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

1 Comment

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.

Female racer makes history with record finishes in dirt national midget events

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
1 Comment

Holly Shelton is riding high after setting a milestone for a female driver in a national midget series feature event on dirt this past weekend.

The Sacramento, California-area resident recorded the highest finish ever for a female dirt national midget series driver with a runner-up finish last Friday at the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League double-header weekend at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Shelton broke her own national record for top finish by a woman in a national dirt event – she finished third in a USAC race at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, last year.

One night after setting her new national record, Shelton and her Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota roared back Saturday to finish third (started on the outside pole) in the second half of the weekend double-header, making her the first female dirt driver ever on the national midget circuit to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

“It’s cool making history as a female, but my number one thing is I just want to win,” said Shelton, who will be graduating from Cal-State Sacramento with a B.A. in Criminal Justice this fall. “Truthfully, on the track I don’t even remember that I’m a girl. I’m just racing all the guys with the same goal they have – to win.”

Only one other woman has finished second in either a USAC or POWRi midget feature – Sarah McCune at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1999 – but that was on pavement, not dirt.

The record-setting weekend was great consolation for Shelton, who missed three races earlier this season due to surgery and then sat out three other races last month after suffering a race-related concussion.

“It felt good,” she said of her back-to-back podium finishes. “It builds up my confidence. The car is fast and we keep getting better and we want to build on it.”

Shelton was one of four women that competed in midget competition this weekend. The others were 19-year-old Maria Cofer and 16-year-olds Holley Hollan and Presley Truedson.

“It’s awesome seeing all the little girls come up to me excited to see me at the track,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, it encourages them to pursue their dreams as well and, as the years go on, more girls will get into it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski