Gateway: Castroneves victorious

Helio Castroneves captured the Emerson Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway despite flying blind throughout the race after his steering-wheel instrument panel went blank. The computer malfunction also affected his Marlboro Team Penske crew, which lost all telemetry readings from Castroneves' car and wasn't aware of remaining fuel during the final green-flag run

Gateway: Castroneves victorious

"It felt like flying an airplane in bad weather without any instruments," Castroneves said. "The good news is I don't know how to fly an airplane, but I do know how to drive a car. We were right there at the end."

Castroneves took the lead on the 158th lap of the 200-lap race when leader Scott Dixon stopped with a broken gearbox. Castroneves then held off Tony Kanaan - who regained the IRL IndyCar Series points lead by finishing second - and Penske team-mate Gil de Ferran. Tomas Scheckter was fourth, Dan Wheldon fifth and Sam Hornish Jr sixth while using the old Chevrolet engine.

But Castroneves' effort - without knowing when to shift or even which gear he was in - impressed the experts, leaving some calling it his best performance in a career that includes two Indianapolis 500 wins.

"It's something to be proud of when you're done," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, who guided Castroneves through the race. "To come out on top despite something like this is really impressive."

The problem wasn't related to a similar situation that happened during qualifying, when Castroneves won the pole Saturday without electronic readouts. This time, Castroneves said a computer problem was to blame.

"I didn't have anything," Castroneves said. "I was hitting the rev limiter every time I went into the corners. That's why I lost so many positions at the start of the race. Finally, I got the rhythm back and started understanding what spot on the track I needed to shift without hitting the limiter."

The steering wheel on an IRL car contains LED indicators for rpms - alerting the driver when to shift - and a numerical gear indicator. With a sequential gearbox, a driver isn't aware of which gear the car is in by feel. Instead, they often rely on the steering wheel readout.

"You really have to keep your focus and concentration," Cindric said. "I didn't talk to him much today because he's got to remember what gear he's in. You don't know if your speed limiter is on or off when you come in the pits. You don't know where the fuel is or what your lap times are. You have no references whatsoever."

As a result, Castroneves had no idea about fuel mixture, settings for the car's weight jackers, or how many laps he'd gone since his most recent pit stop.

"I kept asking, 'What do we need to do on fuel here?'" Castroneves said. "They kept saying, 'Just keep doing what you're doing.' It's one of those things that came through in a good way. Now we just have to keep working to make sure it doesn't happen again."

De Ferran said he was aware of the situation with his team-mate and impressed by the performance both on the track and in the pits. While Castroneves was driving the old-fashioned way, his crew had no data from his car.

"They told me right at the start that Helio had no dash," de Ferran said. "It turned out to be not such a big problem, the reason being that we were always coming in under yellow. Sometimes it can be very hairy, especially if you're trying to stretch the fuel under green."

Kanaan put himself back in the points lead after losing it following the race on July 27 at Michigan International Speedway. After Dixon dropped out of the race, though, Kanaan couldn't gain ground on Castroneves.

"I was pushing," Kanaan said. "I didn't back off at all. The cars were so similar. Mine was better in turn one and two, but Helio's car was better in three and four. I would catch him in one and two but wasn't strong enough in three and four."

The race was marred by a pit accident early in the race that sent one of Al Unser Jr's crew members to a hospital with multiple injuries. Bryan Herta's car was struck by another while preparing to enter his pit stall, sending Herta's car into the back of Unser's and striking the crewman.

Kelley Racing crewman Anton Julian was transferred to Saint Louis University Hospital by helicopter. He was listed in fair condition late Sunday with a concussion and injury to his right knee.

"Right now, my thoughts are with Anton," Unser said. "We're looking forward to a good report from the hospital."

The praise at the end was saved for Castroneves, who bolted from his car seconds after the finish climb the fence - his first such climb since winning the Indy 500 in 2002. Shortly afterward, team-mates told him they'd turned the computer off and then back on, restoring the telemetry on both sides of the pit wall.

"I said, 'Oh, great,'" Castroneves said with a grin. "'Thanks for that piece of news.'"

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