Helio Castroneves came close in 2013 and he's in the middle of another fierce title battle this year.
En route to Thursday’s test at Sonoma Raceway, site of the penultimate Verizon IndyCar Series race of the 2014 season, Helio Castroneves stopped in the Los Angeles area to promote the MavTV 500 season closer at Auto Club Speedway, a double points race, as was the Indianapolis 500 and the Pocono 500; the two other gems in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Triple Crown.
Castroneves spent time pitching at the Little League baseball regionals in San Bernardino and then came to the Los Angeles Galaxy’s practice facility in Carson to kick around with Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho of the team that finished third in their 2013 season.
During his visit he talked about the most recent race at MId-Ohio where his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet/Dallara/Firestone Indy car had electronics problems that set the Brazilian back four laps - as the race began. He treated the remainder of the 90-lap contest primarily as a test session that had to be completed, no matter what, Castroneves said. “Roger (team owner Penske, who calls Castroneves’ races) wasn’t keen to try a lot of things; he just wanted us to finish the race,” Helio said.
Some people might compare the Brazilian’s current situation at Mid-Ohio to Houston last year, when Castroneves’ large lead evaporated in troubles during that doubleheader, eventually handing the title to Scott Dixon. “Yes, we lost the lead but by a small margin, four points. We’ve got to get the championship to Roger,” he said. “I want to be the one and I know Will (Power, points leader at this moment), he’s thinking the same way. He wants to be the one and Juan Pablo (Montoya) the same. We just have to execute and hopefully… “
Now is the time and the best defense for us is an offense
While Castroneves hasn’t had much luck at The Milwaukee Mile in the past, he did break through to second place last year; he’s got a win at Sonoma and those two venues precede Auto Club Speedway on the docket. “We know what we can do at those tracks and from now on, I feel we have a strong scenario here that we can get back on the lead and Will and myself, we need to expand from the rest of the guys,” he said.
Expanding from the rest of the guys isn’t the easiest thing in the world, particularly with hard charger Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, teammate Montoya and last week’s winner Scott Dixon nipping at Castroneves’ and Power’s heels. INDYCAR states 13 drivers have a mathematic chance of taking the title. That 500-mile Saturday afternoon-into-evening enduro in steamy Fontana will be the decider.
“Now is the time and the best defense for us is an offense. I think now we’re back on the offense again and we have got to push it. However,” the philosophical Castroneves noted, “you can’t be in the lead in the defense because it’ll bite you. You can’t be thinking just about points. We want to keep ahead of those guys.”
Castroneves focused on the task at hand
As he kicked soccer balls - even getting a few into the net and reacting with his customary exuberance, Castroneves still focused on the game plan: “We’ve got to stay in front of everyone; we’e got to win, score No. 1 on the board and hopefully that leads us to this championship.”
He’s been close enough to taste it so many times, as has his teammate Power. “The most important thing is those 100 points for the win” at Auto Club Speedway. “Even if a guy is 74 points behind, he still has a chance to win the championship.”
A few more smiles, some more kicks and off he goes, a man on a mission. There’s a test to do on Thursday in Sonoma, a week’s worth of promotions prior to Milwaukee and then, even before this month is over Helio Castroneves will either own the championship he’s been yearning and working for since he came to the United States to race Indy Lights for Tasman Motorsports in 1996, or he won’t. If he can keep his head together and the stars align, could this be Helio Castroneves’ year?