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

Leave a comment

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).

EPIC BATTLE: Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi recall the 2019 Indy finish

MARIO’S BACK: Andretti will give sim racing a spin at Indy

“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).

REAL FUN IN SIMULATIONDario Franchitti loving Legends Trophy experience

EMMO’S RETURNAt 73, Fittipaldi has taken to sim racing

CAMARADERIE, COMPETITIONAdrian Fernandez enjoys sim racing second chapter

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.”

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan’s ‘Last Lap’ begins at Texas Motor Speedway

Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The streak lives for Tony Kanaan. At least for one more race.

With Kanaan running only ovals during his farewell IndyCar season in 2020 – which has been dubbed the “Last Lap” – his record streak of 317 consecutive Indy-car starts was to end with the season opener March 15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fate had other plans. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the postponement of St. Pete (now the season finale in October) amid the shutdown of American sports.

IndyCar has made multiple changes to its 2020 schedule since then, and as a result, Kanaan is getting an opportunity to extend his “Ironman” streak.

The 2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner is set for career start No. 318 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – driving the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet alongside the team’s new full-season driver, Charlie Kimball, in the No. 4 Chevy.

“A lot of people ask me how I coped with the delay of the season,” Kanaan said Monday in an IndyCar Zoom news conference. “To be honest, I was mentally prepared already because my first real race was going to be the [Indy] 500. My mind was already set for May.

“I only really had to delay, what, a couple of weeks from what I was originally scheduled to do. For me, I think it wasn’t as hard as for the other guys that were already in St. Pete, ready to go.”

But while his mindset is locked in, Kanaan notes that he’s been out of a race car for eight months. In fact, as of Monday, he hadn’t sat in a car fitted with the new Aeroscreen cockpit protection system.

However, he is no stranger to the wild and woolly action at Texas. Ditto for his new-slash-old teammate, Kimball: The two competed together at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-17.

That experience is something A.J. Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt is grateful to have on his side.

“Going into this race, it’s huge,” Foyt said. “Especially with the one-day show, everything is accelerated, and going to a big track like Texas, having a guy like Charlie sit on the pole there [in 2017], knows his way around there, and obviously TK is very good there, as well.

“It’s a little bit of peace of mind for sure. Anything can happen, but the engineering group has been working really well together. We’re really hopeful we’re going to unload and get these guys some good cars out of the box. That’s the plan.”

Speaking of Kimball, the Californian is set to revive his full-time career in the sport after making just seven starts last season with Carlin.

He’s enjoyed his unexpected free time at home with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Hannah and newborn son Gordon, who arrived in March. But he’s grateful to get back in the car – and to accompany Tony on his ‘last lap.’

“We’re friends off the track,” Charlie said. “We train together. He’s gotten me addicted to riding a bicycle on a computer game, but also our wives are friends, and I think our families when we can get together and the kids can play, I think they’re going to interact really well. I’m excited for his daughter Nina to spend some time with our daughter.

“And the experience – I mean, he’s taught me things and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to restart on ovals and what you can and what you should and shouldn’t do and what he still does. That experience is invaluable to me to continue to learn and get better. I just feel really honored to be his teammate during his last lap, especially when we get back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.”

The NTT IndyCar Series season begins Saturday night from Texas Motor Speedway with the Genesys 300 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.