p.m. (EDT) on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore presentation at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

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Matheus Leist continues to embellish his oval-track resume. The 19-year-old Brazilian won Sunday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race at Iowa Speedway by 2.9294-seconds over Santi Urrutia to collect his third win in the last four series races. Leist’s streak began in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, his first oval race.

Leist bolted from the 10th starting position to win the 100-lap event in the No. 11 TMA Mazda/Dallara-IL 15 for Carlin, which fielded the winning driver at Iowa for the third straight year.

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta won his fourth pole of the season with a new track record two-lap average of 163.670 mph and led the first 31 laps before Leist made the pass for the lead. Leist led the final 69 laps, while Herta faded to finish fourth.

With the win, Leist closed to within 13 points of championship leader Kyle Kaiser, who finished fifth in the No. 18 Juncos Racing Mazda.

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Oliver Askew drove to a dominant win from pole position in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda race at Iowa Speedway. Askew led all 60 laps in his first oval race to earn his sixth win of the season. Pabst Racing teammates Rinus VeeKay and Calvin Ming finished second and third, respectively, to round out the podium. VeeKay now trails championship leader Askew by 34 points with five races remaining.

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Results Sunday of the Iowa Corn 300 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 300, Running
2. (2) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 300, Running
3. (15) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 300, Running
4. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 300, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 300, Running 
6. (16) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 300, Running
7. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 300, Running
8. (17) Scott Dixon, Honda, 300, Running
9. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 300, Running
10. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 300, Running
11. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 299, Running
12. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 299, Running
13. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 299, Running
14. (13) Max Chilton, Honda, 299, Running
15. (14) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 298, Running
16. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 298, Running
17. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 298, Running
18. (8) Ed Jones, Honda, 297, Running
19. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 168, Contact 
20. (21) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 130, Contact
21. (6) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 56, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 139.702 mph
Time of Race: 1:55:11.2807
Margin of victory: 3.9647-seconds
Cautions: 4 for 44 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 8 drivers

Lap Leaders
Power 1-19
Castroneves 20-96 
Hildebrand 97-134 
Power 135 
Castroneves 136-173 
Kimball 174-183 
Castroneves 184-252 
Power 253-255 
Newgarden 256 
Pagenaud 257-258 
Chilton 259-260 
Andretti 261-267 
Castroneves 268-300 

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 403, Castroneves 395, Pagenaud 372, Power 350, Newgarden 347, Rahal 337, Sato 337, Kanaan 295, Rossi 290, Chilton 268.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 10 2017
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