INDIANAPOLIS – In his pursuit of his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Helio Castroneves knows that he needs to have another good run this weekend on the streets of Long Beach. Castroneves, finished sixth in the season opening race at St. Pete on March 12, and if he wants any shot at earning his first IndyCar title in 2017, he needs to finish at least sixth or better this Sunday on the 1.968-mile Long Beach, California street course.
Granted, if he doesn’t come away with a top five finish on Sunday, it doesn’t mean he won’t win this year’s championship, but with how tight this field is from top to bottom, you really can’t afford to have two finishes outside the top five to start the year off and come away hoisting the Astor Cup trophy at Sonoma in September.
The good news is Castroneves has won there before. He took the checkered flag first in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2001. Also, he’s recently ran great there too in having two straight podium finishes with a second place finish in 2015 and a third place effort just a year ago in 2016. He also started on the pole and led 31 laps in his runner-up effort two years ago, and started on the pole again leading 47 laps en route to his third place finish in 2016.
Two straight poles, two straight podiums and a win in 2001. Sounds like he would be a contender Sunday right?
Unfortunately, those races in the middle have been anything but stellar for the popular Brazilian driver.
From 2002-2014, Castroneves had no top five finishes at Long Beach. His results were seventh, seventh, 12th, 13th, 10th and 11th respectively. Before 2002, the Team Penske driver had finishes of ninth, 19th, second and first. He led 82 laps that year of his victory and three more in his seventh place run in 2009. Other than those two races and his last two Long Beach starts, he failed to lead a lap.
“Long Beach is one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit to me,” Castroneves said. “It’s a fun environment and we’ve done well there. We really battled in St. Petersburg and wound up with a sixth-place finish, which was great, but I’m ready to perform better than ever at Long Beach. We were fast there last year, but we need to close the deal this time. I know the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet team will give me a great car and we’ll be ready to go.”
On Friday, Castroneves was quick. He was second fastest in the opening session this morning then followed that up with being sixth in the second session later on in the day.
That’s why I have my eye on Castroneves this weekend. I think he will be in the running for his third straight pole there and have his sights set on winning for a second time in the prestigious race on Sunday.