Castroneves Puts Team Penske In Victory Lane
FORT WORTH, Texas — In an effort to make the sport safer on the high-banked, 1.5-mile ovals on the schedule INDYCAR officials developed a car package that was designed to break up the pack, cause the field to separate and make the cars “a handful” for the drivers.
They accomplished that goal so well that Saturday night’s Firestone 550 IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was a snoozer.
Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske its first victory this season and became the seventh different winner in the first eight races of 2013. But he did it in blowout fashion, leading one time for the final 132 laps and led by as much as 14 seconds over his nearest pursuer.
In the end, he was able to defeat Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by 4.6919 seconds. Tony Kanaan was 11.6088 seconds back, Ed Carpenter 17.693 seconds behind the leader and Marco Andretti’s fifth place finish was 19.5078 seconds behind Castroneves in a race that was determined more by tire management than by wheel-to-wheel racing.
The Firestone tires were made to degrade over the course of a fuel stint and that’s exactly what happened to the point where at the end of the tire sequence the drivers were struggling to run the car over 195 miles per hour. Castroneves and Team Penske were able to manage the tires the best and by using that conservation strategy it got the team to Victory Lane for the first time since Castroneves won at Edmonton on July 22, 2012.
Chevrolet drivers and teams swept the top five positions. Dario Franchitti was the highest finishing Honda driver in sixth place.
Andretti was the driver to set the pace early in the race when he led twice for 57 laps including the first 53. Hunter-Reay was in front once for 35 laps and Power led one time for four laps. After that, it was Castroneves who was able to keep his car in the best shape while the others were slipping and sliding once their tires wore out. Castroneves was able to run better for longer on older tires than any other driver on the track and that is what won him the race.
“At the beginning, it was different, because remember, when we practice, we never practice at night. We always practice in the day, so it becomes very difficult to predict,” Castroneves said. “But the car, I think because the temperature of the car cools down, you don’t have any more downforce with that, the car was just much, much better. And what happens is if you don’t have that kind of dial down, it’s becoming a little push or it’s becoming loose. It’s a very difficult place, there’s no question, it’s a very difficult place. That’s why it’s exciting. Maybe it’s terrible in the beginning but it’s great in the end.”
It was Team Penske’s eight IndyCar Series win at Texas Motor Speedway. It was Castroneves’ 28th career victory and breaks a tie for 12th place with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Texas. It was also Castroneves’ fourth IndyCar Series win at Texas Motor Speedway, which makes him the all-time winner at the 1.5-mile oval.
“We knew there was fall off on the tires going into the race and Helio certainly, delivered it today and he’s a great race driver,” team owner Roger Penske said. “You don’t win the Indianapolis 500 three times unless you are.
“The key thing here was to have that car be able to run over 200 miles an hour with over 45 or 50 laps on the tires, and Helio was able to do that. I think it was the car setup and obviously his driving ability made the difference.”
Penske said the major difference was for the driver to use the tools in the car to help manage the tires and keep enough rubber underneath him to maintain his sizeable race lead in a contest that had just three caution periods for 27 laps.
“To me he should get the credit for it,” Penske said of Castroneves. “He drove all night long and coming up on cars that are 10 or 15 miles an hour slower and was able to maintain his speed and the distance between the cars behind him. So overall, it was positive.
“We wanted to get a yellow or something and be able to have a lap or two on most of the field. He was running 200, 201, 202, and then if you looked at the difference between 212 miles an hour, and 200 miles an hour, it’s only 1.2 seconds on the track. So it would take 20 or 30 laps for someone to lap him. So we looked at all that strategy, and, in fact, Helio and I went over it this afternoon before the race. We knew we wanted to run as long as we could and the tires were so good when we took them off the first time, we didn’t have to worry about any cording of tires. The tires were strong all day, so the tires were good.”