RACING

It’s hard to teach an old dog a new trick

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Team Penske upgraded the Brazilian IndyCar veteran to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the end of 2017, and he went on to earn five victories in the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 – culminating in him taking the Prototype crown with Ricky Taylor. During this period he also raced for Penske in the Indy Grand Prix for two years and the Indy 500 for three years, and replaced Oliver Askew at Arrow McLaren SP for two races.

At the end of 2020 he was released by Penske, and after winning the 2021 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for Wayne Taylor Racing, he joined Meyer Shank Racing’s IndyCar team for six races and took his fourth Indy 500 victory. For this year, MSR has signed Castroneves on a full-time basis. He won the Rolex 24 again, but in IndyCar the results proved harder to come by, with the highlight so far this year being seventh place at the Indy 500.

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On a possible retirement, the 47-year-old veteran said: “Obviously you come to a point that you have to realize. For the moment, I don’t feel that in my stomach: I have the impression that I have a lot left in the tank. Age is just a number. It’s about understanding, especially with this new car, even for a seasoned veteran like me, the car has changed. When you don’t have practice and things like that, it becomes very difficult.

Castroneves, who said he and MSR were “finalizing some small details” on their contract for 2023, admitted he was surprised at the problems he faced reacclimating to IndyCars but with aeroscreens, which were introduced in 2020.

“I didn’t expect it to be difficult,” he said. “We are making some changes internally to make sure that over the last three races we continue to improve. This aeroscreen literally throws a curve ball. Finding a good spot is taking me longer than expected to adapt and figure out what the car needs. We’re always on one side or the other. We can never find it.

“You see good drivers, guys who were on the show longer, also have these inconsistencies. But we push. I feel like we could be better. But remember, this is my first full-time season. We are definitely preparing for bigger things in the future.

MSR has a technical alliance with Andretti Autosport, but Castroneves says pooling data from six cars doesn’t necessarily speed up adaptation due to differing driving styles.

“When you have, for example, say Colton [Herta] and alex [Rossi], they’ve been in the team for quite a while with Andretti, you see the ups and downs they go through, all the systems these two guys developed, their style. I’ll be honest, Colton and Alex are kind of the opposite. I got to know myself a bit more, since Alex and I rode together in the IMSA sports car a few years ago, I feel more comfortable driving what he does.

“At the same time, you tend to follow who is going the fastest. This is where it’s a good thing because you have a reference; bad thing sometimes it just doesn’t suit you. Have Simon [Pagenaud, MSR teammate], for example, on our side, what happens is that it brings another piece of information and it becomes a bit confusing. So finding the identity and the sweet spot, as I mentioned before, when you don’t have a lot of practice becomes very, very difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to teach an old dog a new trick, isn’t it? You just have to keep pushing and trying to find that sweet spot.

“But I have enough confidence, especially since Andretti hasn’t been so strong this year. They show great potential towards the end of the season, which is great. Some things we share, but sometimes we’re just not able to get what they have. They’ve been very transparent, which is great. But we also have to do our part…

“Everything is different for our team – first time a two car operation for Meyer Shank Racing. Simon is doing a great job. My guys, #06, amazing. All new guys compared to last year. Lots of people maybe don’t know – brand new band. We’re also all in sync. It’s frustrating at times, but we believe and trust that we can get the result we deserve.

Castroneves, it had been satisfying for him and Pagenaud to qualify on the second row in Detroit, the fastest among the MSR-Andretti sextet.

“Absolutely!” he enthused, “it shows how we can do it. When you hit the right stuff, that’s how we did it in Detroit. We know we can do it. It was a perfect execution from Meyer Shank Racing. We are looking to do another like this. Unfortunately, sometimes racing is so competitive that it’s so hard to imitate the same thing.

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