Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves delivers Detroit sweep for Penske with Dual 2 win

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In Saturday’s first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Helio Castroneves’ bid for victory was undone by a pit strategy that didn’t work out.

But in today’s 70-lapper on the unforgiving street circuit, Castroneves followed through on his strong pace throughout the weekend and withstood a couple of late restarts to claim his third career victory (CART – 2000, 2001) on the island in the Detroit River.

His triumph completed a Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit sweep for Team Penske, whose namesake, Roger Penske, was a driving force in bringing IndyCar racing back to Belle Isle starting in 2012. Penske teammate and Dual 1 winner Will Power overcame an early drive-through penalty for avoidable contact to finish second today.

“Yesterday, it was the frustration – it was great that Will won but it was frustration for our side because we knew what car we had,” an exuberant Castroneves told ESPN. “But we demonstrated that today.”

Last weekend, Castroneves suffered a narrow defeat at the Indianapolis 500 to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who denied him the chance to earn his fourth win in the world’s greatest race.

But according to the Brazilian, that loss proved motivational for himself and his Penske comrades.

“The Indy 500 – it just [made something click],” he said. “It made us hungry. And here I am, in Victory Circle. I wanted it so bad, and more than anything, I want this championship.

“It’s great to be back here in Victory Circle, especially in the place where I won my first race…I just can’t believe it. This is an awesome day! Whoo-hoo!”

Power and Castroneves both leap-frogged Hunter-Reay in the championship, with the Aussie now holding a 19-point edge going into the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (Next Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner, suffered a second disastrous result in as many days, when he bowed out after 61 laps with an electrical failure. He’s now 27 points behind Power.

As the second half of the race wore on, it appeared Castroneves would have a proper Sunday cruise to the champagne. But his 9.4-second lead over Power was erased when Sebastien Bourdais found the tire barriers in Turn 5 to bring out a race-changing caution with 12 laps to go.

Castroneves was able to get a perfect restart with seven laps left, but shortly after, Marco Andretti knocked Takuma Sato into those same Turn 5 tires to trigger another yellow and bunch up the field again.

That set the stage for one more restart with three to go, but Power didn’t get near Castroneves as the field headed for the green flag. Castroneves promptly pulled away and beat Power to the checkered flag by 1.7 seconds.

After the race, Power admitted that he decided to hang back late.

“Because of Roger, I definitely wasn’t going to race him hard,” he said. “Unless [Castroneves] made a mistake, I wasn’t going to go for a move unless I was close. But, it was a great day for Chevy, Roger at his home track and Chevy’s backyard. It’s just fantastic.”

Power was penalized for a bold move on Lap 1, when he attempted to get past Josef Newgarden on the inside at Turn 3. Instead, he hit Newgarden, who went into the tires and collected Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson with him.

Newgarden, Rahal, and Wilson all continued on, but Power didn’t escape the wrath of Race Control and was tagged for avoidable contact. However, as Power’s aggressive driving in the remainder of the race proved, the penalty did not chasten him one iota.

“I went up the inside and I don’t think Josef saw me,” Power said about the incident. “It wasn’t a very hard hit and I have to see the replay to kind of comment on what the call was.”

Behind the two Penske pilots were two from their arch-rivals at Chip Ganassi Racing. Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon both roared from the back of the grid to finish third and fourth, respectively; for Kimball, it’s his first IndyCar podium since winning last year at Mid-Ohio.

Both men were able to get past Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe in the final three-lap dash, causing him to settle for fifth at the track he considers as sort of a second home due to his homeland of Canada being nearby.

Belle Isle Park
Unofficial Results in order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy
2. (8) Will Power, Penske-Chevy
3. (20) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy
4. (22) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy
5. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda
6. (7) Simon Pagenaud, SPM-Honda
7. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, SPM-Honda
8. (6) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda
9. (17) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy
10. (5) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy
11. (4) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy
12. (13) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda
13. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy
14. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda
15. (12) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda
16. (18) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda
17. (10) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, -1 lap
18. (1) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, -1 lap
19. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 61 – Electrical
20. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, Lap 58 – Contact
21. (14) Graham Rahal, RLL-Honda, Lap 43 – Contact
22. (9) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, Lap 9 – Contact

Race Statistics: Winner’s average speed: 93.211 mph; Time of race: One hour, 45 minutes, 53.3410 seconds; Margin of victory: 1.6836 seconds; Cautions: 4 for 13 laps; Lead changes: 7 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Sato, 1-10; Hinchcliffe, 11-20; Conway, 21-24; Power, 25-26; Aleshin, 27; Castroneves, 28-33; Hawksworth, 34; Castroneves, 35-70.

Point Standings: Power 326, Castroneves 307, Hunter-Reay 299, Pagenaud 247, Andretti 227, Munoz 210, Montoya 187, Dixon 184, Wilson 173, Bourdais 170.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.