BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Helio Castroneves was back running laps at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday, getting valuable laps and reuniting with his Penske teammates.
Castroneves was getting acclimated to the new Indy car, not prepping for a return trip in April to the track where he won the inaugural IndyCar race. His new job these days is to race sports cars for Roger Penske —at least most of the time. There will be a May trip to the Indianapolis 500, where he will try to win the showcase race for a fourth time.
“It’s hard to come to a place knowing that you’re not going to come back racing,” he said. “But I’m accepting the challenge of this new chapter in my life. It’s great to have this opportunity to get myself familiar with the car for the Indy 500, which that’s the big one. But I will miss the fans here. I will miss this track. I will miss this race.”
Castroneves ran the third-fastest lap behind Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Will Power, completing the 17-turn circuit in 1:08.3155 among his 33 laps.
Team Penske gave Castroneves one of its seats in Tuesday’s test at Barber so that Castroneves can start learning the car that debuted earlier this month in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg. Castroneves, who served as grand marshal in the opener, will also test the car next week at Indianapolis.
Castroneves, who teamed with Penske in 2000 and won 30 races, agreed to move to an anchor position on the organization’s new IMSA entries. Juan Pablo Montoya anchors the second car.
That cleared room for Penske to sign Newgarden, last year’s IndyCar champion. The payoff for that team-first move: Castroneves will race twice Indianapolis in May, first the road course and then a shot at what would be a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory.
Castroneves was still competitive last year. The Brazilian won at Iowa, started three times from the pole and earned three podium finishes. In the race that matters most to Penske, Castroneves earned his third runner-up finish at the Indy 500.
Castroneves has kept abreast of what’s happening with the IndyCar team via calls and texts.
“He’s got two races that he wants to do well at and he’s been very good about keeping in touch with us and staying with the program,” Newgarden said. “You can see he hasn’t lost a lot of speed. He’s right up there with us, still one of the fastest guys in an Indy car. It’s fun to have him back at the race track, get his feedback on what he thinks.”
As for his sports car gig, the two Acura entries for Team Penske finished 40th and 41st at last weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
“We were really expecting good things,” Castroneves said. “This is something that nobody expected. That’s racing. Back to the drawing board. We got knocked down that second round but we’re going to get back again and be stronger the next one.”
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