Helio Castroneves has confirmed that he will race for Team Penske in not only the Indy 500 but also the Indianapolis Grand Prix this May, while the following month he is hoping to make his first Le Mans 24 Hours start.
In 2018, the three-time Indy 500 winner, although a full-timer in the Acura Team Penske squad in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, raced a fourth Penske-Chevrolet at both the Indy GP on the 2.439-mile road course, as well as the 500 on the iconic oval.
Despite his relative unfamiliarity with IndyCar’s new-for-2018 aerokit – save for a half-day test at Barber Motorsports Park – Castroneves gave a good account of himself in the Grand Prix. He qualified 10th, less than 0.18sec from making it through to the Firestone Fast Six, and went on to finish sixth, less than 15sec behind winning teammate Will Power.
His Indy 500 saw him qualify and run in the Top 10 until he crashed out on Lap 146.
“Yes, I’m doing the Indy GP again to give us a little bit of a balance, little bit of a rhythm and then we’ll do the Indy 500,” Castroneves told Motorsport.com. “We need to do some changes [technically] to the car.
“But the good news is that IndyCar is not going to have many ovals again, which should help me to go in on a similar playing field to the guys who are full time.
“What happened last year… we’ve just got to fix it and hope it doesn’t happen this year, and instead get what we’re looking for.”
Asked if he is feeling more comfortable in his second year as a sportscar driver who occasionally moonlights as an IndyCar driver, he replied: “You can move me from IndyCar, but IndyCar is never going to leave me!
“But yes, I am feeling more comfortable in sportscar this year with the new Michelin tires. The difference between them and the [Firestone] tires in IndyCar is much smaller than the difference between the tires we did have [Continentals].
“I still watch IndyCar like I’m there! But at the end of the day, I am enjoying my new challenge and task, and I want that [IMSA] championship.”
Could Castroneves’ Le Mans opportunity come with RLR?
Castroneves said that should an opportunity emerge to race at Le Mans, he will take it – and with Team Penske’s blessing – having previously expressed an interest in contesting the French classic last year.
“Yeah, it’s getting close, I’m excited!” he said. “So far there’s nothing official, but hopefully an opportunity will come, and if it comes, the team [Penske] has already said I would be able to do it. I would love to experience that, for sure.”
On the subject of whether it would be with a Prototype or GT team, he responded: “I would be open to both, but an LMP car would be ideal because that’s what I’m racing now, and it doesn’t make sense to try something other what than what I’m racing now.”
One drive to which Castroneves has been linked is in the British RLR MSport squad, which is promising a big name signing for Le Mans to replace Bruno Senna.
Senna is committed to Rebellion Racing for both Le Mans and the WEC/ELMS double-header at Silverstone.
The team has admitted that Castroneves, who finished third in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last week, is in the frame to lead the driver line-up in RLR’s Oreca 07 that Senna will race in the ELMS.
But Motorsport.com is given to understand that Castroneves is not the most likely driver to fill the vacancy in the team’s Le Mans lineup, and team boss Nick Reynolds said the 43-year-old veteran was only one of several potential candidates for the ride.
“There are a number of drivers on the list and I’m confident that we are going to have a name as big as Senna’s or even bigger in the car,” Reynolds told Motorsport.com.
– additional reporting by Jamie Klein
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