Helio Castroneves celebrates after winning the IndyCar race on Sunday in Detroit, giving Penske Racing a weekend sweep. ASSOCIATED PRESS
DETROIT — With less than 12 laps left, a comfortable lead vanished with one wrong move. Then a second lead shrank with less than a handful of laps left when a driver crashed into the wall.
Helio Castroneves wasn’t to blame in either instance. But a pair of late-race incidents minimized a once-commanding lead for Castroneves in the second half of Sunday’s IndyCar race at the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
First, Sebastien Bourdais crashed in Turn 5, then Takuma Sato made contact with another driver on Turn 5. When Castroneves got resituated after those final two cautions, the final restart turned the 70-lap race at Belle Isle into a four-lap sprint.
Off the final restart, the gregarious Brazilian driver led the pack in a single-file formation and stretched out his lead, even with teammate Will Power less than a second behind him. His lead wasn’t as significant as the sizeable one he held earlier in the race but was enough to earn his first IndyCar win of the year.
“When I was ahead about 12 to 15 seconds, I was pretty cool,” said Castroneves, who earned his last win on Belle Isle in 2001. “I was pushing, but I was under control. When the yellow came, I thought, I’m going to take it easy. If I lose a second, it won’t be a problem. So I was really managing the distance. When that [second] yellow came, that was exactly my experience. You’ve got to have the car. You’ve got to have the tires. You’ve got to have the car ready to go.
“As soon as I went to go restart, I wasn’t even looking into the mirror. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I was really confident. I had the car with me. I needed to deliver, and it was just absolutely perfect. I wasn’t worried.”
Castroneves is known as much for his outgoing personality as he is for his open-wheel racing prowess; he’s a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and a Mirror Ball Trophy winner on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which trains athletes, celebrities, and notable personalities in competitive dancing.
Sunday afternoon, Castroneves completed the weekend sweep of the IndyCar doubleheader for Detroit-based Penske Racing by finishing 1.6836 seconds ahead of Power. Charlie Kimball was third, ahead of Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe.
“I knew we had a good car,” Castroneves said. “We can’t just give up. And that’s why Penske is one of the best, we don’t give up. You push as hard as you could. It was pure racing. There was no fuel strategy, there was no playing games, and it was absolutely qualifying driving. It was perfect. I knew exactly what I needed to do. Winning is what we wanted to do.”
With less than 25 laps left, it seemed as if the competition field became Castroneves and everybody else. Castroneves at one point held a lead of nearly 13 seconds over Power, who led the rest of the 22-car field by at least half a second. Power finished second despite being assessed a drive-through penalty for contact, the result of an inside pass on the first lap that created a collision between Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, and Justin Wilson. Power declined after the race to comment on the particulars of the penalty.
Following the race’s final caution, Power never truly threatened Castroneves’ lead, and insisted after the race that he wasn’t given orders by his team not to pass Castroneves.
“The last two restarts, I wasn’t going to attack Helio too hard,” Power said. “The last thing [team owner] Roger [Penske] would want to see is us end up in the wall. I was going to be nice there unless he’d make a mistake.”
START COMMAND: Mary Barra’s appearance at the Dual in Detroit may have come with some awkwardness. Barra, the current chief executive officer of General Motors and the first woman to serve as CEO of an American car company, gave the starting command for Sunday’s race on the same day Forbes Magazine ranked her seventh among the 100 most powerful women in the world. Barra has been under scrutiny as of late, given that GM has recalled more than 13 million cars, and she recently testified at a House hearing regarding the response by GM in a recall of 1.6 million cars.
UNDERCARD RESULTS: Johnny O’Connell won in Round 6 of the GT/GT-A Pirelli World Challenge on Sunday, ahead of Andy Pilgrim and Andrew Palmer. O’Connell swept both Pirelli races at Belle Isle, while Dean Martin won the GTS Pirelli World Challenge Race. E.J. Viso won the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Truck Series race.