Helio Makes Cameo Appearance In An Indy Car

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 21 2018

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was back in an IndyCar this week.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Helio Castroneves reverted to his exuberant open-wheel self Tuesday, when the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion tested INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aerodynamic chassis for the first time.

Castroneves rejoined Team Penske’s regular-season, three-driver lineup for a Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Barber Motorsports Park in preparation for the fourth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course on May 12.

“It’s awesome,” Castroneves said of his abbreviated return to open-wheel. “I’m so thankful to Roger (Penske) for letting me have this test to learn about the new car.” Castroneves is driving an Acura Prototype fulltime for team-owner Penske’s first-year IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program this season.

“The new (Indy) car is really edgy on entry to the corners. But at the end of day it’s faster, which makes it fun,” Castroneves said after completing 41 laps. “Now I’m starting to sort it out and understand (not only) the tires but the whole scenario.”

The one-day test on BMP’s 2.3-mile/17-turn permanent road-course in Birmingham, Ala., was Castroneves’ first outing in a Chevrolet-powered Dallara IR-12 chassis featuring the

Helio Castroneves was all smiles during IndyCar testing on Tuesday.

series’ universal aero kit. As noted by the Brazilian, handling characteristics of the 2018 car with reduced downforce are different from the car he last drove in the 2017 season-ender on Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway’s 2.385-mile permanent road-course on Sept. 17.

Nevertheless, Castroneves proved a quick study by posting the third-fastest lap of the morning session at 1-minute, 8.3155-seconds and 121.022 mph.

Team Penske dominated an abbreviated day of hot-lapping hampered by strong winds, cool temperatures and rain in the afternoon. Josef Newgarden, the defending Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race-winner and reigning Series champion, was fastest overall at 1:07.9793-seconds/121.802 mph in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet. Will Power, the 2014 series champion, was second in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy at 1:08.1536/121.490 mph.

All 24 drivers present turned laps in the morning. However, only Castroneves ran during light rain in the afternoon for a total of eight laps. While Castroneves enjoyed his return to Barber, the day was bittersweet for the track’s inaugural race-winner in 2010. The 42-year-old won’t be competing in the Barber race on April 27, focusing instead on the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in May.

Castroneves finished second in last May’s Indy 500 to Takuma Sato _ then of Andretti Autosport and now driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing _ by 0.2011-seconds. The two races at IMS are the only open-wheel starts on Castroneves’ current IndyCar Series schedule.

“It’s hard to come here and know that when the team comes back you won’t be racing,” Castroneves said. “I accepted the challenge of this new chapter in my life, but it’s great to get familiar with the car before the Indy 500. That’s the big one.”

Power, Castroneves’ teammate since 2009, welcomed the return of his friend. “He has the same sense of humor as me,” Power said. “He and I always team-up and give the other guys trouble. I forgot how much fun it is having Helio in the room. Can’t wait for him to be around for the Month of May.”

Castroneves is co-driving one of two Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi Prototypes that made their debuts in IMSA’s season-opening Rolex 24-Hour at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway in January.

The team’s teething period continued last Saturday during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in Florida. While the No. 7 Acura showed speed throughout the weekend, co-driver Ricky Taylor brought out a full-course caution at the halfway mark when the car rolled to a stop with flames coming out of the rear bodywork. The No. 7 Acura _ featuring a lineup of Taylor, Castroneves and fellow-INDYCAR regular Graham Rahal _ retired due to loss of oil pressure.

Seat time in the new Dallara-built Indy car is vital for Castroneves, who also will participate in a March 27 open test on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as a refresher. Castroneves will join his peers in adjusting to the reduced downforce created by the new car and its effect on handling at IMS.

“It’s big-time (different),” Castroneves said. “In some of the corners you feel the rear (of the car) moving around. My first impression was, ‘Whoa, this is going to be tough.’ But as you get comfortable, you start to make changes.

“I forgot how a small change in an Indy car is a big change on the racetrack. In sports cars, the change isn’t so big. Also, the sports car has traction control, which this car doesn’t, so you have to take it easy. There are still a few details that I have to work out, but muscle-memory kicks-in and we’re getting there.”

Castroneves transitioned to Penske’s sports car program after 18 successful Indy car seasons missing only a championship. A four-time championship runnerup (2002, 2008, 2013, 2014) Castroneves finished fourth in the 2017 point 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 recorded 30 wins and 50 pole positions, including one win and three poles in 2017.

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

Tuesday’s only incident of significance occurred when rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist went off-track in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Leist was not injured.  “I was just doing a new tire run and then I got a little bit of grass in Turn 1 when I was about to brake and just lost the rear and hit the (tire) barrier. But I’m fine,” Leist said.

Next race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway on Saturday, April 7 (9 p.m. EDT). It will air live on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, as will the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 27 (3 p.m.)

The INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 12 (3:30 p.m.) and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m.) both will air live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.


Combined practice results from Tuesday’s two-session, IndyCar Series open test on the 2.3-mile/17 turn Barber Motorsports Park road-course, with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, engine, time/speed and total laps completed:  

  1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:07.9793-seconds/121.802 mph, 18
  2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:08.1536/121.490, 19
  3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:08.3155/121.202, 41
  4. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.3820/121.084, 22
  5. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo-(R), Honda, Session 1, 01:08.5613/120.768, 21
  6. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.6335/120.641, 11
  7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.6367/120.635, 13
  8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.6870/120.547, 23
  9. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:08.7043/120.516, 25
  10. (26) Zach Veach-(R), Honda, Session 1, 01:08.8388/120.281, 25
  11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.9008/120.173, 12
  12. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, Session 1, 01:08.9116/120.154, 20
  13. (4) Matheus Leist-(R), Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:09.1066/119.815, 25
  14. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:09.2126/119.631, 36
  15. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, Session 1, 01:09.2330/119.596, 24
  16. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:09.3859/119.333, 13
  17. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, Session 1, 01:09.4359/119.247, 17
  18. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, Session 1, 01:09.4366/119.245, 29
  19. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Honda, Session 1, 01:09.5237/119.096, 27
  20. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:09.6123/118.944, 22
  21. (20) Jordan King-(R), Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:09.6901/118.812, 20
  22. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:10.0997/118.117, 14
  23. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:12.1430/114.772, 4
  24. (32) Rene Binder-(R), Chevrolet, Session 1, 01:12.1778/114.717, 29

Total Laps for Combined Sessions _ 510

Note _ All cars use the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Dallara IR-12 universal aero chassis with either Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(R) _ Denotes Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 21 2018
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