- Veteran racer Helio Castroneves is learning from a teammate 14 years his junior as he prepares for the Rolex 24 at Daytona and a career-changing move to sports cars.
When Helio Castroneves thinks of the Indianapolis 500, he ponders the victories that got away.
The longtime IndyCar driver made headlines last fall with the announcement he was switching to sports car racing to join the new Acura Team Penske, along with Ricky Taylor.
Racers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron round out the team.
Castroneves still plans to chase his fourth victory in this year’s Indy 500. If the Brazilian can accomplish the feat, he will be only the fourth driver in history to do so. No one has won more than four.
“We were really close [last year],” Castroneves said, throwing his hands in the air. “We had the best year. When I finish it, I know we’re going to have the power and the car will be good, too.”
Castroneves lost the 2017 Indy 500 to Takuma Sato by .2 seconds. He also finished as the runner up three years earlier in 2014 as well as in 2003 when he started from the pole. He won in 2001, 2002 and 2009.
Castroneves, 42, has spent the past 20 years driving in the IndyCar Series, 18 of them driving for Roger Penske.
Castroneves and Taylor’s skills will be put to the test in their first race together at the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday and Sunday.
Graham Rahal and 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud will join them for the Rolex 24 as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.
Taylor, 28, is coming off of a hot 2017 season, winning the Rolex 24, the 12 Hours of Sebring and ending it with his first career International Motor Sports Association WeatherTech Championship. He rode with his younger brother, Jordan.
Taylor made big career moves by leaving his father’s team, Wayne Taylor Racing, last October to join the group.
“Last year was obviously a great year,” Taylor said. “But for me this is obviously the biggest step in my career getting to drive with Acura Team Penske and Helio. Although I’m in a familiar environment, it’s all new to me in terms of the team and the car.”
The younger Taylor, with 10 years of experience under his belt, is playing mentor to Castroneves, teaching him the nuances of sports car racing mechanics compared to IndyCar.
The two teammates have spent over 10 days testing their car, which is the most time Taylor has ever tested.
“Understanding the car is hard because even though it’s a race car it’s still a completely different system,” Castroneves said. “There’s so much more technology…driving a car with power steering, which I have never drove before. I still don’t know a lot. To be honest, I’m still learning. I rely a lot on [Ricky’s] experience because he’s been here 10 years.”
Another adjustment for Castroneves is sharing the car, which is not a part of IndyCar racing. But it is not getting in the way.
“In my career I have had a lot of teammates,” Castroneves said. “We did the same kind of meetings, but I ended up doing my own thing…In this scenario, since we’re developing a new car and a new engine, we actually have to work together. He likes this and I like that. He seems to have a similar style to how I like to drive. That helps a lot.”
Taylor enjoys helping Castroneves but takes time to learn from the veteran as well.
“For me, he’s got so much experience, and he’s so fast,” Taylor said. “I think as a young driver…I try to absorb it. I can use it every day I go to work at the racetrack.”
Taylor is focused on increasing his number of wins after overcoming second place finishes.
“It’s kind of like Helio and the Indy, aside from the wins,” Taylor said. “He’s had a bunch of seconds. When you have so many seconds you think is it ever going to happen? Are we ever going to win? So last year actually winning was like a big relief. So there’s a little less pressure because we’ve checked it off. It doesn’t make it any less special to try to win another one.”
Taylor finished second at the Rolex 24 in 2014 and 2016, after only four years of participating in the race. He has had eight second-place finishes in 41 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races.
Castroneves insists Taylor can repeat the victory again at Daytona.
But even with new goals in this season of change for Castroneves, one thing remains: claiming another Indy 500 title. He would join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with four Indy 500 victories.
“I know I can get the fourth,” he said.