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Castroneves Adjusting To Driving Under A Roof

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 27 2018

Helio Castroneves is moving from open-wheel Indy cars to closed-cockpit sports cars this season. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves’ transition from Indy car superstar to admitted sports car novice will continue at full-bore this weekend, when the affable Brazilian and Acura Team Penske compete in the 56th annual Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Castroneves missed qualifying on-pole Thursday for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener by 0.007-seconds in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 Prototype he will share with reigning series co-champion Ricky Taylor and Verizon IndyCar Series regular Graham Rahal.

A three-time Indianapolis 500 champion for team-owner Roger Penske, Castroneves closed-out his fulltime open-wheel career at the end of the 2017 campaign as “The Captain” reduced his IndyCar Series operation from four cars to three. Simultaneously, Penske partnered with Acura to launch a two-car Prototype program, with Castroneves and two-time Indy 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya the marquee drivers of separate teams.

Despite his open-wheel road-racing background, Castroneves acknowledged he is far from being a sports car ace.

“It is a different car. It is a different tire. It is a different completely strategy,” Castroneves said Friday during a media scrum. “Right now I’m relying actually on Ricky and Dane (Cameron), which those guys have a lot of experience in this type of racing in longer races. I’m trying to understand every time I’m in the car what can I do or not, to be honest.

“Spending 20 years in Indy car not having traction control, not having power steering, all this drivability you can do in each corner _ I mean, there’s so much that I’m not even (realizing) the potential, it’s indefinite. An Indy car is sensitive to the weather. This is as well, but this is racing at day, in the afternoon, at night, the early morning…I’m always used to one thing. Now I’ve got to learn to adapt quick.

“I don’t think I’m there yet and because of all these new elements I’m still going to learn as

Helio Castroneves started the Rolex P2 Saturday.

it goes, which is natural. But the good news is there’s a lot of room for improvement…like 0.007-seconds.”

Castroneves was smiling at that number Friday, but on Thursday he was pipped for pole via a last-lap flyer put down by Renger Van Der Zande in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi V.R. Helio then actually had to shoo away a crowd of over-eager photographers, who figured Castroneves had locked-up pole with his hot lap of 1 minute, 36.090-seconds at 133.368 mph around DIS’ 3.56-mile/12-turn “roval” layout.

But as the photogs gathered around Castroneves and his white car on pit road for the obligatory P1 shot, Van Der Zande was cranking out his lap of 1:36.083-seconds at 133.378 mph.

“I was telling them (photogs) ‘Get out!,’ ” Castroneves said. “They’re like, ‘All right, give me a pose!’ I’m still connected with the radio and (Penske President) Tim Cindric, (who) was actually guiding and commenting on the lap that the guy was on. Soon as he (Van Der Zande) did it, people are like, ‘OK, show me the pose!’ I said, ‘Guys, get out of here. You got to check it out. I’m not in the pole position.’

“I was trying to tell them but the helmet didn’t allow them to hear me. I already knew that I got beat by 0.007-seconds, which is incredible. That shows that they (Cadillac Racing) are having much more than we’re expecting. It’s part of the game, I guess. You still got to do it 24 hours. We’re not holding anything back. That’s what we got and hopefully that will be good enough to get that (Rolex) watch, man. Get that watch!”

The Acura ARX-05 is the latest in a line of endurance Prototypes fielded by the company dating to 1991, five years after the 1986 launch of the Acura brand.  Based on the successful ORECA 07 chassis, the new ARX-05 Prototype features Acura-specific bodywork and utilizes the race-proven, production-based Acura AR35TT twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

Penske’s multi-year program will be administered by Honda Performance Development, the racing arm for both Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing in North America.

The six drivers sharing Penske’s two Acuras _ Castroneves, Montoya, Cameron, Taylor, Rahal and Simon Pagenaud _ account for five overall Rolex 24 victories, three WeatherTech Championships, five Indianapolis 500 wins, two IndyCar Series titles and seven Formula One trophies.

Cameron started 10th among the 17 Prototypes after lapping at 1:36.931-seconds/132.211 mph Thursday in the car he will share with JPM and Pagenaud.

“Nothing gets your attention like starting off the season with the longest _ and in many ways most difficult _ race of the season,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development.  “The large Prototype field includes both other manufacturer teams and

The Acura Team Penske No. 7 LMP2 car that Castroneves is co-driving at Daytona this weekend.

many strong independents.  The competition will be fierce, but our goal is always to compete, and win, at the highest level of the sport.”

In addition to his sports car duties, Castroneves will continue to compete for Team Penske in May’s Indianapolis 500 in pursuit of becoming a four-time winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Castroneves will run the entire Month of May schedule at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the facility’s 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course and the 102nd edition of the 500 on the 2.5-mile oval. Castroneves finished second to Takuma Sato, then of Andretti Autosport, by 0.2011-seconds during the 101st edition of the Indy 500 last May 28.

Castroneves is transitioning to sports car racing after 18 successful seasons with Penske’s Indy car juggernaut. Castroneves finished fourth in the 2017 championship standings, marking the 14th time in his career that he placed inside the top-five in the season-ending rankings. Over the course of his 20-year INDYCAR career, Castroneves has recorded 30 wins and 50 pole positions, including one win and three poles in 2017.

Considered one of the all-time greats in INDYCAR history, Castroneves has earned more wins than any driver in the history of Team Penske’s championship open-wheel program. His three Indy 500 victories include back-to-back wins in his first two starts in 2001 and 2002. He last won at Indianapolis in 2009 and has come remarkably close to earning a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory, finishing second twice over the last four seasons.

In addition to his INDYCAR success, Castroneves’ sports car resume features two poles, three podium finishes and a class victory in the 2008 Petit Le Mans.

Castroneves, who initially balked at the idea of vacating the seat of his No. 3 Chevrolet-powered Dallara, said he is enjoying the myriad challenges presented by wheeling a sports car.

“At this stage of careers, a lot of people might say, what the heck am I doing?” said Castroneves, 42. “But to be honest I think it rejuvenates because you start all over again. I have a 20-year-old guy telling me…I’m actually asking him for opinion because he does have experience and it just rejuvenates.

“I mean it’s things that we’re doing that I never did before _ even the team is doing things they never did before. So it’s a great momentum for Team Penske and I feel that’s also going to translate to the NASCAR side and the Indy car side and I’m serious _everything is actually brand new.”

Included in that mix will be the art of passing through Daytona’s busy, high-banked turns and road-racing at night.

“You got to find what place you can take a chance to pass someone,” Helio said. “At least having the race last year in Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta I kind of like understood. I have 24 hours, or at least 20 hours, to learn.

“At the Petit Le Mans I did not drive at night because it was Montoya’s turn, so here there was no choice. Well, I did a long time ago Petit Le Mans once but the way the lights are and the way I practiced (Thursday night), it seems to be pretty decent and the spotters are really good. I mean, we’re trying to expect _ just like the Indy 500 _ the unexpected. Really trying to cover them all and for me it’s really exciting.”

Television coverage began on the FOX Network, and shifts over to FOX Sports 2 from 5-10 p.m. (EST).  Nighttime coverage will be on FOX Sports 1 from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.  Sunday morning. Live television coverage resumes on FS2 from 8-10:30 a.m., then moves to FS1 for the final four hours.

The entire race will be streamed live on Fox Sports GO, with FS1 authentication. Fans also can listen to audio commentary via IMSA.comRadioLeMans.com and Sirius XM Radio and follow the race live via in-car cameras, IMSA Radio and timing & scoring available worldwide on IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile device App.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 27 2018
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