After several close calls, consistency could earn Helio a title

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As the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship enters its next-to-last event of the season with this weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, a pair of numbers stand out: 17 and 55.

For 17 years, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves has chased a series championship that has become the last hole for him to fill in an otherwise tremendous career in American open-wheel racing.

This weekend in Clutch City, he can claim the elusive prize at last – if he can increase his lead in the championship to a margin of 55 points or more by the end of Sunday’s second race.

Consistency has been his calling card all season. Outside of the Texas-sized whipping he delivered back in June at Texas Motor Speedway, Castroneves hasn’t really floored us with outright speed but has delivered the steady stream of results that is required of all champions.

Call it boring if you like. It doesn’t matter. It’s effective. And that’s all that counts to Castroneves and Team Penske, which hasn’t had an IndyCar crown to celebrate since 2006 and saw their other pilot, Will Power, endure gut-wrenching defeats for the championship in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Castroneves has had his near-misses as well.

In 2002, Castroneves, Gil De Ferran and Team Penske made their way into the then-Indy Racing League, which was still an all-oval entity at the time. Coming over from CART, the mighty Penske juggernaut was expected by many to annihilate the IRL contingent.

Instead, Castroneves found himself battling Sam Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing for the ’02 crown in a scintillating duel, which ended with Hornish shocking the Brazilian for the second of his eventual three series titles.

The next year saw Castroneves take part in what would be a five-way dance for the championship between himself, Hornish, De Ferran, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the last race of the season.

Castroneves finished 13th that day, and ended up third in the points behind champion Dixon and teammate De Ferran (the latter ending his own superb career with the race win).

In 2006, Castroneves faced his now-teammate Hornish, Dixon and Dan Wheldon in the race for the championship. He came up two points shy of Hornish and Wheldon, who tied at the top with 475 markers (Hornish got the title on a tie-breaker).

Then in 2008, it was him and Dixon yet again for all the marbles – and once more, Castroneves lost out, this time by 16 points.

Three Indianapolis 500 victories. 22 overall wins. 34 poles. But no championship – unless you want to count Season Five of “Dancing With The Stars.”

That last part could change soon. But it’s far from a done deal for Castroneves.

He may be up 49 points on Scott Dixon going into Houston, but all it takes is one small misstep and the door’s open for Dixon to smash through – especially if he’s as unstoppable as he was during his sweep of the Toronto doubleheader in July.

But if Castroneves keeps getting the most out of his equipment as he has all year long – he’s only finished outside the Top 10 in one race so far – it won’t be long before he finally reaches the top.

McLaren unveils 2018 F1 car, the MCL33

Photo: Getty Images
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McLaren F1 Team became the latest to launch their 2018 challenger on Friday, taking the covers off their new MCL33 chassis early on Friday morning.

McLaren endured a difficult 2017 season of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with their partnership with Honda eventually dissolving after a troublesome power unit saw them plagued by unreliability and low power.

A switch to Renault power units is expected to see them get an uptick in form, and the MCL33 chassis itself is actually an evolution on last year’s MCL32. Still, the team highlighted areas to improve upon, and aims for a return to prominence in 2018.

“The McLaren team was created by a brave pioneer, and has had bravery at its core ever since. Whether it’s been with brave drivers, brave leaders or brave fortune, this team has always fought back. And we definitely view 2018 as the year when McLaren will move closer to the front, fighting teams and drivers as we improve our fortunes,” said Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group.

Brown also highlighted the car’s new papaya orange livery, a throwback to some of the most popular color schemes that have adorned McLaren entrants in a variety of disciplines. Brown indicated that this came about from requests of fans who wanted to see such a livery return to the McLaren marque.

“Our return to a papaya orange livery for this year wasn’t simply an emotional decision; it demonstrates that we are listening to our fans, building deeper engagement with them and the Formula 1 community as a whole. We want McLaren to earn respect on and off the track, and this felt like a good starting point. We want to show everyone what makes this team special, whether that’s our fans or our partners – there’s room for more on our journey.”

The team’s racing director Eric Boullier expressed optimism about the team’s potential for 2018, but also acknowledged the season will be sure to see its fair share of challenges.

“I think the whole team feels proud of this car,” he asserted. “The design, engineering and aerodynamic departments have done an incredible job delivering a new car with a new power unit in an extremely short timeframe. We never took the easy route or looked to shortcut a process or a solution; and the result is a car that is neat and well-resolved.

“That said, we are under no illusions that it will be difficult to splinter the hegemony at the front; and that the midfield will be full of well-funded, experienced outfits with plenty to prove. We are humble about the challenge ahead, but feel we’ve prepared well, have a solid package that we can build upon and exploit as the season progresses, and have two excellent drivers who will make the difference in races.”

The MCL33 took to the track on Friday for filming at a test track in Spain, and will be run in anger for the first time when testing begins next week at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

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