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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