Photo: Walter G. Arce Sr./ASP, Inc.

Castroneves Confident in IMSA Return with Future 500 Assured

By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor

One week removed from a disappointing Indianapolis 500 effort, Helio Castroneves found himself with the Verizon IndyCar Series once more at Belle Isle Park.

But this time Castroneves was a spectator – supporting his teammates after competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic.

The weekend could have been a challenge if the 2018 Month of May had been the Brazilian’s last. A strong No. 3 Chevrolet and spirited drive ended in defeat for the three-time Indy 500 champion when he crashed into the inside wall at the exit of Turn 4 on Lap 146.

Afterward Castroneves pleaded with Team Penske owner Roger Penske to bring him back for another shot at a fourth victory. Team President Tim Cindric assured the media moments later that Castroneves would be given the opportunity to return.

“We couldn’t leave (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) the way we did last week and not come back,” Castroneves told Motorsports Tribune. “It was unfortunate. Very weird what happened.

“But I can’t wait to go back and try again. I’m ready to start working on my setup for next year.”

His Indy ride all-but assured, Castroneves shifted his focus back to IMSA in Detroit. The 43-year-old moved over to the tour from IndyCar at the end of 2017, joining new teammate Ricky Taylor to form the full-time driver lineup for one of two teams under the new Acura Team Penske banner.

After a difficult opening to the year, Castroneves and Taylor won in the final race before the Month of May. The pair brought home Penske’s first victory with Acura in a 1-2 organization sweep at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The pair picked up where they left off in Belle Isle, rising to contend for the lead with the sister Penske team of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron in the 100-minute race’s early stages.

Montoya led the way for the organization in the No. 6 Acura ARX-05 DPi through the opening stint, passing Pipo Derani for the lead on Lap 3 and holding it through the first round of pit stops on Lap 13. But after pit stops and driver changes cycled through, it was Taylor and the No. 7 team that found themselves with the best chance to deliver Penske a victory.

For a time it appeared they would do just that, but a brilliant strategy play from the Action Express Racing duo of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran led their No. 31 Cadillac DPi to victory lane and fostered a jump in Belle Isle’s James Scott Memorial Fountain that IndyCar winner Ryan Hunter-Reay would mimic the following day.

Taylor and Castroneves slotted in second, with teammates Cameron and Montoya rounding out the podium.

Second wasn’t the result that Castroneves wanted, but it elevated the No. 7 Acura team to within 15 points of the championship lead in the Prototype class. After his team’s difficult start of the year, Castroneves could take solace in the fact that he’s in the title conversation as Acura Team Penske’s debut season enters the middle stages.

“That’s one of the reasons I signed up for this,” Castroneves said of his championship aspirations. “No question, Team Penske’s always pushing. But Acura and Team Penske together are doing everything they can to be the best.

“Action Express did a great job in the end this week. Not a bad day for us on the podium, but we’ve got to keep putting in the work so we can repeat what we did in Mid-Ohio.”

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Aaron Bearden is a Contributing Writer for Motorsports Tribune, handling coverage of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and ABB FIA Formula E Championship. A native Hoosier, Bearden has attended races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was three years old. He can be found on social media at @AaronBearden93.