Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon

Castroneves is Penske’s latest close, but no cigar, driver short of IndyCar title

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For yet another year, Team Penske and one of its drivers have come up short for the IZOD IndyCar Series title. The team’s last title came in 2006, with Sam Hornish Jr.

This year the hard-luck series runner-up is Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian finishes second in the championship for the third time in his 16-year career (2002, 2008), and has completed yet another year without garnering his elusive first series crown.

Castroneves led the points for 10 consecutive races. He took the lead from Marco Andretti at Detroit Race 2, and held it through Houston Race 1 just two weeks ago. But a second catastrophic race at Houston after his first mechanical issue dropped him 25 points behind this year’s newly crowned champion Scott Dixon, a gap he was unable to overcome this evening despite his best effort.

“We did everything we could our our side to bring home this championship,” Castroneves said. “We went for it; that was our only chance, was to be aggressive and we went with it.

“I can’t take for granted this season we had. We did everything we could to avoid mechanical failure. But the one we did is what cost us the season.”

Castroneves led three times for 27 laps in Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway but had two blows to his championship charge during the race.

The first came on lap 212, when Castroneves entered a closed pit lane per instructions from team boss and race strategist Roger Penske. He’d need to restart at the back of the remaining field on lap 216.

“There was a little bit of confusion there, and he ended up calling me to ‘Pit this lap,’” Castroneves explained. “Then I was the only one, so I had to come back again. It was a blip on the radar, not an issue for the race.”

But by lap 220 he was up to second, engaged in a fight with Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball. Although there didn’t look to be any apparent contact, Castroneves sustained damage to his right front wing endplate, and needed to pit on lap 226 to replace the nosecone assembly.

“He was going for it as well,” Castroneves said. “There was a little bit of craziness in one point. One movement I think was a little too close. It damaged my front wing. Tag came really close too. In my view it was an adventure. It was fun.”

That was it for his championship chances. And with another lost year for the team in the standings, Castroneves will have to ponder what to do next, after following Will Power (2010-2012) and Ryan Briscoe (2009) in the close-but-no-cigar category since his own last best shot in 2008 – a year he also lost the title to Dixon.

Scuderia Ferrari reveals its 2017 challenger

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Photo: Ferrari
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Scuderia Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 chassis as the launch week continues for this year’s Formula 1 cars.

Despite the loss of technical director James Allison to Mercedes and after going through an underwhelming, winless 2016 season – at least by Ferrari standards – the team looks for a bounce back this year to coincide with the new regulations.

The renamed SF70H, which follows on last year’s SF16-H, was revealed online in a quick video without any buildup or dialogue from any of the key team stakeholders.

Noticeable on this car is the shark fin element, again with a winglet on the top of it.

Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari

The launch is the first of two today, with McLaren’s reveal of the MCL32 coming in a couple hours.

More to follow…

Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor will be back at Sebring for the second day of the IMSA test, held Friday.

Great to see @simonpagenaud and @rickytaylor_10 today good job both!!

A post shared by Helio Castroneves (@heliocastroneves) on

Alexander Albon moves up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 2 December 2016.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _X0W3990
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2016 GP3 Series runner-up Alexander Albon has announced that he will move into GP2 for 2017 with ART Grand Prix, completing the team’s line-up.

Albon, 20, finished second behind Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc in GP3 last year with ART, racking up four race wins through his rookie campaign.

The Thai youngster will now continue with ART in GP2, partnering McLaren youngster Nobuharu Matsushita through 2017.

“I am really excited to be working with ART Grand Prix for a second year. I learnt a huge amount last year and we have become one big close family,” Albon said.

“Moving up to the GP2 series is an important step in anyone’s career and I am extremely fortunate to be with a top team who already understand me.

“There’s a lot to learn coming from GP3, and the experience and method of working at ART Grand Prix is the reason they have won so many titles. I hope I will continue to proudly wear Thailand’s colours and those of my faithful Thai partners.

“I look forward to the new challenge and cannot wait for the season to begin!”

The new GP2 season will begin in Bahrain on April 15.

Sergey Sirotkin set for more F1 practice chances through 2017

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport F1 in the Paddock during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sergey Sirotkin is poised to enjoy more Formula 1 practice opportunities through 2017 with Renault after the team confirmed he would continue in a reserve role.

Sirotkin, 21, joined Renault in 2016 as a test driver after previously working with Sauber and falling short in a bid to be on the grid for 2015.

The Russian enjoyed two practice run-outs through 2016 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.16, but will enjoy an expanded program in the forthcoming campaign.

“For Sergey, stability is important and we are happy to continue the development program after a very good GP2 season,” Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul said.

“He will continue to focus on his development role as a reserve, and he will have more opportunities to run in the car on Friday.

“His attention to detail and his appetite to be at the factory, looking at the simulator, his focus and his mentality, we’re happy to maintain at the team.”

Sirotkin is yet to confirm his racing plans for 2017, having spent the past two seasons in GP2, but has his sights firmly set on an F1 race seat next year.

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I said that my main target for the 2018 season is to have a seat as a Formula 1 race driver and that’s what I’m working towards,” Sirotkin said.

“I’m here to learn and be an asset to the team as well as show that I am worthy of further opportunities.”