By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine
Although the winning car at the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona had four drivers sharing driving duties, one in particular stood out. First among equals as it were. 46-year-old Helio Castroneves, coming off of a tumultuous past couple of seasons (being demoted from IndyCar, then departing Penske Racing after winning the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech Championship DPi drivers title), has been reborn. Teaming with Wayne Taylor Racing at the 2021 running of the Rolex 24, Helio won the race overall for Acura. He followed that up by signing with Meyer Shank Racing for the Indianapolis 500 – which he won for a record tying 4th time. Why stop there? Michael Shank brought Helio along as part of his Acura DPi effort at the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona and Helio proceeded to win that race as well.
Not bad for a guy who had no idea what he would be driving (if anything) after winning that IMSA championship in 2020.
And of course, Helio was in the car at the finish and held off a hard charging Ricky Taylor in the Konica Minolta Acura (the team and his teammate from his 2021 victory).
The man is a force of nature. He surrounds himself with an aura of positivity that seems to rub off on everyone he comes in contact with. We have little doubt that he will secure that record 5th Indy 500 victory – the man is still as fast as ever and his competitive fire is far from fading out.
The 60th Anniversary running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona is now in the history books, and history was indeed made at Daytona International Speedway, as the very popular Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian team took their Acura DPi to Victory Lane after a very eventful race. The first round of the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship certainly made up for the chilly air temperatures with very hot competition throughout the entire 24-hour race. In the end, the overall race win was only determined for sure with the drop of the checkered flag, with the #60 Acura besting the Konica Minolta Acura DPi by only 3.028 seconds.
That 3.028 second victory was in doubt right until the final chicane of the last lap, when the two leading GTD-PRO Porsches of Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet tangled at the Bus Stop (now renamed the “Le Mans Chicane”) on the final lap, with Vantoor spinning right in front of Helio’s Acura.
Helio: “I saw nothing, which was absolutely dirt. And then I felt a lot of things, like changing my underwear was one of them…I was like all over the place. And thank God that car was just, kept skidding from straight and did stop right away…and thank God I had a little bit of a gap between me and Ricky so that I could plan that. But it was very scary. I don’t think any moment of the race (was) that kind of scary scenario until that time.”
The Michael Shank headed team secured their 2nd Rolex 24 win, exactly 10 years after winning the 50th anniversary of the legendary Florida endurance race for the first time in 2012.
The winning driving team of Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud covered 761 laps of the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway high banks and road course on their way to winning. It was the first Rolex win for Pagenaud, the first win (and debut Rolex 24 race) for Blomqvist, second win (and first overall) for Oliver Jarvis, who won the GT class driving an Audi R8 LMS in 2013. And of course, it was the second win in as many years for ageless Helio Castroneves. He won the race in 2021, also driving an Acura DPi, only then for this year’s second place finisher Wayne Taylor Racing.
The Wayne Taylor Konica Minolta Acura team was going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Rolex 24 victory, and came very close to pulling it off. The Konica Minolta driving team of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens overcame an early puncture that dropped them off the lead lap to come back and challenge for the win in the last hour of the race.
As a matter of fact, this race was very closely contested the entire 24 hours among the DPi ranks, with all 7 DPi cars leading the race at one point or another.
For Helio Castroneves, who at age 46 continues to win and win and win the big races, it was another triumph. After winning the Rolex 24 in 2021 he went on to win his record tying 4th Indianapolis 500 and has now added a second Rolex 24 to his resume.
Helio: “It’s taken momentum. When Ricky (Taylor) and I won the championship in 2020, me winning the Rolex last year, and then jumping with Mike (Shank) and Jim (Meyer) for the Indy 500, we knew – it’s all about, it sounds cliché, but it’s all about belief. I believe in them; they believe in me. This is exactly what’s happened with this group here.”
With the new rules and new cars (now to be called GTP) coming in 2023, the IMSA teams will be eligible to run their cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a fact not too far from the thoughts of Helio. “Mike – let’s go to Le Mans. Let’s go!”
And then Frenchman Simon Pagenaud chimed in: “I speak French.”
Michael Shark responded: “Le Mans for us is a little bit, for sure we want to go. And it’s also up to Honda and Acura and HPD. So they’re our corporate partner. When they’re ready to go, we’re going.”
Topping off the outstanding overall win, Helio, who drove the final stint and took the checkered flag, stopped his winning Acura on the start/finish line, climbed out of the car and proceeded to do his “Spiderman” routine and climbed the fence (along with Mike Shank and his co-drivers and crew), to the absolute delight of the crowd in the grandstand.
A movie scriptwriter couldn’t have written a better ending to this race.