Helio Castroneves turned a mediocre start to the weekend into a respectable 10th-place finish in the PPG 375 on April 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.
An underwhelming qualifying outing of 21st was worsened after gearbox issue arose during the special high-line practice session, which left the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda in the Meyer Shank Racing garage and not turning a single lap in final practice.
“It locked up,” Castroneves said. “To be honest, I was lucky because I had a moment in one of those high-line lanes in the practice that we were doing. I pitted, not because of the issue, I pitted because I said, 'Look, we got to make some adjustments.' And that’s when they found it. We had to change the whole rear end, the whole gearbox.”
The Brazilian wasn’t necessarily a hard charger when the green flag waved to start the race but instead relied on the resilience of his Meyer Shank Racing crew, specifically strategist Adam Rovazinni. Running just outside the top 15 in the final 50 laps, the caution on Lap 210 was the pivotal moment of strategy pushing Castroneves up to 11th. From there, he hung tough and broke into the top 10 at the very end after Romain Grosjean crashed out battling near the front of the field with two laps to go.
“Look, we didn't have the fastest car, I'll be honest,” Castroneves said. “However, we stayed out of trouble. Adam did an amazing job on his strategy, which put us to the front. We did what we needed to do. It's a great start to the season. We didn't have any racing in St. Petersburg (finished 23rd after Lap 1 crash). So, for us, it's a great start of the season.”
Castroneves, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, credited teammate Simon Pagenaud for helping provide some feedback after the gearbox problem forced him to miss the final practice at the 1.5-mile superspeedway. Additionally, though, he continued to reinforce the effort of his crew members to aid the rebound.
“Thank God for our teammates,” Castroneves said. “We were able to do something, with a little bit of experience, patience and great teamwork. I want to emphasize that because they did a great job; strategy put us to the front, and that is what gave us a top 10.”
While the next round on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14-16, the result at Texas helps shake the rust of close-quarter racing on an oval ahead of the Month of May, specifically the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 28.
There also will be an Indianapolis 500 Open Test on April 20-21 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Oh, it's always important to be in a position to have a little bit of a warmup,” Castroneves said. “I know a lot of things that we learn here do not much apply because the banking and the size of the track, it is completely different compared to Indy. However, it's a good rhythm. There were a lot of other things that we can make it happen. And I'm so happy that this team recovered from the start of the season.”