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Team Penske Keeps Eye On Indy While Trying To Extend Perfect Start In Brazil

The “Race to the Indianapolis 500” has begun as the IZOD IndyCar Series is in Brazil for the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on Sunday. After hitting the streets in the fourth-largest city in the world, it will be time for the drivers to focus on the biggest race in the world – the Indianapolis 500.

And, of course, one of the centers of attention in both of these races is three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who grew up in Ribeirao, Brazil, and along with Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello will capture most of the attention from the Sao Paulo crowd this weekend.

Castroneves, who is second in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings, opened the season with a win in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to give Chevrolet its first IZOD IndyCar Series win since Tomas Scheckter and Panther Racing won in June 2005 at Texas. Chevrolet has won all three races this season, with Will Power driving to victory at Barber Motorsports Park and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to give Team Penske a sweep of the first three races this season.

“To get there, we have to make things work, and we don’t know how the car handles on the ovals yet,” Castroneves said. “We learned a lot in our first test there. Indy is going to be fun. The package we are working on is to make sure it’s competitive, but we have started off the season very well and it is looking good.

“The team has certainly been doing a phenomenal job starting obviously three races of the season and able to capture three wins," said Castroneves, who has finished no lower than sixth in the championship in 10 full-time seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series. "Certainly I feel great. I feel very good about the season, especially after what we had last year."

Winning in his home country would be quite an honor for Castroneves. But winning this year’s Indianapolis 500 would be historic as he would become the fourth four-time winner of the world’s biggest race.

"I dream big, and my dream is to capture all of them," he said. "If you've got to choose one, I always dream about Indy and even now so close to doing something very amazing. No question Indy would be an incredible achievement. For me, it's go out there to do my best and try to capture all my goals, and the goal is to win. There are a lot of people against that goal, and that's what we face every weekend trying to beat everyone. That's the beauty of the sport.

"So I'm really excited to start the season the way we started so that we can achieve all the goals."

And so far, Team Penske has achieved all of its goals by winning the first three races of the season. The next major goal would be winning the Indianapolis 500 to extend the team’s record to 16. Castroneves was the last Team Penske driver to win the Indy 500 when he scored his third win in the race in 2009.

With new engines and the new 2012 Dallara chassis, the competition level was expected to be spread out this season. But so far Team Penske has dominated, shutting out even the impressive Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-powered tandem of four-time series champion Dario Franchitti and two-time series champ Scott Dixon. Franchitti is a two-time Indy 500 winner, with victories in 2007 and 2010, and Dixon won the Indy 500 in 2008.

“Certainly Team Penske last year to this year, they hired a lot of people backstage, people that you guys don't see every day in, day out in the race weekend,” Castroneves said. “I believe Roger (Penske, team owner) has always been a key guy to put everything together. He certainly understands what it takes to win championships.

“And I believe the organization right now at this point, we're taking advantage with the past few seasons, preseason that we've had at the beginning of the year and even the end of last year. We were able to learn – together with all the team, we were able to learn and put it all together. So I believe with those changes that we have from last year to this year with the new equipment, we're able to start ahead of the game, like it used to be. With all the resources that we have right now, with so many people, I think finally we're able to execute out there.

“I think it's a little bit of the backstage of the shop that you guys can't see that is making a difference right now.”

All of that work “backstage” may pay off on the world’s biggest stage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Race Day. But some of Castroneves’ biggest competition for victory may come from his teammates, Power and Ryan Briscoe.

Power overcame a 10-grid position penalty at Long Beach when all of the Chevrolet drivers had to replace their engines before hitting the track. So despite winning the pole, Power had to start 11th. It didn’t matter as he raced his way to one of his most satisfying victories.

“All I know is I'm just going to do my absolute best at every race,” Power said. “I think it's just that they've been probably one of the best prepared with the new car. We did a lot of miles. Chevy has worked very hard, and obviously our first hit of the year – obviously the 10-spot grid penalty was a precautionary thing and didn't affect us too badly, obviously. But yeah, to me it was hard work. I think whenever you're winning; the whole team feels very good. I think my guys feel very confident no matter where we start. I think that's good for them. It's good for all of us. So, yes, I think the team mood should be good because if it's not good now, it never will be.”

By getting off to such a fast start in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, Team Penske has taken the lead in the “Race to the Indy 500” as the next lap takes the series to Brazil. But after the twist and turns of four-straight races on street and road courses, it will be time to prepare for the most storied oval on the planet and the Indianapolis 500.
 

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