Real or virtual, Helio Castroneves ‘can’t wait’ to race at the Brickyard

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Helio Castroneves will race Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with hardly a prayer of winning. He won’t get to stand on the grid and soak in all the pomp and circumstances of the Indy 500. He won’t hear the roar of nearly 300,000 fans.

Saturday’s race is at the virtual version of the Brickyard, which is the site of this weekend’s Legends Trophy sim racing event.

Yet the effervescent Brazilian seems no less enthused about having a touchstone to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (which has been postponed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to Aug. 23 on NBC).

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“Look, anytime you have a chance to race Indianapolis, whether it’s real life or virtual, it’s awesome,” said Castroneves, who won Indy in 2001, ’02 and ’09. “I know I’m not going to learn much, but it is great. I’m excited to at the least do a race in Indianapolis. It’s the month of May, so even if it’s virtual, I still feel more comfortable.”

The Team Penske driver, who drives for the Acura team full time in the IMSA series, probably will feel a little more secure than in the handful of other Legends Trophy races he’s tried. Unlike the difficult McLaren and Brabham cars typically used on the virtual road courses around the globe, Saturday’s race will be contested in the familiar DW12 chassis of the NTT IndyCar Series.

That still might not help Castroneves, who said his main goal is to outdrive his Miami neighbor and former Penske teammate Gil de Ferran.

“I suck, man,” Castroneves said. “I’m terrible. My goal is to be better than Gil de Ferran. That’s it. Which doesn’t need much effort, man. I think if he played Pac-Man, he would be better.”

Castroneves and de Ferran (the 2003 winner at the Brickyard) are among seven former Indy 500 winners in the field, which also includes Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Emerson Fittipaldi, Tony Kanaan and Mario Andretti (who will make his competitive sim racing debut).

Adrian Fernandez, Bryan Herta, Max Papis and Oriol Servia, who raced against Castroneves in CART and IndyCar, also are regulars in the series (which is for drivers older than 40).

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With the group chat constantly filling up with messages from a couple of dozen drivers, Castroneves treats the experience more like a family reunion than a fierce competition.

“It’s absolutely the most fun,” he said. “It’s fun because it’s hard to drive. We have no idea what we’re doing. We crash most of the time, but in the end, it’s serious, and it’s competitive, but it’s not like in a very mean way.

“Nobody’s judging anybody. Everybody has achieved success already in their life and career.”

Castroneves hopes there is more success on the horizon when IMSA restarts its season July 4 at Daytona International Speedway. That will keep him out of the IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the same day, but he will be back at the Brickyard in August (after racing July 17-18 at Sebring International Raceway, which also will be closed to fans like Daytona).

“I can’t wait, man,” he said. “It’s great to be in a virtual race, but I can’t wait to do the real deal. I can’t, can’t wait to be in any car right now. Obviously, IMSA will be the first, but Indy will be next, and this is where I shine, baby.”

Simon Pagenaud’s engineer relives 2019 Indy 500 victory on Twitter

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The Team Penske engineer for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner is reliving Simon Pagenaud’s day by tweeting about what he was doing each moment a year later.

Starting with an observation that he awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room at 4:30 a.m., Ben Bretzman (@benbretzman) sent nearly two dozen tweets by 11 a.m. ET about how the morning before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 unfolded.

Bretzman was through the infield tunnel and in Gasoline Alley by 6 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he was wondering if his driver was awake yet, but he had heard for the first time from Pagenaud 45 minutes later.

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Among other highlights: The team’s last strategy meeting was at 8:30 a.m.; final check of the weather was at 9:30 a.m. and Bretzman gave the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet a once-over at 10:35 a.m. before it was pushed to the grid.

Follow @BenBretzman to watch the day unfold from the pit box and tune into “Back Home Again at 2 p.m. ET on NBC as Pageanud and Alexander Rossi, who are good friends off the track, recap their epic duel with host Mike Tirico.

Simon Pagenaud and engineer Ben Bretzman debrief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IndyCar photo by Joe Skibinski).