Detroit races represent a missed opportunity for Castroneves

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For Helio Castroneves, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear represented a missed opportunity of sorts for a driver whose last win came at this very event in 2014 (he won Race 2 of that year’s double header).

The weekend began ominously as Castroneves briefly grabbed the pole for Race 1 before a penalty was levied against him after he failed to slow properly for a yellow flag, precipitated by a quick spin from Mikhail Aleshin.

As a result, Castroneves lost his fastest lap. While his second fastest lap was still good enough for second on the grid, behind polesitter Graham Rahal, it was a sign of things to come.

Castroneves’ three-stop strategy in Race 1 showed potential, as he was every bit as fast as Rahal throughout the day. However, a lap 26 caution for a stalled Conor Daly and spinning Charlie Kimball proved beneficial for Rahal, who ran a two-stop strategy and had just completed his first pit stop, and a handicap for Castroneves.

Though he leapfrogged Rahal and held the lead at the time, Castroneves always had an extra pit stop to make, and the caution allowed Rahal to save fuel and erase the gap between the two. Consequently, despite his pace, Castroneves could do no better than seventh at race’s end as no additional cautions flew to tilt the scales back in his favor.

“The cautions didn’t work out for us,” he lamented after Saturday’s race. “I didn’t save an ounce of fuel. The Hitachi Chevy was super fast. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get to the front. It’s pretty difficult to pass, so you need a few things to go your way and they didn’t.”

Things didn’t get much better in Race 2 on Sunday. Castroneves started fourth and was battling with Ryan Hunter-Reay when his left-rear tire clipped the right-front wing of Hunter-Reay. The contact immediately cut Castroneves’ tire and he limped back around to the pits.

Even though his finishing position of ninth represented a resounding comeback, all the more impressive given that the race’s first caution did not come out until lap 66 (James Hinchcliffe came to a stop exiting turn two after a mechanical problem), it still could have been more, as Castroneves again demonstrated the pace to battle for a win.

Still, driver of the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet remained upbeat, despite the disappointing results. “The Hitachi Chevy was great again (on Sunday),” Castroneves asserted afterward. “We had a little bit of bad luck there with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and getting a tire cut down. It was early enough that I thought we might be able to overcome it, but we didn’t get a caution until the very end. I wish we could have done better with our finish, but our car was strong.”

Even though he does not have a win to his name in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Castroneves remains in a strong championship position. He currently trails championship leader Scott Dixon by only eight points as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next week for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 (Saturday June 10 at 8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.