Helio Castroneves looks as if he is on his way to finally win a championship after 14 years of competition in American Open Wheel Racing. Castroneves has a 34 point lead over Scott Dixon with 5 races remaining in the season.
This season, Castroneves has been the most consistent driver in the series. Despite only winning 1 race, he has finished 13 out of 14 races in the top ten and is the only driver the complete every lap of the season. His closest rival Dixon has 3 wins, but did not win until 4 races ago at Pocono and has 5 finishes of 11th or worse. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is 3rd in points, has led more laps than anybody but has 6 finishes of 18th or worse.
So what has made Helio better this season? According to an article on RACER by Marshall Pruett, there are a number of reasons. He has settled into a good rut with John Erickson after being paired with him midway through the 2011 season. The two have proven to be very compatible with each other and results show that. He also has had some engineering changes on his team as well. Johnathan Diuguid, who was with Ryan Briscoe’s team in 2012 moved over to Castroneves’ team. Diuguid has some creative ideas that have worked in their favor as well.
The other change has been from Castroneves himself. When Will Power joined the team in 2009 and Power immediately began winning races and poles, Castroneves suddenly became the number 2 driver at Team Penske and by 2011 it appeared as if he was in despiration mode to keep up with Power. As a result of this, Castroneves made several mistakes, causing several accidents and subsequently did not win a race in a season for the first time since 1999. Being paired with Erickson helped smooth him out, he bounced back in 2012 and his results show that he has become the Helio Castroneves we see today.
Pruett’s analysis is very spot on, everything is coming together in the background for Castroneves. When you couple that with the fact that he has finished better than most of his rivals this season, you have the makings of a championship season.
With the championship going down to the wire every year since 2006, there is no telling how this championship will shake out. Will Power the last 3 years has held the crown until the last few races when poor strategy, contact on pit road or in last years case crashing out of the season finale, so racing being racing, anything can happen. A win or two would add to the cushion that Castroneves already has and if he keeps up this consistent streak, he will add his name to the Astor Challenge Cup in October.