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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.