Castroneves: Qualifying form shows I can still win races

Helio Castroneves says his recent qualifying performances are proving that he still has the pace to win, despite the fact that he's seeking his first IndyCar victory since June 2014.

Castroneves: Qualifying form shows I can still win races
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet, Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda, Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet

Although Team Penske-Chevrolet’s three-time Indy 500 winner, four-time polesitter and two-time runner-up turns 42 next month, he agrees that taking pole at Long Beach and qualifying second at Barber Motorsports Park have been encouraging for his team as he seeks his first win in almost three years.

“I agree, it’s been good – we’ve got it, we’ve got the groove,” he told Motorsport.com. “We have all been working together – Josef [Newgarden], Simon [Pagenaud] and Will [Power] – and we’ve been strong. Qualifying pace last year was good too.

“Unfortunately we had an engine issue at the start of the race and a penalty at Long Beach. At Barber, we knew from the test that we were going to have a fast car, but we didn’t know about how we would compare with the Hondas. If they’re stronger, we can’t use that as an excuse – we just have to be better on the corners!

“And we were, because we have that mentality – we’re never going to stop trying. And that is how we are going into Phoenix this weekend as well.

“The race aspect at Barber, the tire situation was a little bit different with the reds [softer alternate tire compound], maybe because I’d used them a little bit more than my teammates. I was struggling at Turn 17 and Turn 2 on reds – I was having to hold the brakes a little bit, otherwise I would have spun out. So in the end, fourth place was not so bad.

“When you have three other great guys in the team, super-talented, it’s good that we’re all fighting with each other. 20 years into my career, I’m still learning every weekend, and we have a lot to show still.”

Optimistic for Phoenix

Last season saw Phoenix International Raceway return to the IndyCar schedule for the first time in 10 years, and Castroneves, who won there in 2002, set a new track record (192.324mph) on his way to pole position.

However, after leading the first 39 laps, a front-right tire failure enforced an unscheduled pitstop, and the #3 Penske tumbled down the order, resulting in an 11th-place finish.

Castroneves says IndyCar's February test at PIR would suggest that Penske will be strong again this weekend – but he’s not sure the test results are necessarily significant two-and-a-half months later.

“Honestly, we aren’t sure if Honda were holding back in pre-season testing, for one thing," he said. "We believe they did, and qualifying is not so much about handling but power. But I still feel we have a very good balanced car for the race.

"The front wing these days is about 70 percent of the downforce and when you have someone in front of you, you lose quite a lot of that, so having a good handling balance is the most important thing, especially at a track where you’re almost constantly turning.

“Indy is different because of those long straights. At Phoenix, where you’re following another car, you’re always having to place your car just right to maximize what downforce you can get. It’s very tricky. So being able to follow another car closely is so important. I think we have a car that can do that.”

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