While the majority of observers reckon that it is too late, Helio Castroneves will be doing everything he can to at least push the IndyCar Series title battle all the way to the last round of the season.
The Brazilian trails season-long championship leader Scott Dixon by 78 points with just three rounds remaining, beginning with the road course event at Infineon Raceway this weekend, and believes that he can make some inroads into the Kiwi's advantage in California.
With Team Penske's strong performances on road and street courses this season, the next two races - at the former Sears Point facility and on Detroit's Belle Isle Raceway - could be just what Castroneves needs to stay in the hunt, but the double Indy 500 winner admits that he will also need more than a little luck to close the gap on the consistent Dixon.
“Infineon Raceway is one of the most technical tracks we run on all year,” he explains, “It has big hills, big turns and high speed, so it makes running well there very difficult.
"Fortunately, we've been quick in Sonoma on each visit, but we haven't been able to bring home a win. We've finished in the top five for the past two years, and I really want to take it to the next level this season in order to keep the championship battle going. We're not out of it, but we're going to need a strong run to be able to stay in the fight.”
In the four races run on non-ovals so far in 2008, Penske has achieved one victory - courtesy of Ryan Briscoe in Mid-Ohio - three poles, two front row sweeps and most laps led three times, and the team also has some history at Infineon, having earned its first-ever open-wheel pole there in 1970 with Mark Donohue. However, while Castroneves has completed 99.9 per cent of the laps in his three starts at the Californian venue, it is one of only two tracks on the 2008 schedule where he has never led a lap.
The Brazilian is one of four drivers who remain in the title hunt - chasing Dixon along with Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon - but has been chasing Dixon since the Kiwi took the overall lead following his victory at Indianapolis in May. The 2003 series champion has logged a record-tying six victories and, along with Castroneves, is the only driver with twelve top five finishes this season. However, the Brazilian - who led the points for three races in April - has yet to win this year, despite having finished second seven times.
Wheldon, who lies 138 points back, and Kanaan, now 147 points adrift, are on the brink of elimination from the title race. The Andretti Green Racing driver, who took the crown in 2004, will see his hopes of a second championship end once Dixon takes the green flag to start the race at Infineon, while the Kiwi's Target Chip Ganassi team-mate must win his third race of the season and have Dixon finish 13th or worse to remain alive.
No driver has clinched the IndyCar Series championship in the third-last race of the season, but it is possible for Dixon to do so if he extends his lead to 106 points this weekend. Several scenarios present that opportunity, including a win for the Kiwi with Castroneves finishing ninth or worse, or second with the Brazilian outside the top 18, although other scenarios are possible if either driver earns the bonus points for leading the most laps.