DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — (AP) — After 24 hours of racing in record-breaking Florida temperatures, ageless Helio Castroneves still had the energy to climb the ladder for another motorsport victory.
Castroneves won a major race for the third time in a year on Sunday, closing the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Meyer Shank Racing, the team that helped him win a record-breaking fourth Indianapolis 500 last May.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s all about belief,” Castroneves said. “I believe in them, they believe in me.”
Michael Shank studied the data after the Penske team released Castroneves after the 2020 season. He saw that the 46-year-old Brazilian could still race with the young drivers taking over motorsport and hired him for the help expand its program.
Penske’s loss is Shank’s staggering gain.
“A lot of people talk about his age, but I see through it,” Shank said. “There were young people who deserved something. But we felt that for our business, at that time, we had to make a good impression at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s what we set out to do.
Castroneves has elevated an entire organization while reigniting a career that seemed to run out of fuel after more than two decades at the top level of motorsport.
He won the Rolex last January as an endurance driver for Wayne Taylor Racing, went to Indy with Shank and finally won his fourth 500, and turned a six-race IndyCar deal with Shank into a full program for 2022.
Now he’s won a second Rolex watch in consecutive years and made the Shank program a legitimate contender. Castroneves held off Ricky Taylor – his teammate at Penske in 2020 when they won the IMSA Championship and last January when they won the Rolex together – in the final hour and denied Wayne Taylor Racing their fourth straight win at the Daytona International Speedway.
“The fire is still burning. One of the quotes Rick Mears told me a long time ago, “If you don’t have the fire, if you stop thinking about it, then it’s time for you to stop,” Castroneves said. “I can’t live without it right now. Yes, it will happen one day, make no mistake. But I still want to be involved. I love this environment. It’s my zone of trust, my therapy, everything.
Driving the No. 60 Acura, Castroneves closed the race at two clocks, then Spiderman led Team Shank in his traditional celebration of climbing the fence.
Michael Shank’s victory came on the 10th anniversary of Shank’s first victory in North America’s most prestigious sports car race. That win at the 50th Rolex Race with the late Justin Wilson and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger lent credibility to Shank’s fledgling program, and Castroneves since May has helped establish the team as a legitimate force.
“We like what we have,” said co-owner Jim Meyer, who joined Shank in 2018 and has been instrumental in growing the team.
“We’re still hoping to win an IMSA championship and an IndyCar championship. We’re just not happy to be the little team that can’t. That’s what it’s about for us.
The Indy 500 win helped convince Simon Pagenaud to join the team when he left Penske late last year, and he and Castroneves will be a strong two-car lineup this year with a total of five 500 wins, an IndyCar championship and an IMSA. championship. Shank grabbed them both to help his full-time IMSA sportscar drivers Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist win the 60th Rolex.
The 24-hour race went remarkably well in the final minutes in four of the five classes at Daytona. And it was a huge day for the IndyCar series, which had five drivers claiming Rolex watches.
Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and IndyCar rookie Devlin DeFrancesco rallied DragonSpeed USA after three laps to win the LMP2 class, Herta going door to door in the dying minutes with Tower Motorsport. Herta came out on top when the two cars nearly touched and Louis Deletraz swerved.
The new GTD Pro class was decided by a frantic battle between a pair of Porsches, and Pfaff Motorsports, who enlisted co-reigning IMSA champion Felipe Nasr as endurance driver, took victory.
Riley Motorsports won the LMP3 class and Wright Motorsports won the GT Daytona class.
The field had 61 cars, the most since 2014, and raced in record temperatures.
Temperatures dipped into the low 30s overnight, but it was a balmy, sunny 53 degrees when Castroneves scaled another fence.
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