March 25 in Motorsports History: Castroneves honors Wheldon

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The 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was supposed to signify a new era of IndyCar racing.

For the first time since 2005, there were multiple engine manufacturers involved in the sport, with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda. All cars competing in the race also utilized a new chassis, the Dallara DW12.

But in addition to being the season opener for the IndyCar Series, the race weekend also served as a memorial of sorts to honor the driver for whom the new chassis was named.

Dan Wheldon, the winner of the previous year’s Indianapolis 500, served as the official test driver of the new chassis.

On the morning of Oct. 16, 2011, Wheldon signed a multiyear contract to race for Andretti Autosport beginning in 2012. Tragically, Wheldon was killed later that afternoon during a violent crash in the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With St. Petersburg as the host city of the first race since Wheldon’s death and his adopted hometown, Mayor Bill Foster and Wheldon’s widow Susie unveiled a new street sign a few weeks prior to the race.

The sign read “Dan Wheldon Way” and was placed in Turn 10, where Wheldon passed Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan to take the lead and win in 2005.

A few weeks after the dedication, the winner of that year’s race would park his car right at that spot.

Helio Castroneves started the 2012 season opener from the fifth position and remained in contention throughout.

The Team Penske driver took the lead on Lap 75 and retained it through the checkered flag, winning at the Florida street course for the third time in his career.

Podium finishers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon celebrate with Holly Wheldon following the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

In his two previous victories at St. Pete, Castroneves celebrated by climbing the fence in Turn 1 to celebrate. But he changed things up in his third victory.

On the cooldown lap, Castroneves parked his car in Turn 10 and ran toward the fence. He climbed it and began to pat and point toward the “Dan Wheldon Way” sign as a tribute to his lost competitor. The crowd in the Turn 10 grandstand cheered.

You can never question God’s mystery,” Castroneves said about Wheldon’s death during his postrace interviews.

Wheldon’s sister, Holly, joined Castroneves and the other podium finishers in victory lane

“Honestly, I did not plan it, it was just the way it happened, and there was the sign,” Castroneves said. “But we’ve got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived and continue to pray for his family.”

Castroneves went on to win one more time in 2012, taking the checkered flag at Edmonton in July. The Brazillian finished fourth in the overall points standings.

Also on this date:

1979: A.J. Foyt won the Datsun Twin 200, the USAC Champ Car Series season opener, at Ontario Motor Speedway in California. Foyt also won the 200-mile USAC stock car race that took place at the track that day.

1982: Danica Patrick was born in Beloit, Wisconsin. In 2005, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead the Indianapolis 500. In 2008, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race by taking the checkered flag at Twin Ring Motegi.

1984: Alain Prost won the Grand Prix of Brazil, which also saw the debut of a 24-year-old rookie named Ayrton Senna.

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IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.