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IndyCar Season Preview: Helio Castroneves

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#3 Shell V-Power Dallara-Chevrolet, Team Penske

Born: May 10, 1975

Home: Sao Paulo, Brazil

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Castroneves made his 200th career open-wheel start for Team Penske at Loudon, and after running a team-sponsored car for much of 2010, picked up new sponsorships from Shell and AAA, among other brands. Castroneves finished second at both Edmonton and Sonoma.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: 2011 was Castroneves’ worst season since he drove for the underfunded Hogan Racing on the 1999 CART schedule. For the first time as a Penske driver, he didn’t win a race all season, and dropped to 11th in points after underperforming at many tracks. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner even finished a miserable 17th in that race, a lap down.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Castroneves, for the first time, enters the season as Penske’s clear-cut number three driver. Even though Will Power was the only Penske driver to win last season, Ryan Briscoe’s finishes were much more consistent. If Castroneves is still higher on the food chain, it’s only because of the star power that comes with three Indy wins, a book deal, and a Dancing with the Stars title.

That being said, even if he’s on the downside of his career, it’s not likely that Roger Penske will let Castroneves slip much more than that. In fact, a trying 2011 season may have been just what “Spiderman” needed to revitalize his career, much as a winless 2006 allowed Dario Franchitti to come back strong in 2007 and win his first career title, more than a decade into his career. If the Ilmor-built Chevrolet engines outperform the Honda and Lotus offerings, Castroneves will be a serious championship contender.

– Chris Leone

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