INDIANAPOLIS. Indiana – Helio Castroneves envisioned a shootout with Team Penske teammate Will Power in the final stint of the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
They were the only leaders of the 85-lap race on the 2.439-mile road course before their final pit stops. The crew for Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet put on red softer-compound Firestone alternate tires on Lap 64. Castroneves’ No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet crew went with the harder, primary Firestone blacks on Lap 65.
Then Castroneves faded to a disappointing fifth-place finish.
As Power celebrated his 30th career Indy car victory, surpassing Castroneves and team driver coach Rick Mears for 11th on the all-time list, Castroneves graciously accepted another close-but-not-enough finish that has become all too commonplace in what is now a 48-race winless streak dating to 2014.
“Yeah, I thought it was going to be that way,” Castroneves said of a possible duel with his teammate. “But when I saw him come out in first place after we pitted, I said, ‘Oooh, this is going to be a tough one, especially on the blacks.’ What a shame. Great job to Will. Great job for Team Penske.”
The primary tires are considered more durable for a longer stint, while the red-sidewall alternates are made of a softer compound, which means a car can be quicker in the corners of the 14-turn layout. But there’s also the risk of losing durability at the end of a stint.
Castroneves was the only contender on Firestone blacks at the finish.
“We knew we’ve got to be a little bit different from the top guys, especially Will,” he said. “Obviously, we tried something different and it didn’t pay off. But good strategy from everyone. We just tried to change a little bit to win. That’s what we want. We want to get the ‘W.’ But unfortunately it didn’t work out.”
The two drivers who have divided the five poles among themselves this season traded setting the pace as pole sitter Power led the first 23 laps, then relinquished the lead to Castroneves after the initial pit stops. Castroneves stayed there until Lap 46, when Power surged ahead after the second round of stops.
Castroneves last led on Laps 64 and 65 before pitting. Power sped by as Castroneves was exiting pit road and was never seriously threatened.
Four-time series champion Scott Dixon eventually passed Castroneves to finish second in his No. 9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“It was just strategy,” Dixon said of Castroneves. “He used new reds at the start and everybody else was on used. Yeah, he was a bit of a sitting duck. It’s never fun being in that situation when you’re racing for a podium or even a victory when the strategy just plays out that way.
“It just depends upon how you play your cards. It was going to be extremely tough to hang on with the black tires.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay was next to pass Castroneves as the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda finished third.
“I was a little bit surprised, yeah,” Hunter-Reay said of the Castroneves strategy. “Helio’s strategy, I think it was a good try, but it didn’t end up working out for him in the end because he was on the primaries at the end, kind of a sitting duck for us with the pace we had on the reds.”
Defending race winner and series champion Simon Pagenaud also slipped by Castroneves to finish fourth in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Power and Pagenaud now share the distinction as two-time INDYCAR Grand Prix winners.
Not that Castroneves bemoaned his plight. He was all too eager to mention turning his focus toward the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28, when the Brazilian will try once again to become just the fourth driver to win that prestigious race four times.
Just like Saturday, he’ll give it his best shot. The competition will again be fierce, starting on his own team. Team Penske cars finished first, fourth, fifth, 10th with Juan Pablo Montoya and 11th with Josef Newgarden in the grand prix.
That’s why the team took a chance on tire strategy with Castroneves, who sounded like he understood and accepted the risk.
“When you have five guys this weekend, we’ve got five who are super talented, you can’t just play safe,” Castroneves said. “You’ve got to go. That’s what we tried.”
Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins on the 2.5-mile oval Monday. Qualifying days are May 20-21, with the race airing live beginning at 11 a.m. ET May 28 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Visit IMS.com for more information and to purchase tickets for the race.
For more information about Team Chevy, visit https://www.facebook.com/TeamChevy/.