Castroneves ready to make late surge for elusive first IndyCar championship

(Getty Images)

Helio Castroneves has been down this road so many times.

In fact, 16 years and 244 races since his first year in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2001, as well as four years and 70 races in the now defunct Champ Car World Series.

And yet, no matter how hard he has tried, the popular Brazilian driver has failed to fulfill his lifelong dream of winning an IndyCar championship.

Sure, he’s won the Indianapolis 500 three times in 16 starts. But he has no season championship trophies to go along with those 500 trophies on his mantle.

Oh, he’s come close – several times, in fact: four runner-up finishes and three third-place season showings, including last season.

Now, with four races remaining this season, Castroneves is once again facing a familiar scenario: a chance at finally taking that championship in the stretch run – but it won’t be easy.

With four races left in the season, including Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Castroneves is only looking forward, not backward.

Forward as in trying to catch Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud, who leads the series with 484 points. Fellow teammate Will Power is second (426 points), while Castroneves is still in the mix in third place, albeit at a 111-point deficit to Pagenaud.

It hasn’t helped Castroneves’ cause that in the last five races, while he’s earned a runner-up at Toronto and a fifth-place finish at Road America, he’s also finished 14th at Belle Isle 2, 13th at Iowa and a season-worst 15th in the most recent race, at Mid-Ohio.

As for his record at Pocono, in his first two starts on the 2.5-mile tri-oval in 2013 and 2014, Castroneves finished eighth and second, respectively.

But it was a different story in 2015. He started from the pole and was in good position to potentially take the win until he was involved in a crash with 34 laps remaining.

As a result, Castroneves finished 16th in that race, a finish he intends on bouncing back from in Sunday’s race.

“The Hitachi Chevy team really needs a good result at Pocono,” Castroneves said. “Other than last year, we’ve had good finishes there.

“The car has always been strong and I don’t expect anything different this year. It’s important that we keep pace with the guys in front of us and pick up some ground if we can.

“The season is in the homestretch. I really enjoy the racing at Pocono and happy to hear that we’ll be going back next season (and 2018). It’s a very competitive track that produces great racing.”

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IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”