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Detroit races represent a missed opportunity for Castroneves

Helio Detroit GP 4

Helio Castroneves in the pits during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear. Photo: IndyCar

Bret Kelley

For Helio Castroneves, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear represented a missed opportunity of sorts for a driver whose last win came at this very event in 2014 (he won Race 2 of that year’s double header).

The weekend began ominously as Castroneves briefly grabbed the pole for Race 1 before a penalty was levied against him after he failed to slow properly for a yellow flag, precipitated by a quick spin from Mikhail Aleshin.

As a result, Castroneves lost his fastest lap. While his second fastest lap was still good enough for second on the grid, behind polesitter Graham Rahal, it was a sign of things to come.

Castroneves’ three-stop strategy in Race 1 showed potential, as he was every bit as fast as Rahal throughout the day. However, a lap 26 caution for a stalled Conor Daly and spinning Charlie Kimball proved beneficial for Rahal, who ran a two-stop strategy and had just completed his first pit stop, and a handicap for Castroneves.

Though he leapfrogged Rahal and held the lead at the time, Castroneves always had an extra pit stop to make, and the caution allowed Rahal to save fuel and erase the gap between the two. Consequently, despite his pace, Castroneves could do no better than seventh at race’s end as no additional cautions flew to tilt the scales back in his favor.

“The cautions didn’t work out for us,” he lamented after Saturday’s race. “I didn’t save an ounce of fuel. The Hitachi Chevy was super fast. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get to the front. It’s pretty difficult to pass, so you need a few things to go your way and they didn’t.”

Things didn’t get much better in Race 2 on Sunday. Castroneves started fourth and was battling with Ryan Hunter-Reay when his left-rear tire clipped the right-front wing of Hunter-Reay. The contact immediately cut Castroneves’ tire and he limped back around to the pits.

Even though his finishing position of ninth represented a resounding comeback, all the more impressive given that the race’s first caution did not come out until lap 66 (James Hinchcliffe came to a stop exiting turn two after a mechanical problem), it still could have been more, as Castroneves again demonstrated the pace to battle for a win.

Still, driver of the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet remained upbeat, despite the disappointing results. “The Hitachi Chevy was great again (on Sunday),” Castroneves asserted afterward. “We had a little bit of bad luck there with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and getting a tire cut down. It was early enough that I thought we might be able to overcome it, but we didn’t get a caution until the very end. I wish we could have done better with our finish, but our car was strong.”

Even though he does not have a win to his name in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Castroneves remains in a strong championship position. He currently trails championship leader Scott Dixon by only eight points as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next week for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 (Saturday June 10 at 8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Follow Kyle Lavigne.