Motor

Castroneves gets ready for new season

Helio Castroneves finished 11th in the 2011 IndyCar point standings.
Special to FOX Sports HELIO CASTRONEVES
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Editor's Note: Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will be contributing columns for FOXSports.com during the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season. This is the first entry for the fan-favorite Brazilian and Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet driver and it comes as the teams are preparing for the March 25 season opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Spring training is the time of the year when you are preparing for the season so all the hype, taking pictures, getting new uniforms, seeing fresh paint on the cars — it’s like a big practice before the race weekend. We are really excited because there is so much good news for the IZOD IndyCar Series — a new engine, new car and a lot to be done.

I think Team Penske seems to be working really well together. Our three cars finished with the top three lap times during the first two days of spring training. Myself and my teammates, Ryan (Briscoe) and Will (Power), are collecting all the information during testing so when we go to the first race of the season, in St. Petersburg, we can have the same result. All three of us have already won at this race, so we know we can do it again. It would be great to complete the podium later this month with all three of us Team Penske drivers.

The test went really well for my Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, which set the fast time, during Team Penske’s portion of the test week. I wish we would have had all the groups together, but for our purposes, I feel we are heading in a good direction. We are still going to do one more test this week in Alabama before the first race of the season. Overall, it was a good session for Team Penske and we’re definitely happy with it.

Last year was a unique season for me and the No. 3 team. Even I don’t understand it. Our performance was a surprise — to not even be in the top 10 of the championship. But the other day, I collected my thoughts as I looked back on 2011 and realized that with a series this tough this can happen. I didn’t finish several of the races and that is why I didn’t end up in the top 10, so that is definitely a wake-up call.

With the new rules, double-file restarts and getting collected in some accidents — as well as making some mistakes myself — it was a snowball effect, and it proved that we had to find a way to snap out of it. There’s nothing like a new car and a new season to start fresh, and that’s where my focus is.

This offseason, I refocused and spoke a lot with my engineers and my team. As a group, with the new cars debuting this season, we were able to really figure out where we need to go. I have always been strongly behind my guys and they know we should be going back up to the top of the standings like we have been in the past.

MORE ABOUT HELIO

For a more in-depth look at the popular “Dancing With the Stars” champion and race-winning driver, check out his acclaimed autobiography “Victory Road: The Ride of My Life,” available through Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter at @h3lio and at heliocastroneves.com.

I’m ready. I’m really, really ready. Plus with all the test sessions we’ve had in the offseason, I have been working a lot more with the engineers instead of just relaxing and working out like I have during past offseasons. I’ve actually been talking and thinking more about racing than I have in the past few years.

For sure, the way last season ended (with the death of driver Dan Wheldon in the season finale) it was difficult, so it’s good for us to keep focused on what we love to do, which is drive race cars. When you have so much time off, especially after what happened in the final race, you start thinking about a lot of things. Some of those things just aren’t productive.

That’s why we’ve chosen to focus on developing the car, and me personally, on driving better. That’s why it’s been so good to be testing and active this offseason. I know it’s been the best medicine for me.

So the drivers are all here and ready to go. Sure, we don’t have Danica (Patrick) with us anymore, but we have Rubens (Barrichello) who is a great and very popular driver with 19 years of experience in Formula One. So I can tell you one thing — 2012 will be an exciting season.

We have one more test this week. After that, I’m heading to Los Angeles to do some promotion for the league. I’m also going to Charlotte to tape a commercial with Verizon. After that, I’ll go straight to St. Pete. It will be a very busy couple of weeks, but, hey, we’re all getting ready for the season and that’s what this time of the year is all about.

I think all three of us drivers have the same goal in mind for Team Penske in 2012. We want to bring the title back to our race shop, and we also want to experience winning again in Indianapolis. We feel like we are ready to race and we’re ready to have some fun.

Basically, “Let’s Go!”

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