Keselowski would welcome Castroneves IndyCar title for Penske

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Roger Penske has made a big splash with the signing of Juan Pablo Montoya to his IZOD IndyCar Series team for 2014, announced earlier Monday. But Penske, of course, can still win his first IndyCar title since 2006 this year with Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian currently leads the standings by 49 points over Scott Dixon with three races remaining.

Penske has the chance to win back-to-back titles, albeit in different series, for the first time since 2007 and 2008. Penske won back-to-back P2 class titles with its Porsche RS Spyder in the American Le Mans Series; Penske’s last back-to-back in open-wheel came in 2000 and 2001 with Gil de Ferran.

Brad Keselowski notched Penske’s first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship a year ago and discussed the possibility of what a Castroneves title could mean in 2013.

“He’s been close a lot of times but come up short for a variety of reasons,” Keselowski told me in a phone interview Saturday. “It would probably mean more to him than Roger. He’s won the Indy 500 and other things outside of racing, with ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

“It would be great to see him to get the championship accomplished, because it’s a different kind of accomplishment. You know it’s more about the season’s worth of work. I’d like to see him get that reward and see what it’s like to get that success from all his years worth of work.”

Additionally, Keselowski tweeted his welcome to Montoya for IndyCar on Monday.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.