LEEDS, Ala – Last June, word started circulating around the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock that Helio Castroneves could be in his final full time season in the sport. The rumor was that Team Penske would be downsizing to three cars for a full season and that Castroneves would be the one getting left out. But, on the flip side, the team was going to get their feet wet in IMSA and start a two car team over there. Castroneves and former full time driver Juan Pablo Montoya would be their top choice of drivers to make the jump.
After the conclusion of the 2017 season at Sonoma last September, those rumors were confirmed. Penske would go back to a three car operation in INDYCAR and start an IMSA program instead. Castroneves, would be one of their drivers in IMSA as a result. With a new car coming out for 2018, there was no need for Castroneves to be a test driver in it. He would race in both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and nothing else as far as INDYCAR goes.
So, today’s series open test at the Barber Motorsports Park was Castroneves’ first time in the new car. He was approved for the test because the team will race him in the road course at Indy and this would be his only opportunity in the car in a road course before then. Plus, this is the same thing they did for Montoya last year and he was able to compete in the test at Barber too.
What was eye opening is how great Castroneves did. Yes, he has Penske equipment so he already had a rocket ship. But, the other 23 drivers taking part in Tuesday’s test all had a full weekend of racing under the belts. Plus, all of them had other testing opportunities in the offseason too. Castroneves didn’t.
In session No. 1, Castroneves turned the third quickest lap out of everyone. The popular Brazilian circled the 2.38-mile Alabama road course with a time of 1:08.3155-seconds. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate to run the second session. Castroneves, was the only one to run, as he completed just eight laps. None of those laps though were for speed.
It was a strong debut for Castroneves, one that shows us that he still has it even with limited time in this car.