Helio Castroneves was a happy man on Tuesday after getting his first taste of IndyCar’s 2018 bodywork at Barber Motorsports Park.
After a full-time move to Team Penske’s IMSA sports car program during the offseason, stepping into an open-wheel car to test for his brief month of May return at the Grand Prix of Indy and Indy 500 felt like a gift after enduring a punishing Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last weekend.
“It’s awesome. It’s so cool to be back in an IndyCar. It’s like I never left,” Castroneves told RACER. “It was cool to try this new bodywork. I have to say, it’s a little bit edgy, especially on this track with the high-speed corners, so I realized I needed to be more careful with my approach. But it was awesome to drive.”
Sampling IndyCar’s 2018 road/street course bodywork, with its reduced downforce and drag, provided value in helping the three-time Indy 500 winner to build his experiential database well before race day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I looked to my teammates’ [data] traces and they were really stabbing at the throttle,” he said. “I wasn’t confident to do that right away, so it took some time to feel my way through it. It’s not quite like the old car, but I loved it, and wish I had more time to drive. It was great to do things like give two more turns of front wing and see what it does. When it’s time to qualify for the Indy GP, it’s knowing things like this that will help, and even [the Indy 500], it’s important to learn these things now instead of for the first time once I’m there so I know what to expect.”
After finishing the rain-shortened Barber test with the third-fastest lap time, Castroneves says he was delighted to find the behavior of the 2018 bodywork matched all he’d heard during pre-season testing.
“All the comments I heard at St. Pete and even before from my teammates, they were right,” he added. “I was like, ‘ah, now I see what you were talking about!’ It was really good. And because of the testing they’ve done, they made the car better so when I jumped in, it was on the right path. Now I need to work more to make it fit my driving style, and I can’t wait to get back in and develop it more in the direction I like.”