Helio Castroneves aims to use his third-place qualifying result for IndyCar’s season finale at Long Beach to serve as a stepping-stone towards his transition back into a full-time series return in 2022.
The four-time Indy 500 winner rounds out his six-race program in Meyer Shank Racing’s No.06 Honda at Long Beach before returning next year for his first full-time IndyCar campaign since 2017. This weekend marks his second appearance at a street circuit in that time — the other coming at Nashville earlier this year — and the 46-year-old told RACER that his strong Saturday performance is an important boost as he continues to refamiliarize himself with the nuances of open-wheelers.
“The thing is, it’s a process, right?” he told RACER. “Everyone (else) is at the end of their season; everybody is at their prime, everybody understands what their car is doing. And even though I won the Indy 500, you jump into a scenario that’s still kind of… to be honest, I’m still not there. But when you’re put in a place that you actually enjoy and are having fun, and you have a car that is capable of doing it, then the results start showing.
“But at the end of the day, this is exactly what we’re looking for. It’s working. Now, we’ve got to continue to focus on the front, and hopefully we have a good result tomorrow.”
Castroneves contested 20 full-time seasons across CART and IndyCar, 18 of which were with Team Penske, before he was redeployed to Penske’s IMSA program between 2018 and 2020. He kept his hand in IndyCar with regular appearances at the Indy 500 and the Indy GP, but said that Saturday’s qualifying run reconnected him with his time as a perennial IndyCar title threat.
“This feels exactly how it used to,” he said. “Now, we’ve just got to continue working. It’s a tough series, very competitive, and everybody is on their game. So we’ve just got to keep working.”