A Win-Win For All Involved

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We’ve known for a while that Helio Castroneves had set his sights on an IndyCar return, even though his IndyCar tenure with Team Penske had come to a close. Castroneves is still with Team Penske’s Acura program in IMSA through this weekend, when their season comes to a close at Sebring. After this weekend, his time at Penske will be done after more than twenty years.

Even before the NTT IndyCar Series season was completed last month, Castroneves had been making it very clear that he wasn’t ready for the retirement home and eating early bird dinners at 4:30 pm. He made it clear that he wanted to continue racing and that he was still on his game. He also made it very apparent that IndyCar was his first love and that’s where he wanted to be.

Speculation ran rampant a while back, when Helio said he would be announcing his plans in a month or so. My speculation was that he would be headed to a third car at Arrow McLaren SP (AMSP), to serve as sort of a mentor to Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew. A lot has happened at that team since I wrote that. Askew is now unemployed and they have team O’Ward up with Felix Rosenqvist. It became fairly obvious that there would be no third car at AMSP.

Since Carlin and Ed Carpenter Racing have still yet to reveal their respective part-time drivers, I was penciling him into one of those rides. That made sense when you consider that Helio has been an IndyCar Chevy driver since they re-entered the series in 2012. That’s why I thought it might be a stretch to think Castroneves might drive on the ovals for Jimmie Johnson at Ganassi, since they are a Honda team.

So much for what I think.

On Monday, we learned that Helio Castroneves will be driving the new second car at Meyer Shank Racing (MSR).

This past season was the first fulltime effort for MSR in the NTT IndyCar Series. British driver Jack Harvey has been with them from the beginning, when they were an Indy-only effort back in 2017. The team set a plan for the next couple of seasons. They would grow slowly. The plan was to run six races in 2018, ten in 2019 and then take on the full season in 2020. The team did not deviate from that plan and they had a decent season with Harvey, in their first fulltime season for 2020. Harvey finished fifteenth in points, but he actually raced much better than that. He either had mechanical woes or got caught up in someone else’s mishap.

Harvey will return next season for the team. We’ve known for a while that MSR had plans for a second car, to be brought along much in the same manner of Harvey’s No. 60 was – six races the first year, ten the second before going fulltime in the third. It takes patience to follow that schedule, but Michael Shank knows what he is doing. He may still be somewhat new to IndyCar, but he owns one of the more established teams in IMSA. His patience will pay off.

For whatever reason, I never connected Helio Castroneves with this ride. But now that I know it is a done deal, it makes a lot of sense.

Castroneves will be driving the No. 06. I don’t care for numbers starting with “0”. Something just seems off about it. I get why they want to do it, because Harvey runs No. 60. It was pointed out on Trackside the other night that the IndyCar rulebook now prohibits the use of a number starting with “0”. It will be interesting to see how that sorts out.

The second MSR car, whichever number it runs, will be running at Barber, Long Beach, the Indianapolis 500, the second visit to the IMS road course, Portland and Laguna Seca. So the only oval for Helio will be running will be the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

In Helio Castroneves, MSR is getting a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner that seriously competed for the championship in his last full season of IndyCar competition. In fact, Helio’s last six fulltime seasons in IndyCar, since the DW12 has been used – Helio has posted season finishes of fourth, second, second, fifth, third and fourth. His recent results in IMSA show that he has not forgotten how to go fast. He won three straight races earlier this season and was fastest in the first practice session at Sebring just yesterday, and fifth quick in Thursday’s second practice. Entering the season finale at Sebring, Castroneves and teammate Ricky Taylor have a two-point lead in the WeatherTech SportsCar season championship.

Castroneves gets a bad rap because he has never won an IndyCar season championship. Given the choice, I would take one Indianapolis 500 victory any day over a season championship. Helio has three of those. That’ a little unfair, because no one discredits Scott Dixon’s career for having six championships but only one Indianapolis 500 win on his resume.

But Helio can bring a whole new perspective to MSR and to Jack Harvey. Not only can he give his own personal insights on how to approach each race, he was with the best team in the business for twenty years. He might be able to share a secret or two on how the team might do something differently. While Castroneves has a happy-go-lucky demeanor, don’t take that as a sign that he doesn’t really care. From what I can tell over the years, I don’t think you’ll come across a more passionate driver that hates losing more than Helio Castroneves.

At Barber in 2012, Castroneves came in third behind Will Power and Scott Dixon. He had led twenty-eight laps, and started on the pole; but he was not a factor in the final stint at all and finished more than nineteen seconds behind his teammate. I took these photos of Helio just after the podium celebration. I never used them because they aren’t the greatest photos. But they do show the extreme disappointment on his face as he was talking to his family.

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Before I snapped these, he still had tears in his eyes. This wasn’t about barely missing out on a win for his fourth Indianapolis 500. This was finishing a distant third at a road race in Alabama. But the loss visibly bothered him a lot.

In MSR, Helio is going to a team on the rise and where he is needed and will be appreciated. Shank’s cars are fast. Harvey has proven that many times over the past couple of years. But there is a difference between a fast car and a winning car. Castroneves can perhaps show them how to close that gap.

He is also going to a team that has a technical relationship with Andretti Autosport. In case we didn’t remember, Michael Andretti’s cars are usually fast at Indianapolis. His cars won the Indianapolis 500 three out of four years in the middle of the past decade, and was on the pole this year. Honda was also exceptionally fast at Indianapolis this past August (I caught myself typing “May”).

I think Helio Castroneves will have his best shot at his fourth Indianapolis 500 that he has had since he was a fulltime driver. I think Michael Shank realizes that also, and has vowed to throw everything at that car next May.

This is a win-win for all involved. MSR gets a very motivated driver who will be trying to win races, instead of championships. He also knows that part of his role is to help in the development of Jack Harvey and their fledgling team. Helio gets a motivated owner who is ready to win right now, and has the equipment to do it.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “A Win-Win For All Involved”

  1. Nice landing for Helio. It is a win win win, for team ,Helio and IndyCar. I do wish he had more than 6 races to do in IndyCar for 2021, perhaps he would be used by MSR in their IMSA program.

    I understand 06 but think 66 should be considered as well, Penske/Donahue had some good results with that number

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Helio does not lack for experience and Shank does things the right way, so this should be a good experience for his team and for Helio (maybe not a race-winning experience, but they should work well together all the same).

    I’d be surprised if Indycar did not acquiesce on the 06, though I was also surprised that the rulebook forbids 0- car numbers given that it was not that long ago that Newman-Haas ran the 02 and 06 cars. The rules also forbid numbers from being more than 2 digits, so no more cars with silly numbers like 40202, like Alex Lloyd ran in the 2009 season finale at Homestead.

  3. I get flack for saying Helio and Tony need to move along, when I say that I mean from full-time. This though is a great spot for Helio, win-win! And George, I agree, I HATE “0” numbered cars like that, looks stupid and off. NASCAR’s worst example was the ARMY of 01 car, sheesh!

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