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Castroneves Shifting Career Gears

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 4 2017

Helio Castroneves and Team Penske made it official on Wednesday. The Brazilian driver will move to sports cars in 2018.

Helio Castroneves and Team Penske confirmed Wednesday the longtime Verizon IndyCar Series star is leaving open-wheel racing to join the organization’s new Acura Team Penske program that will begin competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018.

Castroneves will partner with previously-announced drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron in racing one of two Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International (DPi) entries next season. Acura Team Penske’s final fulltime and endurance drivers will be announced at a later date.

“I’ve still got a lot more fuel to burn. Now I’m going to be burning it in a sports car,” Castroneves quipped during a teleconference with team-owner Roger Penske.

Castroneves officially will return to sport car competition, joining fellow-Penske drivers Montoya and Simon Pagenaud, at this weekend’s 20th Anniversary Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta driving an ORECA-07.  The team will make its competition debut with the new Acura prototype sports cars at IMSA’s 2018 season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in January at Daytona International Speedway. 

Petit Le Mans is set for Saturday on the 2.54-mile/12-turn Road Atlanta layout in Braselton, Ga.  The 10-hour event will run from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. (EDT).

In addition to his sports car duties, Castroneves will continue to compete for Team Penske in next May’s Indianapolis 500 as the popular Brazilian continues his pursuit to become a four-time winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Castroneves will run the entire Month of May schedule at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the facility’s 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course and the 102nd edition of the 500 on the 2.5-mile oval. Penske said Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 champion who ran the same one-off Indy program last May, is free to negotiate with another team for an Indy 500 ride in 2018.

Castroneves finished second to Takuma Sato, then of Andretti Autosport, by 0.2011-seconds during the 101st edition of the Indy 500 on May 28.

“Certainly for me along with Roger, I’m excited about this new program,” Castroneves said. “When Roger and I sat down a year ago we talked about several things. I felt this program, with the family I have started at Team Penske…it’s my passion, it’s in my blood. It will continue my racing career. I’m excited for this opportunity.

“For me as a kid, all I wanted to do is drive. That’s my goal and having the opportunity to be with an incredible organization and Roger, it means more than anything people can understand. For me it’s a no-brainer.”

Citing sponsorship among other factors, Penske confirmed he will field a fulltime three-car program in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018 for reigning series champion Josef Newgarden, 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud and 2014 series champ Will Power.

“Helio has been a valuable member of Team Penske for almost 20 years and we are looking forward to sharing more success together,” Penske said. “Competitors like Helio, Rick Mears and Mark Donohue are what have made Team Penske what it is today. This represents a new challenge for him and I know he’s excited about the opportunity. Having established winning drivers like Helio and Juan, teaming up with young and talented racers that know the series like Dane Cameron, will help give our new sports car program a solid foundation as we head into the 2018 season.

“As we manage our business, we always have a plan. I sat down with Helio at the beginning of 2016 and talked about his future and the future of his team and a potential sports car program and his availability. Until we had a firm contract with Honda we were unable to make a commitment. To me, this gives Helio a longer future in his racing career. He’s the ultimate team-player.”

Castroneves will transition to the Penske sports car program after 18 successful seasons with the organization’s Verizon IndyCar Series team. Castroneves finished fourth in this year’s championship standings, marking the 14th time in his career that he has placed inside the top-five in the season-ending rankings. Over the course of his 20-year INDYCAR career, Castroneves has recorded 30 wins and 50 pole positions, including one win and three poles in 2017.

 Considered one of the all-time greats in INDYCAR history, Castroneves has earned more wins than any driver in the history of Team Penske’s championship open-wheel racing program. He has three victories in the Indianapolis 500, including back-to-back wins in his first two starts in 2001 and 2002. He last won at Indianapolis in 2009 and has come remarkably close to earning a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory, finishing second twice over the last four seasons.

 In addition to his INDYCAR success, Castroneves also has made five starts for Team Penske in sports car competition. He has produced two poles, three podium finishes and a class victory in the 2008 Petit Le Mans event.

“I’ve been fortunate to achieve a lot of my personal goals with Team Penske over the years,” said Castroneves, 42, the longest-tenured driver in team history. “Helping Roger, the team and everyone with Acura start this program and build it from the ground-up will be another big challenge and a great opportunity in my career. I’m proud of everything we have accomplished together in INDYCAR and now I am focused on helping to develop the ARX-05 to try and win the 24 Hours of Daytona and the IMSA championship in 2018 with Acura.

“I’m also excited to get a chance to race again for Team Penske at the Indianapolis 500. That race is near and dear to my heart and trying to become the fourth four-time winner is something I really want to accomplish in my career.  We’ve come so close the last few years and with this team, I know we will have a great opportunity to try and make some history.”

The Acura ARX-05 (Acura Racing experimental, generation 5) is the latest in a line of endurance prototypes to be fielded by the company dating to 1991, just five years after the 1986 launch of the Acura brand.  Based upon the successful ORECA 07 chassis, the new ARX-05 prototype features Acura-specific bodywork and utilizes the race-proven, production-based Acura AR35TT twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine.  

Penke’s multi-year program will be administered by Honda Performance Development, the racing arm for both Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing in North America.

This Petit entry will give the team a chance to experience a full-race weekend prior to making its debut with the Acura ARX-05 program.

“We’ve had this race on our radar for some time, but we wanted to wait until we were able to get our drivers some testing at Road Atlanta prior to committing, as it’s a very fast track and these cars are very different to drive from an Indy car,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said. “Unfortunately, we confirmed this the hard way as we have had to totally rebuild our car after an incident during testing.  ORECA have bent over backwards to be sure we receive everything we need as they understand the importance of this race as our team prepares for the debut of our Acura ARX-05s at the Daytona 24.

 “Juan has participated in the majority of our prototype tests since we announced him as one of our fulltime Acura drivers. We would also like to involve our other drivers in the program whenever possible.  Helio and Simon have good experience in prototypes at Road Atlanta, so they seem like a natural fit to participate in the Petit for us.”  

In addition to his open-wheel experience, Pagenaud has a vast background in sports car competition. He earned 10 American Le Mans Series wins between 2009 and 2013, including a class win in the 2010 Petit Le Mans while racing for Acura.  Pagenaud also earned four wins while driving for Peugeot _ including two at Spa in Belgium and two at Silverstone in England _ and is a former pole-sitter for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“It’s a bit of a homecoming to get back into a prototype car,” said Pagenaud, whose recent win at the Sonoma IndyCar Series finale led to a second-place finish in the championship behind Team Penske’s Newgarden. “They are great cars to drive and to be paired with Juan and Helio in an endurance event is going to be a lot of fun. This is a chance for me to help Team Penske prepare for next year, while seeing what things we can learn and where we can improve right now.”

###

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and current FOX NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon will return to sports car racing Saturday, working in the FOX Sports booth for IMSA’s 20th Anniversary Motul Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta.

“Kicking-off the 2017 IMSA season driving the Cadillac prototype and winning the 24 Hours with Wayne Taylor Racing was such a thrill for me,” said Gordon, an overall winner at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing and teammates Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli. The team’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. sits atop the Prototype class heading into the weekend.

A 39-car field is expected at Petit Le Mans, the season-finale for both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup. The race marks Team Penske’s return to sports car racing with a prototype to be shared by Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Gordon will join the FOX IMSA broadcast team of Greg Creamer (play-by-play), Calvin Fish (analyst) and Brian Till (play-by-play/analyst), along with pit reporters Justin Bell, Jamie Howe and Chris Neville. Howe will host the pre-race show beginning at 10:30 a.m. (EDT). Green-flag racing is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. As part of FOX Sports coverage, 13 in-car cameras will be in-play throughout the field.

Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans broadcast schedule (all times EDT and subject to change): 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. (FS1); 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (FS2); 2:30 to 5 p.m. (FOX Sports GO); 5 to 9:30 p.m. (FS2). FOX Sports offers flag-to-flag streaming coverage on FOX Sports GO with FS1 authentication.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 4 2017
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