Still searching: Castroneves finishes 14th, falls short of IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Helio Castroneves put up as big a fight as he could muster in Saturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway.

But the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion will have to wait another year to claim his first series title.

Starting from the pole position, Castroneves ran with the leaders throughout the night and was among the Top 5 when he prepared for his final pit stop with 34 laps to go.

But after going down on the apron, Castroneves slid up onto the track before coming down again to enter pit road. After his pit stop was completed, Race Control called him for a pit entry violation and forced him to serve a drive-through penalty.

And that was that. Castroneves ended up finishing 14th, and another championship bid went unsuccessful.

He winds up finishing 62 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power, who won his first IndyCar crown with a ninth-place result.

“I was pushing extremely hard,” he told NBCSN afterwards. “I knew that the only way for us to get in front was through the pits and my in/outs seemed to be working really well except the last one, and I got a drive-through – my bad.”

As usual, however, Castroneves tried to stay positive after finishing runner-up in the series championship for the fourth time in his career. He congratulated Power on a well-deserved title before joking about how he hoped Power won’t raise the lodging rate for him in his house.

“At the end of the day, great season for Team Penske – No. 1, 2 and 4 for Juan Pablo [Montoya],” he said before adding with a laugh: “It’s another second.”

Down 50 points to Power at the start of Saturday’s MAV TV 500, Castroneves knew he had to go all-out in order to have a chance at claiming the Astor Cup.

After leading the opening few laps, he settled in among the Top 5 through the first half of the race. But following a wave of pit stops after the halfway point of the 250-lap event, Castroneves cycled all the way to the lead.

At that juncture, Power was running seventh and his championship lead over Castroneves was down to a single point.

But during a Lap 176 caution stemming from a Ryan Hunter-Reay solo spin, Castroneves was leapfrogged in the pits by eventual race winner Tony Kanaan and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon.

Then, after the restart on Lap 188, Power rocketed past him and both Ganassi drivers to take the lead himself while Castroneves dropped back to fifth.

It all led to the final pit stops of 2014. And it was in that sequence where Castroneves made his costly error.

Asked in the post-race press conference if this latest title near-miss was the most frustrating, Castroneves was reflective.

“It stings a little bit. But that’s what motivates me. It’s good to be frustrated with second,” he said.

For him, the quest to become a series champion continues.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.