Helio Castroneves and Team Penske have won the Indianapolis 500 Pit Stop Challenge for the third consecutive time, after the Brazilian's crew edged that of Marco Andretti by 7.962secs to 9.456secs in the final.
It capped a Red Letter Day for Castroneves, who was fastest in morning practice session and, moments before the Challenge began, found out that federal government prosecutors had dropped the final and remaining tax evasion charge, that of conspiracy, hanging over from his recent court case.
After learning the good legal news, Castroneves and his crack over-the-wall crew led by chief mechanic Rick Rinaman went out and aced the annual pit-stop competition by posting the fastest time ever recorded.
Castroneves pointed out afterwards that, during the preceding rounds leading up to the finals, his team had done a 7.6secs stop, and estimated that, during the rounds, had changed 40 tyres with nary a mistake. This was the third straight Pit Stop Challenge victory for Castroneves, Rinaman and the crew, adding to a legacy that, in the 32 years of the contest, has seen Penske Racing win eleven times, including the last four. Last year's contest was rained out.
"It was the most gut-wrenching thing I do all year, but this is what we do," Rinaman, who is also the outside front tyre changer, said, "This one is for Roger."
The winning team receives $40,000 of the $90,000 competition purse, but Castroneves will be more interested in the stat that the winner of the Pit Stop Challenge has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 five times, including his own 2002 triumph. Bobby Unser (1981) and Danny Sullivan (1985) both achieved the double with Penske, while Jacques Villeneuve (Team Green) and Buddy Rice (Rahal Letterman) came out on top in 1995 and 2004 respectively.
"They deserve it, I have to say I'm just there," Castroneves commented, "This one, for them, is so special. For us as a driver, we're nervous - we're more nervous than anybody because you don't want to screw it up. If you screw it up, you're going to hear [about it] until next year.
"But again, they're incredible. They've been working [during the] off-season, and every year it's like that. Some of those guys have been here ten years - they know my style, they know what I like and they know what I don't like. The good news is that we're a team. We lose together, and we win together - and the good news is we celebrate together. This one is very, very special for me. The month is falling into place - everything is falling into place."