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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”