Helio Castroneves is one of the most popular and accomplished drivers in IndyCar Series history. He is 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 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Penske needed a strong lineup for his program with Acura, and shipping his three-time Indianapolis 500 winner to IMSA helped solve the problem.
Castroneves is a company man, so he accepted the move. The questions are how quickly the Brazilian 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, this is great for me," said Castroneves, who will turn 43 in May. "I want to keep racing."
Castroneves was never in danger of being released by Penske, an honor he earned by 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 organization.
"To me, 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-tying 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 program. The two-car team will debut Saturday when the twice-round-the-clock endurance event begins at Daytona International Speedway.
Castroneves is teamed full-time this year with Ricky Taylor, who won both the Rolex last season 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.
The second car is anchored by Juan Pablo Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and former Rolex winner who got a similar shift to sports cars from Penske. He is joined by Dane Cameron, a former IMSA champion, and former IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud.
Penske has always enjoyed sports car competition, and his first event in that discipline was the 1966 Rolex when Roger Penske Racing won the GT class. Penske was once a sports car driver and won the Sports Car Club of America's "Driver of the Year" honor by Sports Illustrated 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, and for me, it was very similar situation when we raced racing Champ Car and decided to go to (IndyCar), and it was a very similar situation," Castroneves said. "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, I felt with the family that I 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 all up for it."
More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org