By Godwin Kelly IMSA Wire Service
The 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season unofficially started Tuesday with testing at Daytona International Speedway for the rapidly approaching Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Among the 20 teams in the garage area was the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 DPi featuring motorsports favorite Helio Castroneves, who as usual had a big smile on his face, glad to be back in the saddle again.
Only 24 days separated the 2021 season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and this test session. No matter. Castroneves was in his favorite element – at a racetrack with a race car.
“This is always great,” the 46-year-old Brazilian driver said. “I’m actually surprised how many cars are here, to be honest. Arriving (Monday), I thought it would be just a couple of cars, and all of sudden, full grid.”
IMSA and Daytona have helped re-energize Castroneves’ racing career. It started in 2020 when he captured his first professional championship after more than two decades as a driver, wheeling a Team Penske Acura.
That momentum carried over to 2021 when he co-drove Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura DPi to an overall win in the Rolex 24. He doubled down in May and captured his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 driving a Meyer Shank Honda. Now, that stirring one-off performance has turned into a season-long IndyCar Series contract with MSR for 2022, along with a ride in the team’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) Acura for the WeatherTech Championship endurance races next year.
“There’s no question that Daytona for me was a beginning of a great season with Wayne Taylor Racing, with my former championship teammates (Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi), because in 2020 we won the series,” Castroneves said. “For me, it was real cool to get that unfinished business with Ricky.
Now with MSR, what a great opportunity to start creating another chapter, not only my chapter but in Mike’s chapter. We are looking forward to hoping to continue our success in this amazing young team. The sky is the limit.”
The “Mike” he was referring to is co-owner Michael Shank, who has always taken the hands-on approach. He is deeply involved in every facet of the team. From time to time you will catch him in the garage with a wrench in his hand.
“Not only Mike’s passion for racing, but his history he has in racing and where he has come from,” Castroneves said, “and having a relationship with Jim Meyer, who is co-owner of the team. Those guys, the way they are building this, there is so much we can create.”
Castroneves will have two new co-drivers next season with Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist, but he expects the magic that started two years ago to continue – and that began with this two-day test scheduled to end on Wednesday.
“Always learning,” Castroneves said with a grin. “Especially now that I have new teammates with Oliver and Tom. Basically, we all want to improve and that’s what it’s all about. Get yourself better. Improve yourself, so you can keep going faster.”
Asked if he wants to collect another Rolex watch presented to all class winners in the Rolex 24, Castroneves didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” he said, “I have two arms. I can use both.”