Helio Castroneves, who has won three Indianapolis 500s, is looking for his first IndyCar championship. ASSOCIATED PRESS
When it comes to forging his success, Helio Castroneves believes in making the most of his opportunities. Whether it’s making a pass in a tight corner on an IndyCar road course or trading in his racing helmet for dance lessons in California, Castroneves won’t miss an opening to make an impact.
“It’s important for you to be smart and to know where to take chances,” Castroneves said.
The current IndyCar driver points standings are evidence of his opportunistic ways. Castroneves leads entering today’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, 13 points ahead of Will Power.
Castroneves, 39, is easily one of the most recognizable drivers on the IndyCar circuit. The effervescent Brazilian is known for his candor, and boosted his profile seven years ago when he won the mirror ball trophy in the fifth season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
“It was awesome!” said Castroneves, who paired with Julianne Hough to out-dance 11 couples. “I don’t care if people know me for Dancing with the Stars or for racing, but it was a lot of fun. I worked hard to win the trophy!”
The victory had another benefit — it drew people to the IndyCar series.
“So many people came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to watch IndyCar because I watched you dance,’ ” said Castroneves, who was eliminated in his second appearance on the show in 2012.
While he has driven on the IndyCar circuit since 2001, and won three Indianapolis 500s, there’s one thing that has evaded Castroneves in his career — an IndyCar championship. In fact, only 12 drivers have won titles since the start of IndyCar in 1996, including three-time winner and Defiance native Sam Hornish, Jr., and four-time winner Dario Franchitti.
Charlie Kimball cites three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon as an example of what goes into winning a championship. Dixon won the 2013 IndyCar championship despite a slow start to the season; he won three races in July at Pocono Raceway and on two street-course races in Toronto, then finished first and second on two street-race courses in October in Houston to get into contention.
Even in the final race of 2013 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Dixon won the championship despite having engine problems as a result of debris, and took three pit stops in the final 21 laps to finish fifth in the MAVTV 500, the final race of 2013.
“Scott stayed the course,” Kimball said of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate. “He believed in the opportunities he had, and he made the most of those opportunities. You have to understand that a championship isn’t won or lost in one race, and you have to have the ability to never give up on it.”
Ryan Briscoe, however, looks at the bottom line.
“You’ve definitely got to win races,” Briscoe said. “The way our points system is laid out, it’s a huge reward to win. Usually, the guy who wins the most championships is the guy who wins the most races. But you’ve got to be consistent.”
Today’s race at Mid-Ohio is the start of the final month of the IndyCar season, which has shortened its schedule from seven months to five. While the schedule was designed to avoid an overlap with the first month of the NFL season, it’s also factoring into drivers’ championship pursuits.
“Being in such a condensed schedule, you’ve got to come out of the box strong,” Briscoe said. “If it takes a couple of months to get yourself in line and competitive, you might not help yourself. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it.”
Castroneves has won one race this season — the second race of the Chevrolet IndyCar Dual in Detroit in June at Belle Isle — but he has seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races.
“You’ve got to create opportunities,” Castroneves said. “That’s going to give you opportunities to win and to get more points. You’re always racing with different competitors, and the field is so tight.
“But you have to be aggressive to get what you want. You can’t have doubts when you make a move, and that helps in consistency.”
One more thing factors into the pursuit of a championship.
“Luck is part of it,” Castroneves said. “But for you to have luck, you have to create opportunities.”