INDIANAPOLIS – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves felt a little out of place Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He wasn't exactly sure where Meyer Shank Racing set up shop in Gasoline Alley and when he did arrive, the hot pink driver's suit certainly looked bright. It's something he'll get used to by May.
First, though, the popular Brazilian has some real work to do — like getting a new team, a new car and a new routine.
“I need to run," Castroneves said after Thursday's abbreviated first test session on the historic 2.5-mile oval. “I don't really care about the speed, that will come. But we still have to get the pedal position down and all of those sorts of things. We need to start running and we need to get in rhythm."
He spent the past 21 seasons driving for Team Penske, though he had run primarily in sports cars the last four seasons. In August, he competed in his first 500 for Arrow-McLaren SP — his first Indy start in a non-Penske car.
Now Castroneves has a six-race IndyCar schedule as he tries to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the 500.
“I hope we can connect," Castroneves said. “Some things might not work because every team has its own style, its own way but at the end of the day everyone wants to get to the same place."
That would be victory lane.
But the priority for many drivers Thursday wasn't speed. They just wanted to shake down the cars and figure out some of the new aerodynamic pieces would impact the racing on IndyCar's fastest track. They may do more in the second test session Friday.
The higher boost push-to-pass levels that were tested by four drivers in March and drew complaints from all four were not used Thursday.
“Today’s a very interesting day,” said Larry Foyt, president of A.J. Foyt Racing. “I think teams will be feeling out who’s doing what and when you come back in May you have to be able to unload well.”
Others, like Castroneves and Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, were simply trying to get in sync with new teams.
The 32-year-old de Silvestro hopes to make her sixth career Indy start May 30 — her first since 2015. She was Indy's rookie of the year honor in 2010 and now drives the No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO Chevrolet for Paretta Autsoport, a female-dominant team owned by Beth Paretta.
And though Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay's early crash halted testing for about 15 minutes and rain cancelled the final 30 minutes of Thursday's first group, it was a busy day — on and off the track.
Twenty-one drivers started turned including familiar names such as Brazil's Tony Kanaan, Canada's James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi of California. Two-time race winner Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia, did not make it onto the track initially because of the rain. But when the track dried, series officials extended the test hours and Montoya did turn laps.
It was a busy day away from the track, too.
Foyt's team announced it hired JR Hildebrand, the 500 runner-up in 2011, to drive its fourth car in the race. Hildebrand will drive the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet in a throwback paint scheme to the car Foyt drove to the first of his four victories in 1961.
Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing unveiled the No. 48 American Legion Honda that Kanaan will use for the two May races at Indy. The Indy Grand Prix is scheduled for May 15.
And by then, Castroneves may have a tailor-made accessory ready for fans.
“How about a T-shirt that says ‘It's good to be pink,'" Castroneves said. “You know I've been here before but this feels like a new day at school."
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