JOLIET, Ill. (Sept.5 , 2008) – A mere 30 points separate 2008 IndyCar Series championship points leader Scott Dixon and No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda driver Helio Castroneves, and 53 points are up for grabs in the final race this coming weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Closing that gap is the priority for Team Penske as they prepare for a fight for the 2008 championship, which would be Castroneves’ first.
Following a successful, yet controversial, second-place effort in at the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone on Sunday, August 31, the entire Team Penske crew returned to the shop in Mooresville, N.C. on Tuesday with a renewed energy and drive, delving into the building and preparation of the No. 3 machine for this weekend’s finale.
“Our plans for Chicago were slightly modified after we had to press our oval cars into duty after the transporter fire before Sonoma,” said Clive Howell, Team Penske General Manager and spotter for the No. 3 car. “But the guys got it all together and were able to prepare the cars without a problem.”
No. 3 engineer Ron Ruzewski spent a lot of time on the phone with Castroneves this past week, discussing car setup and the track itself, one of the few venues on the IndyCar Series circuit where Castroneves has never won. “I spoke with Helio at length about his impressions of the circuit, taking into account all of the variables that we’ve experienced at 1.5-mile ovals over the past few years,” said Ruzewski, who’s been Castroneves’ engineer for the past three seasons. “At that point we created a good baseline setup that we can work off of for qualifying and the race.”
But it’s the assembly and preparation that Team Penske has been known for over the decades, and in charge of that task is veteran crew chief Rick Rinaman. “We’re going to prepare the car just as we do every weekend and we’ll make sure that nothing we have control over will be an issue for Helio,” said Rinaman, who is also the outside-front tire changer for Castroneves. “He’ll have the best car possible.”
Two No. 3 machines, a primary and a backup, left Mooresville on Thursday morning for Joliet, Ill, arriving at the 1.5-mile oval track on Friday morning. The Team Penske crew arrived on Friday morning as well, and immediately continued their preparation.
Qualifying for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil 300 is on Saturday, Sept. 6 with the 200-lap (300-mile) race on Sunday, Sept. 7. It’s at that point that the crew will don their signature black firesuits and get Castroneves out of their pit as quickly as possible.
Then it’s up to the driver’s talent and the calls made by his strategist – Castroneves’ voice of reason on the radio, but also the person that determines how Castroneves will drive the race, calling everything from fuel position, to determining pit stops, to reassuring the driver as he needs it.
“The guys have worked to ensure Helio has everything he needs for success, and now we have to execute on Sunday,” said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing and strategist for the No. 3 machine. “When the green flag drops on Sunday afternoon, it’s an all-or-nothing deal for Team Penske – we’re going for the win and the championship.”