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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the NTT IndyCar Series began its 2021 season in St. Petersburg, Helio Castroneves was a spectator. He was the grand marshal for the race in 2018, which was his first season without a full-time ride in IndyCar.

It’s an experience that he would rather forget.

“It was absolutely horrible,” Castroneves said. “I remember the first year in 2018, Will Power and everyone when I was the grand marshal was like “ya, you should be here” and I said, “thanks, that doesn’t help.”

Castroneves, then with Team Penske, was moved to the team’s IMSA Sportscar effort that year, a move he enjoyed but at the same time held a yearning to be back in IndyCar. Four years later he returns to the series full-time with Meyer Shank Racing not even a year after winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 with the team in a part-time ride.

“I’m looking forward so much for this weekend,” he said. “Super excited about St. Pete finally is here. The last three years I actually was going to St. Pete just to watch it, and now finally I’ll be back to be in action.”

He’s confident he still knows his way around despite having not run any races in any series at all on the street circuit since his last race in 2017.

“They might have some new patches here and there, but at the end of the day, the layout is the same,” Castroneves said. “I do believe the experience that I have there will still apply, even though I haven’t been there for three years, three or four years. At the end of the day, a racetrack is a racetrack.”

With Meyer Shank, Castroneves is teaming up once again with his former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. He says the partnership between him and Pagenaud is refreshing knowing that he is entering a new team with an experienced driver so there won’t be a learning curve for either of them.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will start at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday to begin IndyCar’s 2022 campaign.

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