By: Tanner Watkins
February 14, 2019 | 4:00 PM
While it piqued the interest of NTT IndyCar Series fans around the country, no, Helio Castroneves’ appearance at this week’s Circuit of the Americas test does not mean he will be racing in March’s INDYCAR Classic in Austin.
Putting that news aside, though, it is always a breath of fresh air to have the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner on-hand for IndyCar Series activities. This week was no different as the Brazilian participated in the two-day test in support of Team Penske and his efforts to run the INDYCAR Grand Prix at this Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May.
On the time charts, Castroneves performed as one would expect for a driver who hasn’t been in a Dallara IR-18 since the “500” last May. He was 12th-fastest with 95 laps completed over Tuesday and Wednesday’s festivities, about a second off the fastest time set by rookie Colton Herta.
The focus, though, wasn’t on the time charts for Castroneves and his No. 3 Pennzoil crew. This week’s test was all about logging laps and preparing for what is to come later in the spring.
“I was the guinea pig. I was the workhorse,” laughed Castroneves, 43. “I was whatever they needed me to be – long runs, short runs, whatever. It is great for the team. That’s what I am here for, is to make sure we eliminate issues so those guys can continue going fast. The team and I are getting back into our groove, which is great.”
This late offseason prep is all about Indianapolis for Castroneves – it gives the veteran some seat time in an IndyCar again and gets the ball rolling towards the May 11 race on the IMS road course. Last year Castroneves started 10th and finished 6th in a triumphant return at the INDYCAR Grand Prix.
For the Indianapolis 500, Castroneves qualified 8th and was running well inside the top-10 for much of the race before he unexpectedly crashed out of Turn 4 on lap 145. In a day of high attrition, the veteran finished 27th and vowed to be back in 2019.
If the three-time Indy 500 winner were to join the exclusive club of four-timers on May 26, Castroneves will almost surely look back at the February test in Austin as what jump-started his race to victory. It would be quite the story for the self-titled guinea pig.
Header image by John Cote/INDYCAR.