Helio on finishing 19th, losing IndyCar points lead: “Man, that sucks” (VIDEO)

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Trouble has once again fallen on Helio Castroneves in the thick of an IndyCar championship battle.

After a subpar qualifying session on Saturday, the Brazilian was to start 15th in today’s Honda 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. But in the final moments leading up to the green flag, Castroneves was parked on pit road with throttle issues.

The race began with a wreck involving Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti, and as the clean-up was ending, Castroneves finally hit the track four laps down. He obviously could not recover from such a blow, finishing 19th.

Combined with a sixth-place finish from Team Penske teammate Will Power, Castroneves saw his 13-point lead over Power turn into a four-point deficit with three races to go.

“Man, that sucks,” Castroneves said to NBCSN with a laugh – perhaps a needed one after what had to be a long day for him. “It is what it is…It’s a shame.”

Castroneves said he noticed the issue with the throttle right after the command to start engines.

“As soon as they turned on the engine, I was like, ‘Something’s happening here,'” he explained. “And it’s not the engine itself. It was something on the mapping – one little number that probably wasn’t supposed to go where it went – and it ended up messing up the mapping.”

Helio’s team owner, Roger Penske, said to NBCSN in mid-race that a sensor on the throttle of Castroneves’ No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet was to blame for the issues.

As NBCSN’s play-by-play man Leigh Diffey alluded to in today’s broadcast, this situation echoed Castroneves’ nightmarish weekend in Houston last fall.

Going into that doubleheader, he was leading the championship by 49 points over Scott Dixon. But back-to-back mechanical failures plus Dixon’s Race 1 win and second in Race 2 allowed the Ganassi pilot to take a 25-point lead over Castroneves.

Dixon then finished fifth in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway to secure his third IndyCar Series title, while Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, lost another opportunity to claim his first.

The good news for Castroneves is that being four points down with three races to go compared to 25 points down with one to go is a much better situation to be in. He can still determine his fate as opposed to doing well but needing someone to falter.

And for the time being, Castroneves is still in a mano-a-mano situation with Power over the championship. Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished ninth and 10th today, but their points gain on the two Penske drivers was minimal.

After today’s race, Hunter-Reay is 63 points back of Power in third, while Pagenaud is one point behind RHR in fourth. That constitutes just a six-point gain for RHR and a seven-point gain for Pagenaud from where they both stood heading into this weekend.

Formula One: Recapping the past week’s news

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While the FIA Formula 1 World Championship is still two months away from beginning its 2018 season, this past week did bring about news items that filled out the 2018 grid and shed some light on individual team and car launches as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix draws closer.

Below is a recap of F1 news from this past week:

Williams Signs Sirotkin for 2018 Drive, Names Kubica as Reserve Driver

The saga of the second seat at Williams Martini Racing was finally resolved early on in the week, with former Renault Sport F1 Team test driver Sergey Sirotkin officially confirmed as a teammate to the incumbent Lance Stroll in 2018.

The announcement concluded months of speculation that saw multiple drivers test for the team in an auditioning capacity. Most notably, Robert Kubica looked to be a main contender for the seat before Sirotkin emerged as the favorite.

However, Kubica, who has not raced in Formula 1 since a devastating rally accident in 2011 left him with brutal injuries to his right arm, was named as a reserve and development driver for the team.

This announcement also completes the 2018 Formula 1 driver lineup, with all 11 teams having their seats now filled. Among those who were left without F1 drives are Paul Di Resta, who drove for Williams at the Hungarian Grand Prix in relief of Felipe Massa and even tested with them during the Winter months, and Antonio Giovinazzi, who filled in for Pascal Wehrlein at the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix.

Former Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat is also without a race seat for 2018, but did sign on with Scuderia Ferrari as a development driver.

Mercedes, McLaren Reveal Dates for Their 2018 Car Launches

While most teams have not yet released dates for when their 2018 cars will be publicly launched, three notables have.

Mercedes AMG Petronas will introduce its 2018 challenger on February 22nd, the same day Ferrari is doing so, while McLaren will unveil its car one day later on the 23rd.

Testing will commence on February 26th at Circuit de Catalunya.

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