INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Helio Castroneves started Wednesday’s practice session by flipping through the air in a scary crash.
He finished it by hopping back into the cockpit and taking 11more laps.
It was a challenging day for the Brazilian star, who was docked eight points by IndyCar officials for a rules violation in last weekend’s race just before practice started and spent most of the rest of the day trying to figure what went wrong on the first turn of his second practice lap.
“When I lost it on turn one, I just lost it,” the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said, explaining that while the takeoff was smooth, the landing was not. “I was just expecting the car to spin out backward, but when it started taking off, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is surprising.'”
Castroneves climbed out of the car under his own power and was quickly checked, cleared and released at the speedway’s infield medical center. Team owner Roger Penske said there were no broken bones.
It was an uncharacteristically rough day for Castroneves at Indy’s 2.5-mile oval he knows so well.
His three 500 wins are tied for the most of any foreign-born driver in Indy history. His four pole wins here are tied for the second most ever, trailing only Team Penske consultant Rick Mears who won six. In addition, he finished as the 500 runner-up in 2003 and 2014, has seven other top-10 finishes in 14 career 500 starts and has qualified for the first two rows of the 33-car race 10 times. Qualifying for this year’s May 24 race starts Saturday.
But this month hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.
Castroneves was involved in a five-car melee at the start of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a crash that knocked New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, from the rival Target Chip Ganassi team, out of contention before he even got through the first turn. Dixon complained then that Castroneves should have been assessed a drive through penalty for avoidable contact. Castroneves finished sixth. Dixon was 10th.
Race officials took no action Saturday but on Wednesday blamed Castroneves for causing the crash and trimmed his points total from 161 to 153, though he remained third in the standings. Teammates Juan Pablo Montoya (171) and Will Power (166) are sitting first and second, while Dixon is tied for fourth at 144. All four drive Chevrolet-powered cars.
“The penalty that fits the crime is a drive through and if that had happened, we wouldn’t be talking about it now,” Dixon said before Wednesday’s practice began. “If they had addressed it then, I don’t know exactly where he would have finished, probably between 12th and 15th.”
A short time later, Castroneves was on the track. After completing his first lap of the day at 219.183 mph, his No. 3 car wiggled going through the first turn. The car spun, slammed into the SAFER barrier on the outer wall and then started rolling backward between the first and second turns when a gust of wind flipped the car over. It landed upside down before rolling over, winding up on four wheels.
“He just said that he got in the corner and turned as he normally would and the car snapped on him,” Penske said. “The thing that we’re surprised about is that as he got backward after he hit the wall. The car got airborne.”
All teams are still trying to get accustomed to the new oval kit packages for the cars, which were used for the first time in opening day festivities on May 3. After the third practice day of the week, Castroneves and his team have some extra work ahead of them.
But returning to the track in the final 20 minutes and finishing with 15th on the daily speed chart with a fast lap of 226.670 mph was a solid performance on an otherwise dreadful day.
“You cannot be scared,” Castroneves said. “When you go out there, you feel more comfortable than anything else because of this group of guys.”
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