DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — After 24 hours of racing in record-low Florida temperatures, ageless Helio Castroneves still had the energy to climb the fence on yet another crown jewel motorsports victory.
Castroneves won a major race for the third time in a year Sunday by closing out the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Meyer Shank Racing, the team that helped him win a record-tying 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 Team Penske cut Castroneves loose following the 2020 season. He saw the 46-year-old Brazilian could still run with the young drivers taking over motorsports and hired him as the guy to help expand his program.
Penske's loss is Shank's stupefying gain.
“A lot of people talk about his age, but I kind of see through that,” Shank said. “There were young guys out there that deserved something. But we felt for our business, at this time, we needed to make an impression at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s what we set about doing.”
Castroneves has elevated an entire organization while reviving a career that seemed to be running out of fuel after more than two decades at the top levels of motorsports.
He won the Rolex last January as the endurance driver for Wayne Taylor Racing, went to Indy with Shank and at last won his fourth 500, and turned a six-race IndyCar deal with Shank into a full 2022 program.
Now he's won a second Rolex watch in consecutive years and turned the Shank program into 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 — over the final hour and denied Wayne Taylor Racing its fourth consecutive win at Daytona International Speedway.
“The fire’s still burning. One of the quotes that 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, don’t get me wrong. But I still want to be involved. I love this environment. It’s my confidence zone, my therapy, everything.”
Driving the No. 60 Acura, Castroneves closed out the twice-round-the-clock race, and then Spiderman led the Shank team in his traditional climbing of the fence celebration.
The win for Michael Shank came on the 10th anniversary of Shank's first victory in North America’s most prestigious sports car race. That win in the 50th running of the Rolex with the late Justin Wilson and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger gave Shank's fledgling program credibility, and Castroneves since May has helped build the team into a legitimate force.
“We love what we have,” said co-owner Jim Meyer, who partnered with Shank in 2018 and has been a huge part of the team's growth.
“We still expect to win an IMSA Championship and an IndyCar championship. We’re just not content being the little team that can’t. That’s what this is about for us.”
The Indy 500 win helped convince Simon Pagenaud to join the team when he left Penske at the end of last year, and he and Castroneves will be a powerful two-car lineup this year with a combined five 500 victories, an IndyCar championship and an IMSA championship. Shank grabbed them both to help his fulltime IMSA sports car drivers Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist win the 60th running of the Rolex.
The 24-hour race remarkably came down to 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 claim Rolex watches.
Colton Herta, Pato O'Ward and IndyCar rookie Devlin DeFrancesco rallied DragonSpeed USA from three laps down to win the LMP2 class, with Herta going door-to-door in the final minutes with Tower Motorsport. Herta came out the victor when the two cars almost touched and Louis Deletraz went off course.
The new GTD Pro class was decided by a frantic battle between a pair of Porsches, and Pfaff Motorsports, which enlisted IMSA reigning co-champion Felipe Nasr as its endurance driver, earned the win.
Riley Motorsports won the LMP3 class and Wright Motorsports won the GT Daytona class.
The field featured 61 cars, the most since 2014, and was run in record-low temperatures.
Temperatures dipped into the low 30s overnight, but it was a mild 53 degrees and sunny when Castroneves climbed yet another fence.
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