Daytona, Forida - Helio Castroneves is one of the most popular and accomplished drivers in IndyCar Series history, but now he's about to find out if an old driver can learn new tricks. Castroneves is the anchor of Roger Penske's new sports-car team, which will make its official debut this weekend at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Penske needed a strong lineup for his new Acura team, and shipping his three-times Indianapolis 500 winner to IMSA helped solve the problem. Castroneves is a company man, so he accepted the move. The questions are how quickly he can adjust to sports cars and if his fan base, which stretches beyond racing after his winning stint on 'Dancing With The Stars', will follow him to his new venture.
"I'm learning a new style and new techniques, different cars," said Castroneves, who will be 43 in May. "This is great for me - I want to keep racing."
Castroneves was never in danger of being dropped by Penske, thanks his giving The Captain three of his record 16 victories at Indianapolis. He'll have a job as long as he wants one. He just had to be reassigned to a different department in the organisation.
"This gives Helio a longer future in his racing career," Penske said. "He's been with us as the longest tenured driver. It's a great opportunity for him, and along with this, many don't know that Helio became a business partner of mine in a major automobile dealership in Pennsylvania, and I think as I look to him and help him build his future career, I think when you put these all together, he's in the right place."
Penske has given Castroneves a seat in both the Indianapolis 500, a race he is trying to win a record-equalling fourth time, and the IndyCar road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the week before.
But the priority is absolutely on sports cars and the Acura campaign. The new two-car team will debut on Saturday when the twice-round-the-clock endurance race begins at Daytona International Speedway.
Castroneves is teamed full-time for 2018 with Ricky Taylor, who won both the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2017 and the IMSA championship, co-driving with his brother on a team fielded by his father. For the endurance races, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal will join the lineup.
Back to his roots
The second car is anchored by Juan Pablo Montoya, a double Indianapolis 500 winner and former Daytona winner who got a similar shift to sports cars from Penske. He is joined by Dane Cameron, a former IMSA champion and Daytona champion, and former IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud.
Saturday will mark the first sports-car race for a full Team Penske effort since the 1966 Daytona when Roger Penske Racing won the GT class. Penske was once a sports-car driver and was the Sports Car Club of America's 'Driver of the Year' in 1961. The return to the series was important to Penske, and the team and Acura have worked hard to get the new Acura ARX-05 DPi ready.
Making the career switch was easy for Castroneves to accept.
"When Roger and I sat down, we basically talked about several things," he said. "It was very similar situation when we were racing Champ Car and decided to go to IndyCar. Roger gave me an option, what you want to do, we can continue moving forward, whatever you want to do.
"I felt that this program, with the family I've created inside the team with the professionalism, just for me, it's my career, driving is my passion, it's in my blood, and if this can continue moving forward and prolong my racing career, I'm up for it."