2014 Verizon IndyCar Season Review: Helio Castroneves

September 25, 2014

Although Helio Castroneves came up just shy in his bid to win the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series title – his fourth career runner-up championship finish – the Brazilian-born driver remained on top of his craft in his 17th season of Indy car competition. In fact, 2014 champion and Team Penske teammate Will Power believes Castroneves is only getting better with time.

“I truly believe Helio is doing his best work at this stage of his career,” said Power. “He’s driving the best I’ve ever seen him drive, and he has vast knowledge and wisdom to draw from. He’s a bloody tough competitor and I expect him to be quick in 2015 and beyond.”

A win in the second race of this year’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans gave Castroneves a win in 15 of the last 16 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons. In addition, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner led a total of 282 laps on the year on his way to completing 98% of the laps run over the course of the 18-race season. 

And had the Indianapolis 500 been just a half mile longer, the world may very well have welcomed a fourth member of open-wheel racing’s most exclusive winner’s club. 

In all, Castroneves enjoyed stellar 2014 season. He was competitive on all types of circuits and for the second consecutive year, he fought for the title until the final lap of the season.

The 2014 campaign started off with a third-place finish in the No. 3 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) where, after starting from the 10th position, Castroneves methodically worked his way through the field to finish on the podium. After modest results in the Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Alabama, Castroneves returned to the place that helped make him a household name, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). 

In the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the reconfigured IMS road course that began the month of May activities, Castroneves started 10th and appeared to have a shot at a victory before having to pit for fuel with 13 laps remaining. He was able to work his way back up to the third position for his second podium finish of the season, one that would start a streak of six consecutive top-10 results. The excitement of Indy, however, was just beginning. 

Only three men have won four Indianapolis 500 titles: Al Unser Sr., A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears. It’s clear to anyone around Castroneves during the month of May that his goal is to make that grouping a foursome, especially since Mears is a Team Penske advisor and a mentor to Castroneves since he joined the organization in 2000. In addition, for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet was trimmed in the colors of the famous Pennzoil “Yellow Submarine” that Mears piloted to two Indy 500 victories in 1984 and 1988. 

After qualifying from the fourth position, Castroneves kept the “Yellow Submarine” at the front of the field as the high-speed laps wound down in the race. A red-flag period with 10 laps remaining bunched the field back up for a run to the checkered flag. Over those final laps, Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay waged an epic battle for the victory. Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay edged Castroneves at the line by .006 seconds for the second-closest finish in the history of the legendary event. 

Unfazed by his close encounter with immortality, Castroneves turned his attention to another big event on the Team Penske calendar, the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans. Held at the beautiful and historic Belle Isle Park along the Detroit River, Roger Penske and the Downtown Detroit Partnership helped revive the event in the Motor City in 2007 and remain the driving force behind its success.

Since the races’ return to Belle Isle, neither Team Penske nor Chevrolet had been to Victory Lane in the event. In fact, Chevrolet had not won in its hometown since 1993. That all changed as Power picked up the win in Race One. Castroneves – who developed his trademark “Spiderman” post-win fence climb at Detroit after back to back victories in 2000 and 2001 – made it a weekend sweep for Team Penske as he took the checkered flag in Race Two. 

The “Yellow Submarine” livery reappeared for the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston in June with a top finish of ninth in Race One. Following a second-place effort at Pocono Raceway, Castroneves moved into the lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings for the first time. It’s a position he held down for four weeks, through the race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, before relinquishing it for the final time to Power. 

Over the final three races of the season, Castroneves drove determined to win his first Verizon IndyCar Series title. In each race, however, either a fast No. 12 Chevrolet driven by Power or an ill-timed issue kept Castroneves from the finishes he needed to contend. At Auto Club Speedway, in the season finale, Castroneves drove the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet to his third Verizon P1 Pole Award of the season. With Power starting the race from the 21st position, Castroneves was still in contention for the title. 

While Power made his way through the field, needing a sixth-place finish to win the championship, Castroneves kept his No. 3 Chevy at the front of the pack through the first half of the race. However, while making a pit stop at lap 216, Castroneves was penalized for a pit lane infraction. The resulting drive through penalty placed Castroneves one lap down to the race leaders for the remainder of the race as it ran caution-free to the checkered flag. 

Despite his runner-up finish, Castroneves was proud to have been a part of one of the most-successful Verizon IndyCar Series seasons ever for Team Penske with Power, Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya finishing first, second and fourth in the final standings. 

"You know, obviously for the team it’s great to have the championship back at Team Penske,” said Castroneves. “We should all be very proud of the effort that was put forth by everyone this year. I have to thank Hitachi, AAA, Chevrolet, Shell-Pennzoil, SKF, Verizon, and everyone. You guys, thank you for a great season. We almost won the Indianapolis 500 and we challenged for the championship right down to the wire. Congrats to Will on being the champion. It’s another second-place finish for me, but we will come back and give it our best shot again next season.”