Helio Castroneves described the DPi title fight during Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring as a “roller-coaster” that ended in the Brazilian earning his long-awaited first championship in motorsports.
Castroneves and Acura Team Penske co-driver Ricky Taylor were crowned DPi champions despite their No. 7 Acura ARX-05 finishing last in class after an issue with the car’s intercooler that dropped them more than ten laps behind in the opening hour.
The duo, who were joined by Alexander Rossi, watched as their two title rivals also hit trouble in the drama-filled race that turned the championship upside down on multiple occasions.
They ended up taking the title by a single point over the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing pairing of Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe.
“Depending on the results of everyone, all of a sudden we were finishing last, like we started [the season], and winning the championship by one point,” Castroneves said.
“If you would have said something like that in the movies, you’d think it’s fake. It’s absolutely incredible.
“Unfortunately in this situation it was completely outside of our hands. We literally were waiting for things to happen and it did.
“It’s destiny. Always say if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be and I’m so glad it was our turn.
“We never gave up. I was helping [the team] put the floor and skid plate back on [the car].
“I’ll never forget this day.”
The 45-year-old, in his final race with Team Penske after spending two decades with the organization, admitted the challenge of staying focused while not racing anyone for position on-track.
“When we jumped in the car, there wasn’t much we could have done,” he said. “We just focused, pushed and made it happen.
“In this situation we tried not to go off the track or things like that.
“We were ten or 11 laps behind but were able to make up quite a few laps, which was big credit for the strategy.”
Castroneves added that he learned “so much” from his time in sports car racing.
“Three years that I’ve been here with the IMSA family, it’s been an absolute incredible learning curve for me,” he said. “I feel a much better driver today than I was before.
“I learned so much with [Ricky]. I can’t thank enough everyone. Today is a very special day.”
Taylor: Acura Team Penske “Never Gave Up”
While earning his second top-class prototype championship in the last four years, Taylor admitted the season had it’s ups and downs, particularly in terms of results.
The No. 7 Acura earned a season-high four wins but only had one other podium result along with three eighth place finishes and a seventh.
“Basically we finished last or first or second every race,” Taylor said.
“To win it in a dramatic way was too much to handle. I was glad I was in the car and didn’t have to think about it.
“I think the most special thing of anything is for Helio.
“Having been a part of Team Penske for 21 years, finishing second in the championship — I don’t know how many times in IndyCar — three Indy 500 wins but never a championship, always slipping away…
“To be able to do that in our last year together, after all he’s given me, to be able to contribute in a small way to his amazing career is the most special thing for me.
“I’ve met some really special people throughout my racing career and he’s going to be the top of my list for sure.”