INDIANAPOLIS — Helio Castroneves is back in the NTT IndyCar Series. He now hopes, he doesn’t leave again. See, after Team Penske started a sports car program for the 2018 season, it cost the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion his ride too.
Luckily, Penske had a seat for him with the upstart IMSA program though as well. It was up to Castroneves to if he wanted to pursue a full time seat to remain in the series or to stay with Penske in sports cars with a one-off Indy effort after.
Castroneves, chose Penske option because why not? He so desperately wanted a fourth Indy 500 crown and Penske gave him the best chance of doing so.
But, with Penske now shutting the doors of the sports car program after just three years and them wanting to bring Scott McLaughlin over here, it’s in turn costing Castroneves not only his seat in IMSA but his one off in INDYCAR too.
For the first time in decades, the popular Brazilian driver is left searching for a ride away from Penske. That’s what makes this weekend so rare for him. It’s the first since that fateful day on Halloween of 1999.
Castroneves was part of that race at Fontana with Hogan Racing. It’s the last he’s been in an INDYCAR race not of a member of Team Penske. Unfortunately, Greg Moore was tragically killed in a frightening crash. Moore, was set to drive for Penske starting in 2000.
Castroneves, ended up taking the ride instead. 310 consecutive starts with Penske later, he’s back at Indy, on the road course, for two races with a new team – Arrow McLaren SP.
Castroneves, is filling in for the Harvest Grand Prix for Oliver Askew. The rookie driver is out with concussion like symptoms. Helio, got the nod to come fill in for relief. It’s the first time that he’s showed up to Indy without a paycheck from Roger Penske.
“First it’s great,” Castroneves said on his return to Indy. “I had a great conversation with Oliver (Askew) this morning and you can see that he has a bright future ahead of him. It’s great he’s taking care of this and his health.
“For me, being in this position is definitely different. First time. I’m excited. I’m excited because it’s a different brand, a different team. A different group of people. It’s great to be back in Indianapolis. I’m just soaking everything in. It’s great to be back at the racetrack.
“I can’t thank enough of Roger and Cindric for allowing me to do this.”
They didn’t have to allow this. Castroneves is still technically under contract with Penske until seasons end and the IMSA season isn’t over with yet. Penske, is allowing Castroneves to race against him this weekend in a race that could be an audition for a seat in 2021.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” Castroneves said on if he’s treating this as a potential audition. “A good result certainly wouldn’t hurt. At the end of the day, there’s such a short time so I’m ready to embrace the challenge.”
Gil de Ferran has a big role with the team and could have a good voice of recommendation to have his former Penske teammate as a driver with them for next year.
First, it’s to Indy to where Castroneves has been so good here on the road course.
“I think the environment that suits me. This place Indianapolis whether the oval or the road course is great. Hopefully we are able to get back just like on a bicycle and ready to go.”