Simon Pagenaud, left, and Helio Castroneves talk about the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. Todd McInturf, The Detroit News
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was called to Detroit for a conversation with his team owner, Roger Penske, before this racing season and was asked his thoughts about racing sports cars.
“Obviously, I knew where we were going (with the conversation),” the mainstay driver of Team Penske said last week before the Indianapolis 500.
Castroneves also is a three-time winner of the Detroit Grand Prix, but this weekend he will be competing in the IMSA Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Saturday. He is no longer a full-time IndyCar driver, although Penske provided him a ride for last Sunday’s Indy 500.
“The interesting thing is that he wasn’t thinking to replace me with some other driver, he was just thinking to eliminate one car, actually adding a good group of guys, spread among the sports car,” said Castroneves, who drives for Acura Team Penske with Ricky Taylor. “He wants to have top-class engineers, mechanics, so when we go to the sports car world, we’re there. That’s what he presented to me.”
Castroneves signed up for the move to sports cars, although some IndyCar teams made efforts to secure him as a driver.
“I have to say, obviously, I was very flattered to hear some other options,” he said.
Because Penske made clear he wanted Castroneves to remain a part of his racing team, the Brazilian driver said he was never wounded or hurt by the offer of moving to sports cars. Even so, his first reaction was uncertainty.
“As a first impact, (you think), ‘Wow, why?’” Castroneves said. “You’re just trying to understand. Why don’t you hire more people? You have questions that I can only ask. I’m sure there is a purpose. Roger isn’t thinking about today or tomorrow, he’s thinking about five years from now. I start to understand the philosophy, which made my decision more easy.
“He wants me there, he wants me part of a winner’s team. Who doesn’t want to win? Whatever it is, you want to be a winner. I know being with Team Penske I would be right up there.”
Castroneves, naturally, had plenty of questions and some second guessing.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “Some people, when they have a change after so many years doing one thing, you have a lot of, ‘Am I doing the right thing? What is the scenario here? Am I still capable to win more races in IndyCar?’”
He said he was sold on the decision during the Daytona 24 hours race at the start of the year.
“As soon as I jumped in the car, I saw (Penske) never slept for the entire 24 hours,” Castroneves said. “He was there. You know what, this is serious. This is not just finding a place to replace, make someone happy. That for me changed a lot of perspective. I said, ‘Time to move on.’”
When will Castroneves move on from racing? He is 43 but has no desire to stop competing in the sport. He uses Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady, who is 40, and tennis player Roger Federer, who will turn 37 in August, as reference points.
“Hopefully seven more years, I believe,” Castroneves said. “If you put a number, seven more years racing. You see many, Tom Brady is one, Roger Federer is another one. Doing phenomenal, c’mon.”