Castroneves: IndyCar return means ditching sportscar habits

Helio Castroneves has admitted that adapting back to IndyCar after three years in IMSA sportscars has been difficult.

Castroneves: IndyCar return means ditching sportscar habits

The Brazilian veteran of 351 Indy car starts – 30 wins including three Indy 500s – spent the last three years in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, culminating in he and co-driver Ricky Taylor capturing the 2020 Prototype title.

In addition, he won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this year, sharing the winning Wayne Taylor Racing Acura with Ricky Taylor Filipe Albuquerque and Alexander Rossi.

Now the 45-year-old is rejoining the NTT IndyCar Series for six races with Meyer Shank Racing-Honda, after competing in just seven IndyCar races over the past three seasons, and says there is much to relearn – especially when combined with a team move. Castroneves spent 21 years at Team Penske – 18 in IndyCar, three in IMSA – before driving the Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet for two races on the IMS road course late last year, subbing for the unwell Oliver Askew.

“Obviously when you spend 20-plus years in one place, it's a habit. They know what you like. I know what they like. So you kind of like follow that format,” said Castroneves, three days after his first test with Meyer Shank Racing at Laguna Seca. “Now there is more things to explore in all aspects. Again, Penske always been open mind, but obviously have their process. Now with a different process and understanding this open mind with Shank Racing… it’s going to take a little time. But I'm excited. I'm ready for this challenge.

“We had our first test in Laguna. It was actually fun. Mainly things was to getting myself adapt again to the IndyCar. It was funny. Coming out of the Corkscrew with the Acura [sportscar], I would just step on it, the traction control would do all the rest of the work. First few laps [back in an IndyCar], as soon as I went for my fast lap out there, I kind of had brain fade a little bit, went to the Acura mode and went full throttle. The car was sideways. I was like, ‘Easy, boy, easy!’ It was a very interesting scenario.”

He later expanded on the theme, stating: “It's a process. I was just talking about coming out of the Corkscrew with the traction control. Imagine driving for three years with that. You create some habits. You kind of have to relearn again. And things like the weight of the car, the brakes, the position as well… For you to put everything, all the pieces together, you got to run.

“It's not only sit down and turn right and left. Those are details that believe it or not makes a difference. Even just a simple example, brake calipers or master cylinder – you got to try different ones, because of evolution. You can't only stay where you're comfortable, but you also got to adapt to things that is better in the future.

“I was four years almost away from IndyCar [and] it changed. Even though I'm an experienced driver, you need to have some sort of laps around. I would love to have one more test in the road course to feel like, ‘OK, now I understand where I need to go.’

“But it is what it is. We're going to have an open test very soon in April. It will be in the oval. At least that I know what I need to do!”

Taking pleasure from helping an expanding team

Castroneves said the MSR team isn’t rushing the process of learning and he’s enjoying the experience of helping the team grow.

“Everybody is taking their time, making sure everything is ready, especially with the car. In fact, the car that I tested, it was actually Jack Harvey's spare car. My car is still in the windtunnel. You can see the team is doing everything they can when we come to the Indy 500. This car is going to be top-notch, the same level as any other car out there.

“I'm glad and I like to be part of this. With Team Penske I knew it would be OK, so I wasn't worry about it. Now I'm part of it this development. That's really cool. I really enjoy this.”

Castroneves hopes to encourage next-gen Brazilian racers

Castroneves says he hopes he and compatriot and fellow veteran Tony Kanaan will help inspire Brazilian youngsters to become interested in IndyCar racing. He also said he was keen to see Pietro Fittipaldi, confirmed today at Dale Coyne Racing for the oval rounds in 2021, succeed in his open-wheel quest.

“Tony and I have been carrying the Brazilian flag for a long time, like all the Brazilians 25 years ago did – Gil de Ferran, André Ribeiro, Fittipaldi. We had so many. So for me, seeing Pietro coming into the series hopefully is an opportunity for him to show his talent, even if it's just a few races and the ovals only.

“Still we do have a new generation coming, not only as a Brazilian but a bunch of other new generations coming, making a very good statement. Pietro is probably a light at the end of the tunnel that people create interest [in IndyCar] again instead of going to stockcar in Brazil, or in Formula 1, where there is no Brazilian at the moment, but trying to create that spark again like we used to have 20 years ago.

“I think new the new broadcast in Brazil, people are going to be again excited. Tony and I will be able to show out there and succeed so that we can inspire the young generations to come back and keep it going.”

Castroneves said he was even prepared to play a mentor role for Fittipaldi.

“I’ve worked with a lot of teammates. I’ve been around the block! I learned so much with Rick Mears. Rick never come to me and say, ‘You got to do this or that.’ But he always made himself available. Every time we talk, it was like half an hour conversation, which was great. Especially me, I want to understand. He was able to always with a few words direct and guide me to the right way.

“If I can be that kind of assistance to not only Brazilian but any other young driver, I'm always open for it. I been there one day, 20-plus years ago. I was one of the guys asking questions as well. I would never close the door to a young driver asking for information.”

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