When the 2016 season came to a close, Team Penske topped the grid with their drivers taking first through third in the standings. Though so in 2017, it may be a new story.
At St. Petersburg to kick off the year, only two of their drivers finished in the top-six – Simon Pagenaud second, with Helio Castroneves sixth.
“We had a lot of surprises,” Castroneves told Popular Speed. “One of them was Honda; they did a very good job in showing up with a strong package. To be honest, in my group, we had some issues. Simon finished second, which was tremendous. In my group, sixth – that’s we got. So that’s a pretty good result. In the end, we definitely I feel we could’ve done a little bit better, but we’ll try again.”
Though it’s only one race, and there’s no telling what could happen, especially with the fact Team Penske isn’t anywhere near giving up, either. Castroneves says the championship organization is using St. Petersburg as motivation to be stronger.
“I believe that’s going to happen now, whether through the aerodynamics or the engine – whatever we can within the rules,” he said. “We’re going to try and look around and work on it. I feel that’s a positive thing, and we just got work to do.”
Knowing they have four top-notch drivers, along with the same engineers in place, he feels they can keep the momentum rolling this year to repeat those results.
“I don’t see why we cannot do it,” he said. “As long as we keep ourselves on track, meaning observing everything possible that we can do to improve where we are weak. We do have four incredible fast cars. Why should it not continue? I don’t see that becoming problem. So we’re going to continue looking that way. As I said, we set the bar high. We came out and achieved that, and now we got to put ourselves in a different position to set ourselves up to continue to do better.”
The prospects look strong as last year, Pagenaud walked away as the champion with Will Power second and Castroneves third. Josef Newgarden finished fourth driving for Ed Carpenter Racing but is now part of the Team Penske line-up for 2017.
“I feel Josef is a young rising star,” he said. “He’s definitely has a phenomenal personality and has proven already that he’s a winner. The first race we were able to work really well together, and I feel that he’s definitely a great choice by Team Penske. He has a different style of driving, but I think that’s probably going to help us to continue moving forward.”
Castroneves and his mates will get another shot at it on April 9 when the series heads to Long Beach, California for the second street course of the season.
“Long Beach is a place that it’s concrete area in some straights, pavement in others – so there’s a mix of grip, which I believe could help us,” Castroneves said. “Long Beach is a place that we feel we have very good handling car and that could play favorable to us.”
Beyond dealing with two different surfaces, Castroneves says drivers also face a challenge in choosing what type of downforce to put in the car due to two long straightaways.
Outside of Long Beach, drivers also have their eyes on Indianapolis, having been testing there once during the early season break. Castroneves feels Team Penske tested well, having a productive day with each of four trying something different. They look to take advantage of a second test this coming Saturday.
“Anytime you have a moment to practice a whole day at Indianapolis – doesn’t matter when, it always important,” he said. “I’m glad that we’ve had a taste of it going there. It’s kind of like setting up your office before you get into it, and that’s what we’re doing. Hopefully, when we get there in the month of May, we’ll be ready to go.”
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