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Friday favourite: The Brazilian duo that ended Penske's longest drought

Team Penske had endured a period in the doldrums in late 1990s Indycar racing with underperforming chassis, engines and tyres. But that changed when Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves were paired up in 2000 to race its Reynard-Hondas on Firestone tyres. The two forged a lifelong friendship that prompts Castroneves to pick his countryman as his favourite team-mate

Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves

There is no one who had quite the impact on the career of Helio Castroneves as Gil de Ferran did. The two Brazilians first met in the mid-1990s. Castroneves joined Paul Stewart Racing for British Formula 3 in 1995 just as de Ferran left the squad’s Formula 3000 operation for his rookie CART season, and they became team-mates in 2000 for a struggling Team Penske, which had failed to produce a win or pole in either of the previous two seasons in CART.

At the time, de Ferran was already an accomplished race winner, while Castroneves was still seeking his maiden victory at that level, having joined the team from Hogan Racing after the death of de Ferran's intended team-mate Greg Moore at Fontana.

“When I was young, I never won a race and he sort of was battling for championships,” recalls Castroneves. “Finally I said, ‘I’ve got to follow this guy. I’ve got to learn from this guy.’ And he definitely put me on the right path.”

PLUS: The dramatic changes that curtailed Penske's drought

From 2000 until de Ferran's retirement in 2003, the duo led Team Penske to a staggering 20 race wins and 25 pole positions, with de Ferran claiming back-to-back CART championships in 2000 and 2001 prior to the team switching over to the Indy Racing League. Meanwhile, Castroneves became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in his first two starts (2001 and 2002), and de Ferran won the 2003 edition of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ to make it three in a row at Indy for Team Penske.

Castroneves and de Ferran notched up a hat-trick of Penske wins at the Indy 500 between them in 2001-2003

Photo by: Walt Kuhn / Motorsport Images

Castroneves and de Ferran notched up a hat-trick of Penske wins at the Indy 500 between them in 2001-2003

Those early days set up a lifelong friendship. For Castroneves, even with a plethora of quality team-mates to choose from, de Ferran still stands out.

“I became good friends with Gil,” says Castroneves, who won a record-equalling fourth Indy 500 in 2022 for Meyer Shank Racing and has claimed victory in each of the last three seasons at the Daytona 24 Hours. “I learned a lot from him at the beginning of my Penske days. We’re still friends to this day, so if I have to pick one it’s him.

"I had tremendous team-mates. Ryan Briscoe was another fantastic guy. Will [Power] was another. Simon [Pagenaud]. It’s hard to just pick one" Helio Castroneves

Friday favourite: Gil de Ferran picks his favourite team-mate

“But I had tremendous team-mates. Ryan Briscoe was another fantastic guy – I still like him very much. Will [Power] was another. Simon [Pagenaud]. It’s hard to just pick one. I always got along well with my team-mates.

“Even Sam Hornish Jr, we had a lot of competition prior to being team-mates and inside the team, but in the end we were sort of on good terms with each other, which I like. So, [with] all of them, I didn’t have any issues.”

The pair remain firm friends over 20 years on since they first became team-mates

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz / Motorsport Images

The pair remain firm friends over 20 years on since they first became team-mates

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