Helio Castroneves hopes this is his year ahead of Long Beach Grand Prix
(BDCi) — Helio Castroneves has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, earned 27 career victories overall and he even placed first on “Dancing With the Stars” contest.
However there is one thing missing from the veteran driver’s resume and that is an IndyCar Championship.
Hoping to fill the void this year, Castroneves is leading the IZOD IndyCar Series standings entering the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I’m really pushing and the good news is we have a great team,” Castroneves said of Team Penske, whose other driver is Australian Will Power, the 2012 Long Beach winner who narrowly lost the IndyCar title last year.
The 11-turn Long Beach race, which is run on 1.97 miles of the city’s coastal streets, is the third event on the 19-race calender.
Castroneves finished second in the season opener, a street race in St. Petersburg, Florida and he was third two weeks ago at the winding Barber Motorsports course in Birmingham, Alabama.
As a result, the Brazilian has a nine-point lead in the standings over two-time champion Scott Dixon and a 13-point lead over reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Castroneves is also a former winner at Long Beach having won back in 2001.
While being a champion and an Indy 500 winner would make perfect bookmarks to his career, Castroneves said he would not feel regret if the title escapes him before he retires.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “But it’s not for a lack of trying and discipline.”
And Castroneves has set no timetable on his retirement. He’ll keep racing “as long as I’ve got the fire here, man,” he said pointing to his chest, “as long as I enjoy it and love it. And I love it.”
“If I can’t win” the championship, Castroneves added, ” hopefully my teammate can.”
Power had three wins overall last year and took a 17-point lead into the season finale last September at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in hopes of winning his first title.
But during the race, Power lost control, crashed and ended up losing the championship by three points to Hunter-Reay.
Power is eighth in the standings so far this year, 32 points behind Castroneves. However, Power is known as an exceptional driver on street courses and is a perennial favorite at Long Beach.
Other favorites this weekend include Hunter-Reay, who drives for Andretti Autosport team and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Gnassi Racing, who won the Long Beach Grand Prix race in 2009.
Franchitti is off to a terrible start this season. After finishing 25th in each of the first two races, he sits last in the standings among the 26 drivers.
The IndyCar drivers will practice Friday and qualify Saturday to set the race’s starting lineup.