The next era of Helio Castroneves’ racing career is being greeted with the same enthusiasm that has been the hallmark of his 20 years in Indy cars.
“We’ll go to the next chapter of my life,” Castroneves said after Team Penske announced today he will move from a full-time schedule in the Verizon IndyCar Series to sports cars in 2018 but will continue to compete in the Indianapolis 500. “I’m really excited. It’s the same racing, but a little bit different. I enjoy challenges, and this is going to be a good one.”
Castroneves, 42, has won 30 Indy car races, including three Indy 500s. Every race win has come since he joined Team Penske in 2000, making him the team’s most successful driver in its Indy car history that reached 50 years this season.
Castroneves will move to a Team Penske Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International (DPi) next year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where he’ll team with Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron in a two-car effort.
“For me, it’s a new era,” Castroneves said. “You just had Josef Newgarden, a young American, win the (Verizon IndyCar Series) championship (for Team Penske). He’s already a star. People come up. It’s the natural way things happen. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but certainly I enjoyed the time. I took advantage of every opportunity I had.”
While the move takes Castroneves out of the picture for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, it keeps him in the sport’s crown jewel that still motivates him. In 17 Indy 500s, Castroneves has finished on the podium seven times, including victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009. Three drivers – A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – share the record with four Indy 500 victories.
“I’m excited about this new program with Acura and Team Penske,” Castroneves said. “When Roger and I sat down about a year ago, we talked about several things. … Roger gave me the option. ‘What do you want to do? We can continue to move forward. Whatever you want to do.’
“My career has been building to this. I’m excited.”
Penske, Castroneves’ race strategist for Indy car races, said his contribution to the team will continue.
“He’s the ultimate team player,” Penske said. “You’ve never seen him without a smile. He’s gone through some tough times in his career. We’ve stood beside him and he’s always stood beside us when we didn’t deliver a car or a team effort that was required to win.”
Since his first Indy car race with Bettenhausen Racing in 1998, Castroneves has amassed impressive numbers in the record book, which combines statistics from various sanctioning bodies that have overseen open-wheel, Indy-style racing. He has:
- 30 victories, which ranks 12th all time.
- 50 pole positions, which is tied for third all time with Team Penske teammate Will Power. Only Mario Andretti (67) and Foyt (53) have more.
- 6,037 laps led, which ranks fourth all time, trailing only Mario Andretti, Foyt and Michael Andretti.
- 93 podium finishes, which ranks sixth all time.
- 41 second-place finishes, second only to Mario Andretti’s 56.
- 305 laps led at Indy, which is 17th all time.
- 344 starts, which ranks third all time.
- Two of the top 10 consecutive start streaks, including a 193-race streak from 1998 to 2008 that ranks fifth all time.
- 13 finishes among the top four in the final standings.
- 141 top-five finishes, which is tied for third all time with Al Unser Jr. and Scott Dixon. Only Mario Andretti (194) and Foyt (149) have more.
Since he joined Team Penske before the 2000 season, the affable Brazilian has moved into a leadership role that often made him the face of the team.
“It’s a relationship,” said Penske, whose cars have won the Indy 500 a record 16 times and earned 15 season championships. “He became a part of the Team Penske family. He created an atmosphere within the team. When you’ve got three or four guys on a team, you need someone in there with some common sense to cool everyone down. Helio has been that resource for me for many years.”
Penske confirmed that the team doesn’t plan on a full-time replacement in the No. 3 Chevrolet in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Instead, Team Penske will field three full-time drivers -- Power, Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden. Each has won a championship in the past four seasons. It will field four cars for the Indy 500, Penske said, meaning Montoya won’t have a Penske ride for the 102nd running of the race.
Castroneves will join Montoya and Pagenaud this weekend in the 20th anniversary Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. They will drive an ORECA LMP2 this weekend in the DPi class since the Acura prototypes won’t be ready for competition until 2018.
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