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.