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Throughout his illustrious career, Helio Castroneves has been called a winner many times.
After Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, popular three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves can be called a champion.
Castroneves concluded a 21-year career with Penske Racing, a career that included 30 combined NTT INDYCAR SERIES wins and 47 poles, with a season title Saturday night in the famed Sebring sports car race.
When the checkered flag waved, tears began to flow from Castroneves’ eyes as the No. 7 entry at Acura Team Penske won the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in the DPi category. Castroneves and teammate Ricky Taylor overcome early mechanical problems to finish eighth in the race, good enough to win the title by one point.
Castroneves, previously known as “Spiderman,” by climbing the fence after INDYCAR and Indy 500 victories, has a new moniker – “The Champ.”
“I have no problem picking up that nickname now,” Castroneves said. “If you consider so many opportunities we had in the past, at least seven times we were fighting for the championship and finished second, third or fourth. In 20 years, we were in contention to win the championship 14 times. That was incredible.
“To have this opportunity with Team Penske this year, especially the way we started at Daytona, not even scoring a point, that is what made me amazed to feel how incredible destiny is. We had a super-charged comeback with four wins, a second place and that put us in position to win the title.
“But the first part of the race, we already had a mechanical issue. What an agony the next 11 hours were.
“It was a tough one. It was an adventure race. I can’t believe it, but I do believe it because the trophy is right here with me.”
Castroneves was with Team Penske for over a generation. He built lasting friendships and relationships.
But with one aspect of his career coming to an end, Castroneves begins the next step in 2021. That will bring him back to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the Indianapolis 500 for one more chance at a fourth Indy 500 victory.
Castroneves joins Meyer Shank Racing next season as the driver of a Honda in six NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, including the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“I can’t wait for 2021 to start,” Castroneves said. “It was a roller-coaster 2020 starting with the pandemic, then the termination of the program at Team Penske. Our world was turned upside-down and then back again. It’s an incredible boost. I’m excited.
“From this incredible positive energy, we are able to find an incredible opportunity with Mike Shank Racing. He is putting everything on the line to build up and become a successful race team, and I’m very happy to be a part of it. This is an incredible opportunity to do something with a promising organization.
“I love racing. I want to learn as much as I can and work with different people.”
Joining Meyer Shank Racing also has created a reunion that pre-dates Castroneves joining Team Penske at the end of the 1999 CART season.
“My crew chief is the same crew chief I had in 1999 with Hogan Racing, Matt Swann,” Castroneves said. “As soon as I joined Team Penske in 1999, he joined Chip Ganassi Racing and has been there for 20 years. It’s a reunion with someone I already know. Look at how the crazy world cycles and good people get back together.
“I want to help. I’m part of the team and want to be involved.”
Castroneves looks to the future with the same enthusiasm that has been a trademark of his career from the beginning.
When he arrived in Indy Lights in 1997, he was a youthful and flamboyant driver from Brazil. At 45, Castroneves continues to display a youthful appearance and overflows with enthusiasm.
“I still have the passion,” he said. “I still have the fire. I plan to use in 2021 exactly what I have to get that fourth win in the Indy 500 and help the team get some wins.
“That is my ultimate goal.”
Castroneves is prepared for a new start, a new beginning with a different team for the first time since 1999.
Although he is no longer a Team Penske driver, he can reflect on 21 outstanding seasons.
“The partnership was incredible,” Castroneves said. “We always had the same goals. We think the same way. Sometimes, when we have disagreements, we resolved and moved through it. Everyone always respects each other. I learned so much. They molded me. They dictated how I should follow. I’m so glad I followed that advice because it made me who I am today.
“I’m so thankful for this incredible journey with these amazing people. That is what Roger (Penske) always says, the company is about people, and I’m so glad I was part of this group. I helped a little bit in what they achieved, and Saturday night was proof of that. We never gave up and what an incredible comeback.
“We stayed together, and that is why we accomplished a lot of things together.
“Yes, this is the only championship, but we accomplished a lot. I’m so honored and proud of an incredible organization and an incredible friendship.
“The friendship stays; a new beginning starts.”