DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - In the movie remake of Meyer Shank Racing's victory in the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Helio Castroneves is Cole Trickle, and Simon Pagenaud is his Harry Hyde.
Castroneves, the four-time Indy 500 winner, was leading on the final lap entering the Le Mans Chicane on the backstretch when Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor collided directly in front while battling for the GTD Pro lead.
"It was a huge cloud of smoke and a huge moment," Castroneves told NBC Sports. "It was just like 'Days of Thunder' when the guy went through the smoke and could see nothing. It was exactly like that. But thank god, when I came out, there was one car on one side, and the other car was on another, I was able to downshift, kept going and finish the lap."
Fending off former teammate Ricky Taylor in hot pursuit, Castroneves closed out his second consecutive Rolex 24 victory and celebrated with a fence climb that he and the team largely credited to Pagenaud, his IndyCar teammate who played the part of a grizzled NASCAR crew chief-style whisperer in the closing laps by relying on his sports car wisdom to coach Castroneves in anticipation of the GTD Pro battle.
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As he nervously watched Jaminet and Vanthoor furiously bang fenders, Pagenaud realized that the No. 60 Acura driven by Castroneves would catch the jousting Porsches while entering the "Bus Stop," the nickname for the backstretch chicane that is the trickiest section of the Daytona International Speedway.
"I remember being extremely stressed out, probably more than I've ever been in racing just because I have finished second in every big endurance race in my life," Pagenaud told NBC Sports. "I told the team to let Helio know what's happening ahead so he doesn't misunderstand the battle and can judge it properly. Fortunately, for us, Helio judged it perfectly. The two Porsches went off track, and he managed and still stayed in the lead.
"That will stay with me a long time because it was a high level of stress, but the team was open-minded enough to listen and allow me to relay that message to Helio, which is very unusual on a team at this level of stress at the end of a race."
Said Castroneves: "It was incredible that Simon was the one spotting the fight. He told the spotter to make sure they were letting me know and being aware. And I'm glad they did because I started backing off even with Ricky on my tail. The most difficult scenario was not being able to see it."
The victory was the second in the Rolex 24 for Mike Shank (who also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves), and it validated the team owner's decision to hire Castroneves and Pagenaud as his new full-time IndyCar drivers. Eight months later, MSR capped the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with its first title in the premier prototype category.
Shank said he loves pulling up YouTube to rewatch the Rolex 24 victory, which also featured a rebound from a punctured right rear tire that Castroneves calmly nursed to the pits for repairs.
"It makes me think about all the times when I don't think our team got respect for as good as we were," Shank told NBC Sports. "I think about those times, and it feels like redemption, and I love that. Because in a lot of people's mind, we're still the small team that can and all this stuff that I really get tired of (hearing).
"We're not a small team anymore, and we've won some of the biggest races in the world, and I can bank our results against anyone. But it's taken a long time to get that, so it makes me think how far we've come and how proud I am of the people who have been at MSR for some of them 25-26 years, what we've all done together."
Despite the switch to a new hybrid engine in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype category, MSR is off to a strong start in its title defense. Tom Blomqvist put the No. 60 on pole position for the 61st Rolex 24, which begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.
The team also has added Colin Braun, a three-time Rolex 24 class winner, to team full time with Blomqvist for a run at the championship. Just as they will in IndyCar as MSR teammates for the second consecutive year, Castroneves and Pagenaud return for MSR at Daytona to provide support both behind the wheel and on the pit box.
"When you're on the bench, that's what is really cruel about sports car racing," Pagenaud said. "And what I'm not used to on the IndyCar side because I'm always in the fire of the action. In sports cars, you tend to put yourself in the car and in the head of the driver and at that moment when I calculated Helio was going to meet them in the Bus Stop, and if I'm Jaminet or Vanthoor, I'm not thinking of anybody else than me winning the race. So they don't know it's coming. There's no way they even think of it.
"For me it was very important for me to relay that message, but I knew that Helio was going to judge it right because he's got that Brazilian magic in these moments."
Helio Castroneves recalls 'Days of Thunder' moment to win the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona originally appeared on NBCSports.com