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Castroneves keeps Penske streak alive

12 April 2010

A record crowd witnessed the end of one 2010 IndyCar Series streak, but saw another continue as Helio Castroneves took the chequered flag in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union at Barber Motorsports Park.

The Brazilian's victory, his first on a road/street course race since August 2008, stopped team-mate Will Power's run of wins at two, but ensured that Team Penske continued to enjoy the spoils and a 100 per cent record after three rounds of the new season.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner inherited the lead when long-time leader Marco Andretti had to pit for fuel eight laps from the end of the 90-lap race. Castroneves then held off Scott Dixon by 0.5703secs, then thanked the spectators for attending the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with his trademark celebratory fence climb at turn nine.

As well as being Castroneves' first IndyCar Series win of the season, it was the 17th of his IRL career, and gives the Brazilian a record-setting 10th season with at least one win, an IndyCar Series record. The win was Penske's 38th in the IRL, and adds to Power's successes in Sao Paulo and St Petersburg.

"I felt like the Team Penske car was better than Marco's but, unfortunately, I just couldn't pass him," the veteran admitted, suggesting he was fortunate that the American needed a splash-and-dash to make the flag, "I was just patient and waiting for an opportunity and, well, I guess we were able to be smart enough to save a lot of fuel.

"Towards the end, we had a yellow flag, but I didn't ask for that - especially when you have Scott Dixon and those guys behind you. I just decided to make sure I did not give any opportunities for those guys, and that's what I did. I knew what the car was capable of doing. Sometimes you've got to count with a little luck, so today was a great day for Team Penske, and especially the #3 guys."

Dixon was happy to bounce back from his St Petersburg disappointment, but was left fuming by a stewards decision to penalise him two places in the early going after he jumped the start.

"It was a good day for Team Target all in all, with both cars in the top three,, but we could have been better off if we would have got around Helio," the Kiwi noted, "It was hard to have the team telling me to save fuel and try to manage the fuel gauge, but still push.

"I feel that the officials made a poor call when they said that I passed Helio at the start/finish line. I got back behind him and he went around the outside at turn one. This track is all about track position and we didn't have the fastest cars, but we made use of what we had."

Dixon's team-mate Dario Franchitti brought the second Target Chip Ganassi car home in third spot, his first podium of the year erasing memories of a major shunt during testing at the Barber facility in pre-season.

"The team was working hard on the fuel strategy today, and I am pleased to be on the podium and sit second in points after starting in seventh today," the reigning series champion admitted, "Will Power and I were side by side at the end there but, with so many lap cars in between us, it was really hard to fight for the positions."

Polesitter Power had to pit for the final time on lap 63, which dropped him to seventh, but recovered to fourth place and retains the championship points lead by 32 over Castroneves, with Franchitti third, as the series heads to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this coming weekend.

"In the strategy meeting before the race, we talked about it and we knew that a caution in the early part of the race would not be to our favour," the Australian noted, "We made the best of it though, and the #12 car was fast today. The guys did a great job in the pits, and we are still in the points lead heading into Long Beach. It is great having Helio win, which makes it three wins to start the season for Team Penske, and I think we are going to be strong [at Long Beach]."

Andretti's fifth place was his best of the season, and his best on a road course since Watkins Glen last year, but he couldn't disguise his disappointment at not being able to keep his lead to the end.

"We have to be happy to put the Venom car into the top five, especially after our finishes on road courses last year, but I think maybe we could have stretched out each of our stints a bit longer and gained on fuel one lap at a time," he sighed, "Helio just went longer than us each time and that was the difference at the end. He was able to go that much farther and we fell short."

The estimated three-day total attendance for the inaugural event exceeded the goals of race promoter ZOOM Motorsports, which estimated more than 86,000 fans attended the three-days of racing at Barber Motorsports Park - including an estimated record crowd of 53,555 fans on Sunday alone.

"The attendance more than doubled the largest event ever held here previously at Barber Motorsports Park," said ZOOM president and CEO Gene Hallman, "The Indy Racing League product is a fast-growing and very demographically-dialled product for consumers in this market. Being the only race on the calendar in the 'Deep South', we were able to draw a lot of IndyCar fans into Birmingham, which helped us from a tourism perspective. The Indy Racing League is a tremendous partner and helped us immensely in this first year."


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