Infineon: Castroneves waltzes to easy IndyCar win

Helio Castroneves gets a kiss from the beauty queen
Bob Heathcote/

With the largest crowd on hand that we have seen for an IndyCar race in Sonoma, Helio Castroneves won the Peak Antifreeze & Motor Oil Grand Prix of Sonoma County at Infineon Raceway from pole Sunday, 5.3 seconds ahead of his Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe. After losing their two primary cars to a transporter fire on the way to Sonoma, it was a storybook 1-2 finish for the Penske team.

Castroneves, who led 50 of the 80 laps, took the lead in Turn 1 at the start and was never headed except for pitstops in what can only be described as a perfect weekend for the two-time Indy 500 winner.

"What a team effort for the team after the fire with the trailer," said Castroneves. They kept telling me to push, push, push and how can I not after all they did to get ready for this race. It was a real team effort I can tell you."

An elated Roger Penske said, "Helio and Briscoe really did the job today. We had tough competition out there and Helio really wanted to get the win today. We have a great group of guys and these guys are racers. I want to thank everyone who called to help us after the fire this week."

The Brazilian driver knew even prior to the green flag that he had the car to beat in Sunday’s 80-lap event. Before the race, an ABC/ESPN cameraman asked Castroneves where he would celebrate – seeing as how there was no catch fence near the start/finish line, only a short fence below the grandstand. “I told them where I was going to go," said Castroneves. “Ask the cameraman. He was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to jinx it, but where are you going to be climbing the fence?’ I’m like, ‘Right there. Make sure you wait for me there.’"

After winning Castroneves scaled the front of the grandstand and dived into the arms of waiting fans.

Tony Kanaan came home third for the AGR team, and said, "We had a boring race. As a driver we want to go fast but we were saving fuel all day and as a race car driver that is a boring race. For the last 14 laps of the race I was never wide open an entire straightaway."

With Scott Dixon having a relatively poor race, Castroneves gained some valuable points toward the championship, though Dixon, who finished 12th, still appears to have a lock on the title.

With 100 points still up for grabs Dixon now has 576 points to 533 for Castroneves with two points paying races remaining in Detroit and Chicago. Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon were officially eliminated from championship contention.

Helio Castroneves leads his Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe
Jim Haines/IRL

This is Helio Castroneves’ first victory of the season and the 13th of his career. Castroneves set an IndyCar record winning a race in his 8th consecutive season, and was his first victory since winning at St. Petersburg in 2007, a span of 30 starts. . For Briscoe it was the 4th podium finish but he felt he could have beaten his teammate had it not been for a bad out lap when he said he got held up by slower traffic.

This is the third time this season and 28th time overall that IndyCar teammates have finished 1-2. Briscoe and Castroneves also finished 1-2 at Mid-Ohio earlier this season.

Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick, EJ Viso, Vitor Meira, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Mario Moraes rounded out the top-10.

The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone Aug. 31 at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The race will be telecast live at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will also air live on the IMS Radio Network.

Race Notes

The first and only caution flew on lap 15 for just 2 laps when Marty Roth spun off and about 1/2 of the leaders chose to pit. Others, like Ryan Briscoe. Tony Kanaan, EJ Viso, Dan Wheldon, Mario Dominguez, Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick chose an alternate strategy and stayed out. That later backfired when they were forced to make green flag stops before and around lap 30.

To show how bad a decision it was, before the pit stop Ryan Briscoe was right behind his teammate Helio Castroneves. After everyone had pitted Briscoe was 11 seconds behind his teammate and still running in 2nd place.

A very fast EJ Viso led until lap 36, he being the last of the second group to pit. He returned in 12th place.

During the middle stages of the race, and enjoying a wide open track, Castroneves steadily opened up the gap back to Briscoe by around 1/2 second per lap. He was consistently the fastest car on the track and easily turned the fastest lap with a 1:18.6320s time on lap 55 of 80.

The 2nd round of pitstops at between laps 55 and 65 of 80 saw the same swapping of the lead between Viso and Castroneves due to the alternate strategies. When all the strategies played out it was still the two Penske cars running 1-2 at the flag.


HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, first): “People kept telling me that the door (to victory lane) would finally open, and today we broke through it. The door was really stuck, but what an incredible effort by Team Penske. I can’t thank them enough. I’m really excited about today, because the car was extremely fast. For me, it was really fun pushing and pushing every lap for the entire race. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what made us win. We didn’t save any fuel. We just kept going and going, and it paid off in the end." (Did this work out just as you planned it?): “We didn’t plan it like that, but with the traffic, we changed the plans lap by lap and we pitted when we thought we were going to slow down. We never let our guard down. We just kept pushing and we came away with a win." (What does the win mean for morale?): “The attitude of those guys is priceless. Everyone has been working so hard since last Wednesday. Taking cars to Charlotte and bringing cars back from Charlotte, converting cars from oval to road course. You’re talking about two days work in 12 hours. When you see guys doing that, you just want to do your best. Not that we don’t always give our best, but you want to make it a special day, and today it was."

ROGER PENSKE (Owner, Team Penske): “The fraternity pulled together with us and helped us get back together. All these guys they are all racers, a great group of guys. It is all about people, and Helio (Castroneves) and (Ryan) Briscoe really did the job today. We have tough competition out there. Helio wanted to get that win, and wow what a way to do it under the adversity we had this week. I want to thank everyone that called us and helped us over the last several days."

TIM CINDRIC (President, Penske Performance, Inc.): “Once again it shows the determination that this group has. It wasn’t easy the way that yellow came out. It was a bit of a mixed bag. Fortunately we were able to mix strategies and play it out from there. We would not have won this race if Helio hadn’t driven the wheels off it when he needed to. It is a testament to the organization. We will keep going and see where we end up at the end of the year." (On the championship): “I think our approach next weekend is the same, we go for broke. That is the only thing that is going to get us where we need to be."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 12th): “I'm not upset with anybody in particular, we just did absolutely nothing right. I don't know why we stayed out when the car in front of us is three seconds slower and we couldn't make up any track position. Everything we did was wrong." (About points race): "We still lost a ton of points. This is a race that's very tough, unfortunately, we got the bad end of the stick. Hopefully, we'll turn it around next time." (43 points still is a good lead with two races left): "When you lose 30-whatever today, it makes it a lot easier to come back." (Is this the low point for you): "It was definitely a bad day. I guess we just need to shrug it off and come back strong next week."

CHIP GANASSI (Owner, Target Chip Ganassi Racing): “Well, those things happen, and we have to go into the next couple races. I think if Helio (Castroneves) wins the next two we just have to place fourth, so we should be able to do that. We just have to stay behind him. We’re OK. We have a long way to go yet."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, second): “It’s unbelievable. To start the week off the way we did, with the fire and everything, and then dominate with a one-two qualifying and race result, it’s definitely the strongest we’ve been all year. I’m so happy for Helio (Castroneves). Not getting a win all year and getting all of those seconds was killing him. So I’m really happy for him to win the race. He was the quickest car out there today. It’s just great for the team. Big congrats to Team Penske."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, third): “The only thing I could do was risk. We were going for the win. I have to say what a boring race. There was no passing, saving fuel from Lap 1. I did not have any fun. I’m not taking it for granted, but maybe we have to look at the (fuel) windows, so we don’t have people pitting on Lap 5. We race for the fans, and although they are crazy here today, it was kind of boring." (About fuel strategy): “They gave me a number above the one I needed to make it, and I was making it. I was controlling well, and on the last lap they said go, and I did."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fourth): “I give Chip (Ganassi) a lot of credit. He came into the team meeting today, and he’s got a lot of guests here from Target, and we wanted to perform well. Scott’s (Dixon) obviously in the championship hunt, and he gave us the order that we were going to do something very alternative, and we did, and it just kind of played out perfectly. It was a great job from him and everybody. The pit stops were really good. It was just one of those races. There was a pretty clear track most of the time so it worked out." (About the first yellow) “We didn’t think like that. We said that we were going to commit to it and whatever happens, happens. We started in the back. It is so difficult trying to pass. Tony (Kanaan) was really slow at the end, but he was quick enough in the right places so it was hard to pass. That was a shame. It was a good day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s unfortunate for Scott (Dixon). He was quick all weekend. That’s the thing with these tracks, it’s hard to overtake. He’s one of the best guys out there. I think it’s the strategy that cost him, but he’ll bounce back, and he knows he’s got a strong teammate in his corner to look after him."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, fifth): “I am very proud of the Motorola team today. Kyle (Moyer) and my crew did a great job. We started in the ninth position, and to get a top-five finish at a course that is very difficult to pass at is great. We need to use this momentum going into Belle Isle next week and hopefully have a repeat finish."

E.J. VISO (No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing, sixth): “I think we did a great job. The car was very competitive and Michael (Cannon) gave us great strategy today to lead the race and be up front. The team, I have to give them a ton of credit also. The pit stops were fast and helped us maintain our position. We have some room to improve and run against the bigger teams, but today proved that we can compete with them."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi National Guard, seventh): “What a great day for us. I’ve got to thank everybody on the Delphi National Guard pit stand, because it was JB (team owner John Barnes), David Cripps and the guys that really made this happen for us. They took a risk early, and it paid off for us. At the end of the race, I took one shot at passing (E.J.) Viso, but I was losing rear brakes badly and the back was skating around on me. It was a great points day for us too, especially after starting 18th. I think a few weeks ago we were in 16th position in the championship, and now we’re in 11th. We’ve still got two more races and more positions to make up."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps, eighth): “We had a good pit strategy, and we had picked it from the very beginning. We decided we wanted to go two stops, and we saved as much fuel as we could. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and we would have to save a lot more fuel than most did, but at the end of the day it worked out for us. The car was the best I have had it all weekend. I was definitely pretty happy with it. It certainly gave me something to race with."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, ninth): “The McDonald’s team was running strong, but once that yellow happened it really mixed everything up and we had to decide which strategy to go on. Helio was on our same strategy, and he won the race, but he was able to get by people. A couple of guys between me and him weren’t able to overtake the backmarkers, and it allowed the people on the other strategy to capitalize. It’s disappointing because I thought the McDonald’s car was good, and we had a strong day, but we couldn’t get a result out of it. We did everything we could, so we just have to move on to the next one."



Driver Start Pos Diff Gap Best Time Best Speed Best Lap
1 Helio Castroneves (3) 1 –.—- –.—- 1:18.6320 105.438 55
2 Ryan Briscoe (6) 2 5.2926 5.2926 1:19.1345 104.768 23
3 Tony Kanaan (11) 4 16.6032 11.3106 1:19.1300 104.774 25
4 Dan Wheldon (10) 16 17.7720 1.1688 1:19.1475 104.751 60
5 Danica Patrick (7) 9 25.8458 8.0738 1:19.4895 104.301 23
6 EJ Viso (33) 14 29.3472 3.5014 1:19.3903 104.431 62
7 Vitor Meira (4) 18 29.9895 0.6423 1:19.5296 104.248 62
8 Graham Rahal (06) 15 40.4577 10.4682 1:19.8188 103.870 77
9 Justin Wilson (02) 7 42.0357 1.5780 1:19.3976 104.421 62
10 Mario Moraes (19) 12 50.0106 7.9749 1:19.9999 103.635 56
11 Buddy Rice (15) 22 55.0361 5.0255 1:19.8173 103.872 38
12 Scott Dixon (9) 5 55.7145 0.6784 1:19.5827 104.178 46
13 Hideki Mutoh (27) 20 56.3186 0.6041 1:19.8279 103.858 14
14 Marco Andretti (26) 10 1 lap 1 lap 1:19.6318 104.114 42
15 Ryan Hunter-Reay (17) 8 0.7001 0.7001 1:19.4750 104.320 42
16 Oriol Servia (5) 6 1.9200 1.2199 1:18.9497 105.014 45
17 Mario Dominguez (96) 11 2.9225 1.0025 1:19.6150 104.136 64
18 Bruno Junqueira (18) 13 3.2938 0.3713 1:19.2633 104.598 73
19 Townsend Bell (23) 19 34.8009 31.5071 1:20.2890 103.262 37
20 AJ Foyt IV (2) 24 40.0805 5.2796 1:19.7539 103.955 71
21 Enrique Bernoldi (36) 27 52.4273 12.3468 1:20.2945 103.255 60
22 Darren Manning (14) 21 53.7599 1.3326 1:20.5405 102.940 62
23 Ed Carpenter (20) 23 2 laps 1 lap 1:20.1516 103.439 48
24 Jaime Camara (34) 26 1:14.6211 1:14.6211 1:20.5126 102.975 52
25 Will Power (8) 3 3 laps 1 lap 1:19.3939 104.426 43
26 Marty Roth (25) 25 4 laps 1 lap 1:21.1637 102.149 52
27 Tomas Scheckter (12) 17 24 laps 20 laps 1:20.8384 102.560 51

Race Statistics

Winner's average speed: 100.254 mph

Time of race: 1:50:15.8282

Margin of victory: 5.2926 seconds

Cautions: 1 caution flags for 2 laps

Lead changes: 8 among 4 drivers

Lap leaders: Castroneves 1-16, Briscoe 17-27, Viso 28-35, Castroneves 36-44, Briscoe 45-52, Kanaan 53, Castroneves 54-57, Viso 58, Castroneves 59-80.

Point standings: Dixon 576, Castroneves 533, Wheldon 452, Kanaan 446, Briscoe 390, Patrick 345, Andretti 327, Mutoh 315, Servia 313, Hunter-Reay 310.

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