Castroneves Tops Edmonton Practice
EDMONTON, Alberta – It’s hard for Helio Castroneves to go unnoticed because of his likeable and colorful personality and his impressive record as a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
Throw in his broken accent that makes the Brazilian a cross between Desi Arnez from “I Love Lucy” or for those born after 1980 Fez from “That ‘70’s Show” Castroneves has an ability for being for being in the spotlight whether on the race track or from winning “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC in 2007.
But the one thing missing from Castroneves’ career is a series championship. He didn’t win a title in CART and beginning in 2002 when Team Penske moved over to become a full-time participant in what is now the IZOD IndyCar Series, Castroneves never finished the season as the champion.
He came mighty close in 2002 losing to Sam Hornish, Jr. by just 20 points in the final race of the season at Texas. He was third in 2003, fourth in 2004 and third in 2006 when he lost the championship by just two points. Hornish and the late Dan Wheldon finished the season tied with 475 points but Hornish had two victories to Wheldon’s one and claimed the title on tie-breaker.
Ironically, Castroneves led the series in victories that season with four.
So it’s easy to see that Castroneves has been oh so close; yet so far in terms of winning an elusive title.
So as the IZOD IndyCar Series arrived in Alberta for Sunday’s Edmonton Indy the two hottest drivers in the series are atop the point standings with Ryan Hunter-Reay of the United States winning the last three races this season 34 points ahead of Australia’s Will Power who won three straight earlier this season.
But sitting quietly in third place is Castroneves, just 46 points out with five races to go.
Castroneves is a legitimate championship contender this season and showed that he is a threat to win Sunday’s Edmonton Indy after posting Friday’s fastest time in practice in his Dallara/Chevrolet at 1:16.4920 (104.670 miles per hour) around the 13-turn, 2.224-mile temporary street course at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport.
“We definitely know we are sitting in a good position,” Castroneves said. “If we are within 50 points of the leader that is a good place to be. We are doing what we need to do and keep digging a little bit. Hopefully we can collect more points here and have a great run for the championship.”
Castroneves was fast on Friday and hopes that pays off with a win on Sunday.
“It was very good and the boys did a great job coming from Toronto to here coming up with a good plan,” Castroneves said. “Our first session was a little different than we expected the first time in this car but we learned quite a lot in the session. We made a lot of adjustments in the car for the second session and all tried different bits to take advantage of the scenario. It was great because we learned some new directions.
“It’s a good day for us. It’s been a long time since I was P1 in this session so I’m glad. Saturday is important for qualifying but Sunday is the important day and that is what I’m looking for.”
Castroneves said it is difficult to not overdrive because the straightaways are so long and so wide and the corners “funnel down” which gives the driver a challenge on the exit of the turn. That created a challenging race last year with the old Dallara chassis but Castroneves expects the racing will improve with the Dallara DW12 chassis.
“We are allowed to make one move to protect our position and we have the push-to-pass with different manufacturers so this will be a much different race than Toronto and I think it will be exciting,” Castroneves said.
Scott Dixon of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing was second quick at 1:16.4947 (104.666 mph) in a Dallara/Honda.
“I’m happy with my car,” Dixon said. “We went out on new tires, got a red flag straight away, and we went back out, Sebastien Bourdais was in front, and he blocked me when I was trying to get past him on the out lap. And then obviously, it’s just trying to get a clear lap in, and we really didn’t get one. But the car seems pretty decent. The big braking zones…it seems to be that turns one and five are definitely more obvious. I think that Turn 13 in the last corner, because it comes back on itself, if the guy even comes back he’ll still have a decent run. But if you mess up in (turn) one and going into (turn) five, you’re definitely going to get passed. There are lots of great passing points on this track, and it’s going to be a hell of a race.”
Castroneves believes the engine competition is quite competitive and that has made this an outstanding championship with five races to go. And that challenge could get interesting on Saturday with rain in the forecast possibly scrambling the starting lineup with a wet track. The forecast for Sunday is sunny and clear.
“If it rains Saturday it will be interesting because with such long straightaways you might see people from the back doing very well,” Castroneves said. “I like the wet scenario. It’s been a long time since we have had qualifying in the wet.”
Mike Conway of England was third quick at 1:16.5122 (104.642 mph) in a Dallara/Honda, Simon Pagenaud of France was fourth at 1:16.5391 (104.605 mph) in a Dallara Honda and Toronto’s James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top five at 1:16.5740 (104.558 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
Series points leader Hunter-Reay was parked for the final few minutes of the first practice session for “unsportsmanlike conduct” when he altered his racing line to try to push James Jakes off the course when Jakes was slow on the course. He rebounded in the afternoon session to have the ninth fastest lap at 1:16.7067 (104.377 mph).
“We had a rough start to the day, but we really improved the car,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ve come a long way to end up eighth, and we have a long way to go to be closer to the front for qualifying. We’re just lacking overall grip, but we definitely have a lot of communication within the team, so we’ll compare notes tonight. You know, if there’s one little detail that’s off, that could make a big difference, and having teammates allows you to maybe find something you wouldn’t have on your own. It’s been a trend for Andretti Autosport to improve the cars each day, so I expect to be better tomorrow.”
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