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

1 Comment

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.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds