LONG BEACH, California – Forty-four.
That’s the number of Verizon IndyCar Series races that have come and gone since Helio Castroneves last visited Victory Lane. Considered one of the series’ chief elders, the 41-year-old Brazilian hasn’t shown any signs of slowing, especially after taking the Verizon P1 Award for today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It marks the third consecutive season that the popular Team Penske driver has won the Long Beach pole. He did it this time by breaking the track record he set two years ago, with a pole-winning lap Saturday of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph).
Coming off second- and third-place finishes at the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit the past two seasons, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion aspires to end the winless drought that has lasted since he was first to the checkered flag in the second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader in June 2014.
“I hope so,” Castroneves said. “Qualifying is one thing, the race is another, but I feel like we have a very good chance.
“Last year, we were leading and came into the pits too early and lost the race. Detroit, two years ago, we waited a little longer (to pit) and the yellow came out. It’s luck of the draw, but as long as we’re being competitive, I’m happy.”
Next to his longtime friend Tony Kanaan, who at 42 is four months older, Castroneves is oldest among current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers. Some point to the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet driver’s age as reason to pick against his chances of beating the next generation of talent, but Castroneves is the full embodiment of “work smarter, not harder.”
“Experience wins over being aggressive,” said Castroneves, who finished third in last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship and ran 11th in this morning’s 30-minute warmup session, the final practice before this afternoon’s race.
“Today to be young, you have to actually be smart,” he added. “You’ve got to outsmart the old people. Because of experience, less time on the track, not much (testing) on the outside of the track either, and so everything has become limited and that’s where (experience) wins.
“So that wealth of experience helps a lot and I feel that’s where we have the advantage on the young kids.”
Castroneves will lead the 21-car field to the green flag for today’s 85-lap race that airs live at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
His teammate, Simon Pagenaud, will ride shotgun on the field after being penalized for qualifying interference on Castroneves during Saturday qualifying. Pagenaud, in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, led this morning’s practice with a lap of 1:06.6497 (106.299 mph). Takuma Sato (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda) was second at 1:06.8514 (105.978 mph), ahead of teammate Alexander Rossi and the Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Kanaan.
Today’s race is the second of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.