Castroneves never stopped believing

Driver Helio Castroneves celebrates his victory at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on...

Driver Helio Castroneves celebrates his victory at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. (GETTY IMAGES)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:08 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. -  Helio Castroneves won more than just his first IZOD IndyCar Series race in almost two seasons on Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner probably won an extension on his contract with Penske Racing, too.

There had been speculation team owner Roger Penske, although a huge backer of Castroneves through his woes with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service a couple of years ago, was considering bringing in a new driver to join Will Power and Ryan Briscoe when Castroneves’ current deal runs out at the end of this season.

Since the 2010 season — the last time Castroneves won a race prior to Sunday — it has been Power and Briscoe who have led the charge for Penske.

Even at that, the team has been overshadowed by the success of the Target Ganassi Racing duo of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

And if you know anything about Roger Penske it is that he considers winning in IndyCar part of his personal fiefdom and he has a record 15 Indy 500 Borg Warner trophies to prove it.

So that sigh of relief that Castroneves showed at the end of the race at St. Petersburg was real.

The native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, said that all through his long winless streak he never gave up on his own talent and the ability of his team top bounce back.

And that, he said, was what made Sunday’s victory that much more special.

“For our group, it’s important,” he said. “We never lost confidence; we never stopped believing. Especially this off-season, with the tests that we’ve been doing, we’ve been up there in testing, helping each other, so we never stopped believing.

“It’s important for us as a group to know that we can do it.”

Last season Castroneves appeared too often to be distracted, not his usual hard driving self. He said a lot of it had to do with rule changes made in the series, especially the controversial double file re-starts that he never seemed to be able to master.

But he said some of how that season went was his fault.

“Last year, unfortunately because of many issues, some of them were mine, some of them were bad luck, some of them were because of the new rules we have with the double-file restarts, I have to say I did not felt comfortable,” he said.

There was not a driver in the entire IndyCar paddock who was more happy to see a season end in 2011 than Castroneves.

And with the introduction of the new Dallara DW12 chassis and Penske’s switch from Honda to Chevrolet engines, Castroneves saw 2012 as a new beginning for him.

“I think now at this point with new car, new engine, it gives you a fresh start,” he said.

While the double file re-starts are here to stay in IndyCar — mostly because the fans love them — Castroneves certainly showed on Sunday he has got past his distaste for the NASCAR-like format.

In the immediate aftermath of his win, he said he couldn’t put his finger on any one thing that made his start this season so much better than last year.

“Trying to search for an answer, to be honest, it would be hard,” Castroneves said. “You have to work to get the results that you want.

“As I said, everything played very well together. But at the end of the day we have to make a pass, many passes, to go for it.”

One thing he did know was that he was as nervous as a rookie out there in the minutes before the race started.

“I had the butterflies in my stomach, which is a good sign,” Castroneves said. “But they were flying in formation, they weren’t like crazy butterflies. Everything was under control.

“I think when you kind of feel that way, good things are going to happen.”

Right from the green flag he had the feeling that this was going to be his day.

“And that is exactly what happened,” he said. “We were consistent, we were fast, good strategy, cautious. We had all these ingredients together, and it was a perfect race.”

Now Castroneves goes to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama to prove that Sunday was not just a one-time deal and he feels good about his chances there.

“As of right now, obviously a fantastic feeling,” he said. “Again, I never stopped believing.”

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca

INDYCAR POINTS RACE

IndyCar Series championship standings after St. Petersburg:

1: Hélio Castroneves 50

2: Scott Dixon 42

3: Ryan Hunter-Reay 35

4: James Hinchcliffe 32

5: Ryan Briscoe 30

6: Simon Pagenaud 28

7: Will Power 27

8: Ernesto Viso 24

9: Charlie Kimball 22

10: Justin Wilson 20

 


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