Castroneves' knack for qualifying up front goes back to childhood

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The fact that Helio Castroneves will lead the Verizon IndyCar Series field to the green flag at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is nothing new.

The 19-year Indy car veteran and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has sat on pole position for a race 47 times now, including today. And according to one of his long-time rivals and even longer-term friends, Castroneves’ aptitude for qualifying up front goes back years farther.

“It was always his strength, since we are like 8 years old racing go-karts,” said Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racingt Chevrolet who has been racing with Castroneves since they were youngsters in Brazil. “To put that perfect a lap together, I think he is one of the toughest guys I've seen doing it.

“He definitely knows how to do it, for sure.”

Castroneves topped Firestone Fast Six qualifying Saturday to win the Verizon P1 Award with a lap of 1 minute, 7.1246 seconds (105.547 mph) in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet. With 47 career poles, the 40-year-old Team Penske driver is within two of tying fellow three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser for third on the all-time list.

CLICK HERE: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach qualifying highlights; Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach starting lineup/tire designation

Castroneves will chase his 30th career victory in today’s 80-lap race on the 1.968-mile temporary street course in the scenic Southern California port city. If successful, it would move him ahead of the man who is now his spotter at Team Penske, Rick Mears, and into sole possession of 11th place on the all-time wins list.

A year ago, Castroneves also started from the pole at Long Beach and led the opening 29 laps until making his first pit stop. Forced to wait an extra second in his pit until Kanaan could enter his own stall, Castroneves surrendered the lead to eventual race winner Scott Dixon.

That situation can be avoided this year, since Castroneves is in the front pit location – a reward for winning the pole two weeks ago at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The 2001 Long Beach race winner from the pole, Castroneves sees his pit location as a decided benefit today.

“Yeah, that's a big advantage, if we don't have to worry about that scenario,” he said. “Whatever happens on the track, we'll be ready to go. It always paid off to be in this situation (to have the first pit), and I'm glad that I don't need to worry about who's coming (in) behind, and we've just got to go.”

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach race facts:

This is the 33rd straight year for Indy cars to race on the streets of Long Beach, the longest continuous tenure of any race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule other than the Indianapolis 500.

Race distance: 80 laps/157.44 miles

Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for 20 seconds each, providing approximately an additional 20 horsepower

Race fuel: 60 gallons of Sunoco E85R

Broadcast coverage: 4 p.m. ET today, on NBCSN (including the NBC Sports Live Extra app) and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, IndyCarRadio.com)


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