By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
SONOMA, Calif. – Helio Castroneves nearly found the top spot in Firestone Fast Six qualifying on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, but his chance at starting on pole for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma evaporated at the hands of Team Penske teammate and Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Simon Pagenaud.
The 41-year-old Brazilian, who will start second, has witnessed firsthand the dominance that Pagenaud has displayed – scoring what is now seven poles to match seven podiums and four wins. Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, has also looked on as another teammate, Will Power, has risen to second in the championship standings after missing the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil champion is odd-man out when it comes to the title fight, having only the ability to cap off his season third in the standings. Castroneves, a 29-time winner in Indy car, doesn’t plan on getting involved in the battle between teammates aiming for the Astor Cup, the focus rests strictly on ending a 42-race winless streak.
“In this situation (with the title battle) the good news is the team got the championship,” Castroneves said, who is currently tied with Scott Dixon at third in the championship. “I don’t think there is going to be any team orders, or anybody trying to help anybody. To be honest, I think who they should help should be me because we want to finish 1-2-3 in this championship, but obviously I don’t want to get in the middle of it.
“I want to run my own race and get to top three in the championship. We’re just going to have to play smart. The track is different with the tire degradation, so I think you’re going to see a lot of different strategies. I think now it’s actually better than if there was someone from another team battling for the championship because then we would be focusing to just be ahead of whoever it was, so at the moment our team got everything – so it’s a free for all.
Castroneves played out the scenario from the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi when Charlie Kimball made contact with Power, which sent him into the Armco barrier and ending his day and putting a damper on his teammate’s championship hopes, and believes that isn’t something the team will have to worry about if all four drivers are battling on Sunday.
“Hopefully we have a little more communication (than with the Watkins Glen situation),” Castroneves said. “Hopefully our team is able to talk to each other in that scenario. In the case of Watkins Glen it was with another team and I don’t think Will ever knew that Charlie was there.
“Obviously you don’t want to wreck a car, because wrecking cars you’re not going to score any points and at this point my goal is to finish ahead of my competitors, but at the same time I got to win and tomorrow we’re going to try and accomplish both.”
Team Penske locked out the top four starting spots for the season finale at the 2.385-mile, 11-turn permanent road course in Sonoma – a first since St. Petersburg. Castroneves said that being ‘consistent’ is going to be the key to breaking the winless streak on Sunday.
“Be consistent,” Castroneves said. “Definitely in this situation I think consistent and a little bit of luck. Hopefully the yellows don’t fall the wrong way for us, but just be consistent.”