Former Verizon IndyCar Series veteran and IMSA racer, Hélio Castroneves, has hailed his first time driving a rallycross car as a “really enjoyable” challenge. The Brazilian got his first taste of off-road racing last weekend when racing in the final of the RallyX on Ice series in Norway.
Castroneves drove in a Team Penske liveried Olsbergs MSE RX2 entry, making a one-off appearance. He drove the car for the first time on Saturday to prepare for the event which took place on Sunday. In the actual race event, Castroneves failed to advance out of the opening stages and unfortunately missed out on a spot in the semi-finals.
Despite not making it as far as he may have wanted to, Castroneves really enjoyed the weekend racing in his new surroundings. In an interview on Saturday, Hélio claimed that, despite the cold, he was having a lot of fun:
“I can’t stop smiling!” Castroneves said, “First of all, it’s an awesome opportunity to do something that I never, ever thought I would do – not only driving a rallycross car but doing so in the snow! I’m very thankful to Andreas [Eriksson – Olsbergs MSE CEO] for inviting me. Man, it’s cold outside, but I’m already having so much fun. Everybody has been helping me out and giving me tips on how to go sideways; if you want to turn left, you actually have to turn right – everything is the opposite! Also, every time you brake, the car slides all over the place. It’s a lot of fun
“Every time I go out in the car, I have to come back in after five laps because my feet and hands are frozen. Being from Brazil and living in Florida, I don’t think the snow is a natural fit for me… Man, though, this is so much fun – so much more than I was expecting.”
Rallycross is a big leap from Hélio’s usual habitat. The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion has raced in single seaters for the vast majority of his career, only racing with a roof over his head in brief V8 Supercars, Stock Car and endurance racing appearances prior to his full-time move to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for 2018. Last weekend marked the first time that the Brazilian had ever raced off-road:
“The learning curve starts with the track, which is built on two-and-a-half feet of ice,” Castroneves stated, “The tyres have studs too, so every time you go into a corner, you have to try to get onto the power so that you have more grip. The track changes constantly as more cars pass by; that makes it a never-ending challenge, but a really enjoyable one. Every lap is different, which is why these drivers are so incredibly talented – you’ve got to be ready no matter what. The good news is, if you crash, you’re only going to hit a snow bank, so it doesn’t create any damage.”
Castroneves followed in the footsteps of former IndyCar team-mate Josef Newgarden. Josef took part in the RallyX on Ice series a week before Castroneves, also driving the Team Penske liveried Olsbergs car. Hélio said that he had been talking to Josef, as well as to prepare himself for his turn in the car:
“I was texting him, and he said, ‘you’re going to suffer in the cold weather’ and he was right – I’m suffering!” added Castroneves,
“It’s funny, though – even when somebody tells you something, you don’t truly appreciate the difference until you actually get out there and start driving. It’s a real experience. If you have the desire to drive one of these cars in the snow, I can tell you, it’s absolutely incredible! I can’t wipe the smile off my face!”
Castroneves will next be out on track in the Penske Acura in the second round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will take place on March 17.