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Helio Castroneves undaunted by dry spell at Long Beach

IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves is looking for his first win at Long Beach since 2001.
(Terry Renna / Associated Press)
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Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and one of the most successful IndyCar drivers in the sport’s history. But his track record at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is spotty.

Over the last decade, he’s had more success to brag about on “Dancing with the Stars” than on the Southern California street course.

Castroneves won the fifth season of the popular television show in 2007 but hasn’t been victorious at Long Beach since 2001, as part of the Champ Car series. He also won in the Indy Light series in 1997.

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It’s not that he’s performing poorly — he just keeps coming up excruciatingly close.

“Over the years, I’m getting better at this place,” Castroneves said. “I feel we’re going to be good.”

In 2015, Castroneves grabbed the pole position in qualifying, then ended up second. Last year, he started from the pole again, only to fall behind the warring Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon for a third-place finish. He’s hoping some subtle changes this year — the addition of five laps for a total of 85, for example — might help him.

“It used to be a two [pit] stop race, and it might be really hard to do that,” Castroneves said. “But maybe we’ll be the one to do that. You never know. So that’s what I like; they keep mixing it up, and that gives me an opportunity to be back in victory circle.”

Castroneves had two solid practice runs, with a fastest lap of 104.816 miles per hour — sixth out of 21 competitors. In addition to a drought at Long Beach, he’s still chasing an IndyCar season championship.

“I love what I do, I love IndyCar, I have a lot of fire in the tank just like Tom Brady,” Castroneves said. “This year, things are a little bit difficult because of the power that Hondas seem to be putting out, but that’s not going to stop us from working harder. I still want this championship, and hopefully it can be this year.”

In the immediate future, Castroneves, whose car has a Chevy engine, is putting his full focus on the Grand Prix of Long Beach, a venue that brings one specific word to his mind.

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“Tradition,” Castroneves said. “Indianapolis is a prestige race; you want to win the race no matter what. But if you want to pick another one to recognize, it’s Long Beach. … So many drivers have been here and won here, and it’s sort of like, man, I’ve got to have my name here. I’m happy I did that, and I’m going to do it again.”

Practice runs

Two-time Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Will Power had the best practice Friday, with a 105.617 mph lap. He joked afterward that he wanted to save some of that speed for later in the weekend.

“The car feels comfortable,” Power said. “It kind of sucks when you’re the quickest because you can’t find as many details [to talk about]. I kind of wish I was fifth or something.”

Marco Andretti had the second-best day, followed by 2016 winner Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The weather forecast could complicate matters for Saturday’s final practice run and qualifying session. There’s a high probability of rain overnight, which changes how drivers approach the street course.

“If it rains, it’s going to take away all that grip on the race track, so then whatever happened today is back to zero,” Pagenaud said. “That will change the car behavior on the track as well for qualifying. And qualifying is so important here, you want to start up front.”

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