Helio Castroneves will once again return to the Verizon IndyCar Series in next year’s Indianapolis 500 according to Team Penske‘s president Tim Cindric.
During last Sunday’s 2018 Indianapolis 500, where the returning Castroneves sadly failed to finish after spinning into the wall, Helio used an interview with the media to plead with Penske to let him come back again next year, with Cindric going on to confirm that Helio would indeed be returning in twelve months time later on in the day.
After seventeen years of competing in IndyCar with Penske, Helio was forced to stop racing full-time in the series for the 2018 season, with the team choosing to move the Brazilian veteran to their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship programme as they scaled back their IndyCar entries from four full-time cars to three.
Despite being given an IndyCar seat for two of the seventeen races on the IndyCar calendar, the two races held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Helio was vocal in his wishes to remain in the championship full-time. Throughout the weeks leading up to the race last weekend, Castroneves had stated several times that he hoped the results of his two 2018 outings would convince the team to give him his full-time ride back in the not-too-distant future.
In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, held on the road course earlier in the month, Helio demonstrated that he had not lost any of his speed; despite racing against a field of drivers who had four prior races to get used to the new-for-2018 specification of IndyCar. He qualified in tenth place, with a lap-time just three-tenths of a second slower than pole-sitter Will Power, before going on to finish a strong sixth place in the race.
Helio continued to show speed as the series moved from the road course to the oval. Castroneves was one of the fastest drivers on single-car runs during the month, but a slow lap in the “Fast-Nine” shootout prevented him from being able to challenge Ed Carpenter for pole position. He qualified in ninth place and was running solidly in the top ten when his race came undone on Sunday.
As many drivers had demonstrated before him, the lower downforce cars for this year were proving tough to keep pointing in the right direction. A number of drivers found themselves spinning into the wall without any real warning, with Helio falling foul of this on lap 146. He spun on the exit of turn four, with his car hitting the inside wall and coming to rest on the entry to the pit-lane.
After walking down the pit-lane to get back to his team, Castroneves stopped to discuss the tricky handling of the car which led to his accident, before once again pleading to Roger Penske, the team’s founder, to have him back.
“The car was actually handling good, I couldn’t get too close to other guys.” a disappointed Castroneves said, “I guess when I went to pass [Ryan] Hunter-Reay on the outside, maybe got a little debris on the tire – I don’t know, that was obviously the first time. My worry was actually Turn 1, not so much in Turn 4, so I felt a little bit movement but I was feeling that most of the time. But this time, unfortunately, the rear just over-rotated.
“I think we were just learning the car. obviously, I mean you can see some other cars be able to run a more little closer without an issue. Myself, for example, when I had the opportunity, I went for it. Maybe with older tires, maybe it wasn’t the time to do it, but I felt everything was going to momentum. It’s a shame. It caught us by surprise. We will learn a little more and hopefully can convince RP [Roger Penske] to bring me back.”
Shortly after Helio’s interview, Penske himself was asked about whether Castroneves would be back, with the captain replying: “I have to talk to the president [Tim Cindric] here. He’ll figure that one out for me.”
By the sounds of it, however, Castroneves had done more than enough to please Cindric. The Penske president would go on to confirm later in the day that he would indeed be bringing Helio back for the 2019 Indianapolis 500.
“He’s going to be back. He will be here next year in one of our cars,” Cindric said post-race. “I’ll say it.
“That guy was sitting here this morning before I walked in, sitting in his fire suit next to his engineer ready to go, about 6.30 this morning. I don’t think I’ve seen him out of his yellow suit since we got here this month. He’s ready to go all the time.”
Whilst the news is great for Castroneves, it is very likely that he will continue to campaign within the team to be back full-time for next year’s IndyCar season. In the meantime, he will continue to race the Penske Acura prototype in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will be in action this weekend at the Belle Isle street circuit in support of the IndyCar Chevrolet Duel in Detroit.