When Helio Castroneves peers through the visor exiting pit lane with a mad dash onto the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit, a galaxy of asphalt, rotating rubber and tight turns lies before the veteran Verizon IndyCar Series driver. In every practice session and each of his 297 Indy car races, gears, springs and small hand movements are orchestrated with precision in an attempt to produce the ultimate lap.

Does it happen often? Incrementally, in the hands of a craftsman, and it remains among Castroneves’ most prized objectives each time the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet rolls onto the racetrack. It came about April 18 in the Firestone Fast Six for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach when Castroneves’ lap of 1 minute, 06.6294 seconds eclipsed the nine-year-old track record and earned the Verizon P1 Award.

Two other priorities also remain at his fingertips – a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory and his first series championship – though both have been elusive as he swiftly approaches age 40.

“A championship is something I’m working really hard toward and unfortunately it hasn’t meant to be yet,” Castroneves said after finishing second to teammate Will Power in the 2014 title chase. “But that’s one of the things that keep you motivated to come back this year and do it again.”

He also was runner-up to Scott Dixon in 2013, and was fourth overall the previous year. Since his first Indy car season in 1998, Castroneves has finished in the top five of the standings 11 of the 17 years. Through two races this season, buoyed by second-and fourth-place finishes, he sits 10 points arrears of front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya entering the Long Beach race.

In the rain-slicked Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12, Castroneves overcame a broken front-wing assembly early in the race and a spin on a restart to earn his 82nd career podium finish.

“Sometimes you are not going to have races that go your way and you need to man up, overcome and make the best of a situation,” he said. “The weather in New Orleans was something we could not control. Several drivers, myself included, made some mistakes on the wet surface and we paid for it. But the Hitachi team did a great job in making repairs and getting me back on track for a solid finish.

“When you have a will to win like that, it means you can overcome anything that comes your way during the season. Those are the kind of days and races that make you a champion.”

He’s also come tantalizingly close to matching A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race four times. Last May, he dueled Ryan Hunter-Reay over the final six laps and came up .0600 of a second short.

“Rick Mears has done a lot for me in my career and to join him in the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner’s club would be a very big deal to me,” said Castroneves, who won in 2001, ’02 and ‘09. “There are a few unknowns with the new aero kits but when you race for Team Penske you know that you will have a great shot when we get to Indianapolis.

“In Indy racing, it’s all about the details. To win consistently, you’ve got to get them right.”


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