Helio Castroneves vows ‘next season we’re coming back stronger than ever’

(Getty Images)

Another year, another championship bid that fell short.

But Helio Castroneves took that all in stride following Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

While he has three Indianapolis 500 victories but zero Verizon IndyCar Series championships on his resume, Castroneves already is eager for next season. He still feels his time – and that elusive championship – will come.

“Next season we’re coming back stronger than ever,” Castroneves said with a big smile after Sunday’s race.

Even though he failed to win a race for the second consecutive season, Castroneves was a fixture in the upper echelon of the point standings through much of the season.

And while his last series win came Belle Isle 2 in 2014, Castroneves once again this season continued an impressive string of top-five season finishes.

In the last five seasons, from 2012 through the now-completed 2016 campaign, the Brazilian driver has finished – in order – fourth, second, second, fifth and third. Extrapolate that even further and Castroneves once again showed why he’s still the most consistent driver in the series, having earned 12 top-five finishes in the last 15 seasons.

“To get third in the championship, this season is over, it’s sad, but I can’t wait for next year to start already,” Castroneves said. “We didn’t get a win, but today, to finish 1-2-3, it’s like a win for everyone.”

When Will Power experienced mechanical failure on Lap 38, Castroneves appeared to have a chance to potentially finish the season second in the standings.

But Power had enough points in reserve – and finished just high enough after having the mechanical issue repaired – to barely edge his Team Penske teammate.

Otherwise, it would have potentially been Castroneves’ fifth career runner-up finish in the series.

The 41-year-old Castroneves came into the race with every intention of winning, but ultimately finished seventh. Still not a bad day, especially including leading seven laps of the 85-lap event.

“It was great teamwork and today was proof of that,” Castroneves said. “We tried to go for the win, we didn’t want to finish in the position that we might have, second, third or fourth, we wanted to try for the win.”

Yet like a good teammate, he was particularly proud of how Simon Pagenaud captured his first IndyCar championship – even throwing in a good-natured joke about French drivers.

“Congrats to Simon, very well-deserved, no question,” Castroneves said. “Throughout the entire season, not only is he an amazing driver, but a champion.

“It’s really an honor to be working with a guy like that and he’s a super-nice guy. It’s funny because they say French guys are not so good, but this guy is proving, it’s actually changing everything. Great guy, great to work with.”

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Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.