INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – From the moment Helio Castroneves first arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001, he followed the same …
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – From the moment Helio Castroneves first arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001, he followed the same route through the gasoline alley.
He left the orange striped motorhome, signed autographs, and posed for photos with fans until he reached Team Penske’s garages. Then he ducked into one of the concrete stands, met with engineers, and prepared to do laps in car # 3.
The 20-year partnership between Castroneves and Penske has become the model of stability in a sport that is determined by so many parts.
Now things are changing. When the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner showed up for the first Harvest GP on Thursday, he donned a new driver’s suit with a new team owner’s name on it. When he gets into the # 7 car, he will drive for a team other than Team Penske for the first time since the 1999 season finale, a period of 310 IndyCar races.
“It’s not a question, it’s different,” Castroneves said. “It’s funny because McLaren and Penske (garage tents) are right next to each other and they are both black. But the orange really stands out. “
The differences can be seen everywhere Castroneves is filming this weekend.
Instead of basking in the typically warm temperatures and the burgeoning green of May, the 45-year-old Brazilian wears a stocking cap on a clear, sunny autumn day.
The grandstands, which were empty for July’s Brickyard 400 and IndyCar GP, as well as the Indianapolis 500, which was newly planned in August, offer space for up to 10,000 fans every day this weekend.
Teams like Arrow McLaren SP work on cars in an area traditionally reserved for hospitality tents and share the street circuit Friday and Saturday before an eight-hour long-distance race on Sunday with sports cars.
Castroneves’ longtime friend Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy winner, is still there after completing a shortened five-race schedule. He replaced Paul Tracy on NBC Sports broadcasting station.
And with the blessing of Roger Penske and team president Tim Cindric, Castroneves has swapped his bright yellow Pennzoil fire suit for the black clothing with the word Arrow on the middle part.
“You have a great group of people and great technology,” Castroneves said, referring to his new team. “It is certainly a different operation, but they do a great job.”
Perhaps it will also mark the beginning of a new chapter in Castroneves’ brilliant racing career.
In 349 career IndyCar starts, Castroneves has driven 30 times on the winning streak and with 50 Poles is the fourth of all times. He was the first international rider to win the 500 three times, take three runner-ups on Indy’s historic 2.5-mile oval, and complete an incredible 2,810 laps from 2007-18 without getting off the 500.
He’s never won the season championship and if he wants to do it again he’ll probably have to do it by moving on from Penske.
Castroneves’ contract expires after this season, making him a free agent for the first time since 2000 and potentially ending a relationship that survived both the open-wheel split and the first change of speedway owner since the end of World War II .
Penske moved Castroneves to a full-time seat on his sports car team in 2018 and gave him cameos at the two races in Indianapolis each May. However, earlier this year Penske announced that he would not be driving in sports cars for the next season and he already has three full-time IndyCar drivers under contract.
Plus, Castroneves is keen to get back on the show as a full-time gamer, and this weekend’s double header gives him the chance to audition.
“It’s great to come back,” he said. “We are very busy, there is a lot going on, so let’s take it as it comes. Looking forward to being back, but thinking about this weekend. The future will take care of itself. “
Castroneves hadn’t planned on racing over here this weekend until Arrow McLaren was looking for a replacement for rookie Oliver Askew, who is still having concussion symptoms. He suffered the injury initially in an accident during this year’s 500.
“I had a great chat with Oliver this morning and I want to make sure he’s better,” Castroneves said. “He’s a good young driver and he deserves this opportunity.”
The early part of practice didn’t go smoothly: Castroneves’ car skidded and skidded around the 14-corner course of 2,439 miles. His quick lap of 1 minute and 11.6269 seconds was the 23rd of 25 drivers on the track as Askew watched from the pit lane.
But Castroneves qualified 19th in the 25-car field with a fast time of 1: 10.3965.
The question now is whether Castroneves can do well enough Friday and Saturday to land a new deal.
“Coming here with a new team, a new group of people is different,” he said. “But it’s also exciting.”
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