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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Helio Castroneves

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with Helio Castroneves. An awkward “will he, won’t he” continue with the team in IndyCar in 2018 story line persisted throughout his 20th year and overshadowed what was a quintessentially Castroneves campaign – metronomically consistent, very fast, but shy of the title.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2016: 3rd Place, Best Finish 2nd, 2 Poles, 4 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 143 Laps Led, 4.2 Avg. Start, 7.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 4th Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 3 Podiums, 9 Top-5, 16 Top-10, 442 Laps Led, 6.0 Avg. Start, 6.2 Avg. Finish

The full-time story of Helio Castroneves as an active Verizon IndyCar Series driver ultimately wrote its final chapter as summer shifted to fall, even if the sun seems to have set on that full-time career too soon. Once again, Castroneves frequently remained on top of his game.

A series of minor mistakes told the tale, though, as to how he fell short yet again. Ones at the Phoenix and Gateway short ovals dropped him to fourth in both races, costing potential wins. Castroneves was also slow to start from pole at Long Beach with an electrical glitch and faded to ninth there. At Detroit, having lost a pole on a penalty, Castroneves was frustrated the remainder of the weekend and ended seventh and ninth on a weekend when so much more was possible. His only DNF, and for that matter finish outside the top-10, came when an apparent right front tire issue shot him hard into the Turn 2 wall at Texas.

In a season where he ended 44 points back of champion Josef Newgarden, eliminating any of those tiny mistakes would have erased the deficit.

Otherwise, there was little to criticize. His drive at Indianapolis was his latest masterpiece, again ending short of that elusive fourth win, but this time doing so with a damaged race car and an apparent horsepower deficit to Takuma Sato in his Honda. His Iowa win was peerless, and vintage Castroneves as he snookered JR Hildebrand as the American struggled with traffic. His start at Toronto may have been the start of the year as he vaulted from third to first at Turn 1, and like others, he was a victim of timing on the caution flag caused by countryman Tony Kanaan.

Castroneves produced more magical moments in the 20th year of his illustrious career, but signs off still without that title. IndyCar will be worse for his departure, and IMSA will benefit from his arrival for Team Penske’s new Acura DPi program. That being said, we’ll get at least one more month of May for Castroneves in IndyCar in a fourth Team Penske car.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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