During the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Indianapolis for the fifth running of the IndyCar Grand Prix, most eyes were on the battle for victory between series veteran Will Power and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens.
By the time Power took the chequered flag at the Indy road course for the third time in his career, most drivers turned their attention to the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, now just two weeks away.
However, despite the close racing between other drivers including Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi, many fans were likely focused on the driver of the #3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Saturday marked the return to IndyCar racing for longtime veteran Helio Castroneves, who retired from full-time competition at the end of the 2017 season. For 2018 Castroneves has moved over to the IMSA series piloting Roger Penske’s Acura DPI full-time. However, his contract also includes a ride in his familiar #3 IndyCar throughout the month of May.
While most drivers in similar positions to Castroneves will focus their efforts solely on the 500, Team Penske felt running the Grand Prix would give the Brazilian an opportunity to familiarise himself with the new 2018 aerokit. For Castroneves, running the road course race gave him a chance to do what all IndyCar drivers wish for, run a competitive car around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s been great to be back. It is definitely a different car, but my Verizon Chevy machine is looking strong,” said Castroneves on the handling of the 2018 car.
Ultimately Castroneves crossed the famous yard of bricks in sixth place on Saturday, a result he may not have been too pleased with a year ago. However, this time around expectations were curbed slightly. In what was his first ever race running the new body work, and his first IndyCar race in eight months, Castroneves’ sixth place finish was a testament to the strong abilities of the 43-year-old Brazilian.
“It’s just like I never left, you know? It was great strategy from the team,” Castroneves said following Saturday’s race. “All my guys did phenomenal pit stops. This is a group that we’re going to have for the 500. So, imagine when you have the guys just showing up and doing the job is incredible.”
Like all drivers, Castroneves will now turn his attention to the Indy 500, where in two weeks’ time the Team Penske veteran will have a chance to join IndyCar royalty in winning a fourth 500. This year his chances seem as good as ever, Team Penske is always strong around the 2.5 mile speedway and running such a limited schedule means he really has nothing to lose.
If there was any worry of a prolonged adjustment period for the Penske driver, those fears have likely been put to rest. When practice for the 500 gets underway on Tuesday it will be business as usual for Helio Castroneves, who will likely be near the front of the pack all month long.