Is it possible to be the runner-up finisher in the championship, yet be somewhat overshadowed entering the dawn of the new year?
For Team Penske’s stalwart and longtime flagship driver, Helio Castroneves, it is… kind of. Because the words “Castroneves” and “overshadowed” should rarely, if ever, be used in the same sentence to describe the ebullient Brazilian, who’s one of the faces of IndyCar.
But as it is, Penske made the signing splash to kick off IndyCar’s silly season with the recruiting of Juan Pablo Montoya to the team in September, back from NASCAR, to drive a third car. Montoya’s frequent preseason testing in his re-acclimation back to open-wheel racing has been a key headline.
Then Will Power finished 2013 on a tear, winning three of the final five races, and has participated in many of Penske and IndyCar’s offseason projects. Power, whose dry humor is finally being recognized at large, has starred in Team Penske’s “The Penske File” series of videos, and also done some work for IndyCar’s social media this winter. With his primary sponsor Verizon, there’s a lot of activation to be done with the Australian.
Castroneves has been featured this offseason as well. He’s 38 entering the year and into his 15th full-time season with Penske since joining in 2000.
Some of the familiar story lines and same goals exist entering 2014, as he has had each year for the past five.
Win that elusive fourth Indianapolis 500. And win that elusive first series championship.
“Yesterday’s news,” Castroneves joked, acutely, during IndyCar media day in Orlando.
“(For the title) I have the right line with God, to be honest, and with the Pope, too, especially with John Paul,” he said. “He said, ‘When the time comes.’”
And the time nearly came in 2013, in a season that saw Castroneves nearly reach the peak of the summit after one of the best seasons of his career.
Castroneves scored a win at Texas and was the model of consistency, with top-10 finishes in all but one of the first 16 races. He had finished every lap through that point, too.
Of course, the Houston double-header weekend was a painful one. Despite his and the team’s efforts, they came up short two weeks later at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
But Castroneves is bullish about 2014. In short, his old sparring partner from the CART days has amplified the determination within the Team Penske operation. The level of respect is mutual between Castroneves and JPM, and his new presence should push the team forward.
“I feel we’re in a different phase of our lives, there is a lot going around, and we’ve accomplished a lot in our career,” Castroneves said. “I guess you can call that mature.
“Honestly, it’s amazing to have him in our side. He’s been an incredible addition, and I mean that. He’s definitely going to be a tough competitor.
“Most of what I noticed, which I knew he would be quick adapting on the car, but most of it’s the information that he brought, that I was very surprised and happy about. Certainly it’s going to make our cars better.”
Castroneves and Montoya are also two of the “name” drivers in the series, whose presence extends beyond the borders of the I-465 corridor (bubble) that IndyCar sometimes finds itself in.
They’re in the older guard, but they’re both iconic in American open-wheel history. Castroneves relishes the role he’ll need to play from that standpoint this year, as fellow veteran Dario Franchitti was forced to retire in the offseason due to injury.
“Dario, for me, I can’t say for others, but for me he was certainly an amazing competitor, an amazing driver first of all,” Castroneves said. “Second, my competitors, they make me better. Not having Dario, for sure I’m not going to be as good as I was before.”
Internally, the bonding appears to be there. Castroneves said he, Montoya and Power have all worked well throughout testing and are starting to develop that key word in racing: chemistry.
“What I’m actually happy about so far, is we seem to be speaking in the same way, which is one way: win for Roger. We want to win this title as bad as anybody else,” he said.
And about that title. It’s been since 2006, when Sam Hornish Jr. captured the crown, that Team Penske has won the IndyCar Series championship.
Montoya’s 1999 CART title achieved with Chip Ganassi Racing is the only combined one in the bank for the three of them.
But the odds of a Penske title are better with the third full-time car added. Castroneves certainly has the desire and the determination to go one better in 2014 – perhaps on the strength of better qualifying efforts and converting a few of those 2013 top-10s into 2014 top-fives.
Say this much, though. You’ll hear plenty from Castroneves throughout the year, and likely, he’ll be working tirelessly to be at the head of the Penske queue in 2014.
Ken Block’s latest adventure with his 1965 Ford Mustang ‘Hoonicorn’ RTR didn’t involve a traditional type of course. It did, however, include the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
The release and details about “Climbkhana” presented by Toyo Tires for the film co-directed by veteran creative man, photographer and Porsche enthusiast Jeff Zwart is below.
Climbkhana presented by Toyo Tires, is the next generation of Ken Block’s wildly successful and award winning Gymkhana series of viral videos. The all-new concept is a hybrid of the driving showcased in the previous films, blended with a rally-road style attack on unique roads around the world. To kick off this new series, Ken Block chose what is arguably one of the most famous roads out there: The Pikes Peak Highway outside Colorado Springs, CO.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the most well known hill climb in the world, Billed as America’s second oldest, continually running race (the Indianapolis 500 is first), it’s also one of the first places Block ever raced in his career.
“When I was young, I caught the The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on TV once or twice,” said Block. “Even as a kid I remember dreaming about racing there some day because it looked so epic. Eventually I did, back in 2005, but it was in a Group N rally car which didn’t have much power up in that high and thin air! It was an underwhelming experience because of the horsepower issue, but I loved the road and mountain – and I had always wanted to go back and do it right. So, to drive it like I get to drive in my Gymkhana videos – and do it in the Hoonicorn with 1,400 horsepower – well, that truly is a dream come true!”
For Block, filming Climbkhana at Pikes Peak was a unique opportunity. While the road closes once a year for the Hill Climb, no one has ever been given the access to turn the landmark location into a playground. For production duties, Block once again brought his long-time friend and business partner at Hoonigan, Brian Scotto, to direct, but they also added a new face to the Hoonigan Media Machine formula: Eight-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Champion and Radical Media Director Jeff Zwart.
“I have raced at Pikes Peak for 16 years and through the years I thought I had seen everything, but to witness Ken’s skills on basically my home mountain and get to direct him at the same time, it was truly something amazing,” explains Jeff Zwart, Climbkhana’s co-director. “Nothing but respect for him and his whole team, both on the racing side and production side!”
To tackle the extreme elevation gains experienced along the way up Pikes Peak, Block knew that he needed more horsepower for his 1965 Ford Mustang Hoonicorn RTR. So, Hoonicorn V2 was born. A 1,400 horsepower, twin-turbo, methanol-fueled machine that lights up its sticky Toyo Proxes R888R tires in every corner and properly updates the infamous build made famous in Gymkhana SEVEN, Wild in the Streets Los Angeles. Unfortunately, extreme engine builds and altitudes can prove challenging. Block and his crew experienced multiple production setbacks, having to go to the mountain on three separate occasions over 12 months due to both weather and development issues to be able to finish the film.
“This car is insane,” said Block. “I feel it genuinely wants to kill me! Before we added the twin turbos, it was the most fun car I’ve ever driven. Now it’s still quite fun to drive, but it melts tires ridiculously quick. To have this thing be such a beast and then take it to this very dangerous mountain, well, I thought I’d maybe finally taken on a project that might be too much for me to handle. This is the most powerful AWD-type car in the world to be driven this way, so I’m genuinely glad I didn’t die making this video!”
Toyo Proxes R888R tires deliver the enhanced grip and stability Block needs when maneuvering the 1,400-horsepower Hoonicorn V2 around the famous curves of Pikes Peak. Learn more about the Proxes R888R DOT competition tire and find a dealer at toyotires.com/tires/competition-tires.
The film was produced by Hoonigan Media Machine and premiered last night at The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. It is presented by Toyo Tires, Ford and Pennzoil. To watch it now, click the link below.
Even without racing, IndyCar has a busy 2017-’18 offseason ahead
So, there’s been a full week now complete since the Verizon IndyCar Series season ended at Sonoma Raceway. The offseason is now underway.
Almost all the first round of pieces have been written or filmed in the wake of Josef Newgarden’s popular first championship, achieved in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Meanwhile official news has been sparse, but figures to intensify in the coming weeks as teams need to fill seats.
And with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit now set for its final test in INDYCAR’s hands on Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway’s short course – the closest thing IndyCar has to a street course simulation – testing the new car will be a major topic over the months ahead.
Here’s what’s on tap for IndyCar’s offseason ahead:
TESTING, TESTING, 1…2…3…
As noted above, tomorrow marks the final day INDYCAR will run the testing program of the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit at Sebring’s short course, before the new kits and cars are delivered to manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet for the next couple months of testing.
Team Penske (Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Honda, Oriol Servia) have operated the cars but with INDYCAR itself dictating the testing program through the first three tests done in July and August on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (super speedway), Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (road course) and Iowa Speedway (short oval).
From here, Chevrolet and Honda have six tests each with the car through mid-November, before team testing begins in January, 2018. Teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda) and Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevrolet) will be those running the cars as part of the manufacturer testing program.
Part of the reason Spencer Pigot was confirmed by ECR as early as he was for 2018 was so that he could be part of this degree of manufacturer testing, and that’s good news for him in his development process. Pigot has already excelled driving one new car when it was introduced – the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in its first season in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – and will now have his first full offseason to do IndyCar testing of its new car. Pigot has also helped to develop sports cars for Mazda in its prototype program the last couple years. Pigot, who turns 24 on Friday, will have a key role to play for Chevrolet’s testing in the coming weeks, starting on Tuesday at Sebring.
Ganassi has only formally confirmed Scott Dixon as part of its 2018 lineup so any new driver would be testing later, once confirmed. Ganassi managing director Mike Hull outlined the testing process over the coming months below.
Chevy and Honda have 6 tests each starting next week. All teams have kit delivery early December. Team testing starts in January. https://t.co/1QdzHVoghT
The lone hold-up for the full release, which was expected out this week but NBC Sports now understands will be held a bit further, is whether Mexico will be added as an 18th race along with the 17 races set to return next year.
Given that country’s situation with its massive 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19 and its associated aftershocks, it’s not a shock that the country has slightly bigger issues to press on with at the moment.
And the good news we’ve discovered in our talks with INDYCAR officials is that we’re heading into a schedule release without a large number of lingering questions. The schedule stability and date equity assembled over the last couple years has been a welcome contrast to the fluidity in years previous.
Along with the 2018 schedule, movement on IndyCar’s future TV direction and entitlement sponsorship are likely to be big items behind-the-scenes at the INDYCAR offices. The current TV contract with NBCSN and ABC ends after 2018, as does Verizon’s tenure as title sponsor.
Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter
Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
Beyond that, there are a wealth of “all but official” scenarios including:
James Hinchcliffe all but set to stay with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Tony Kanaan set to move to Foyt
Ed Jones planning to re-up with Coyne
Max Chilton, Carlin announcing a likely step-up
Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing locking down its program
Brendon Hartley moving from sports cars into Ganassi
Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser confirming his team choice
What that means on Sept. 25 is that realistically there’s only three or four rides for 2018 yet to be determined if all those “all but official” scenarios become official in the coming weeks. Those would be the second seats at SPM and Foyt, the likely second seat at Carlin and the road/street course seat at Carpenter.
As it is, the fact most of the IndyCar grid is known or almost set before October 1 – even if many programs haven’t been officially announced – is both rare and awesome to see at the same time. Teams need as much time to test their drivers with the new kits in the offseason, and so there’s been a mad rush to get next year locked down ASAP.
It seems hard to believe, but the days of “TBA” appearing on an IndyCar entry list days before St. Petersburg may be at an end.
HELIO’S OFFICIALLY UNOFFICIAL SWAN SONG
What a couple weeks it’s been for Helio Castroneves. Despite yet another top-five finish in the championship, Castroneves’ Sonoma race felt like a goodbye to full-time competition in IndyCar, especially as he thanked members of the media in the race’s aftermath.
Still, reports emerged heading into the weekend a fourth car full-time with Team Penske was still on the table. And partners Hitachi and Pennzoil also tweeted about Castroneves and his excellent season, which Castroneves re-tweeted.
Castroneves has tested Team Penske’s new Acura ARX-05 sports car last week (video below) and his departure from full-time driving in IndyCar seems all but inevitable at this point.
Despite Castroneves’ best efforts, it appears as though he’s had his swan song. He’ll be an asset to the Penske Acura program provided he winds up there, but IndyCar would feel his loss on the full-time grid. He’s been someone to appreciate for 20 years, the last 18 at Team Penske.
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OTHER INDYCAR DRIVERS IN SPORTS CARS
With Motul Petit Le Mans set for October 7, at least three IndyCar drivers – Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay – will be in action at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Road Atlanta. Dixon and Bourdais will be third drivers in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs while Hunter-Reay will be third driver in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, with the Taylor brothers.
Petit Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona always offer up a bevy of IndyCar drivers making guest appearances in sports car land. The latter event, with Team Penske premiering the aforementioned Acura ARX-05 there, figures to have a wealth of IndyCar interest – and quite likely IndyCar drivers – split among its two cars.
WHAT OFFSEASON FUN, ANTICS ARE IN STORE?
Last year, IndyCar had James Hinchcliffe on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” to carry it through the offseason.
Some of the other items IndyCar has released in recent years included Damien Power’s offbeat “Exclusive: Behind the Scenes” interview series with drivers in 2015 and “The Offseason” digital shorts as modeled after NBC’s “The Office.”
There’s usually some degree of entertainment, fun and games that emerges from the IndyCar offices over the offseason and what the creative minds there come up with will be interesting to see.
Or, there’s always more Visor Cam, which was utilized in-race this year starting at the Indianapolis 500 through to the Sonoma finale. Thanks to IMS Productions, this was one of racing’s coolest innovations in years. Considering how much testing is scheduled, some more Visor Cam would easily satisfy the appetite of the IndyCar fan base heading into the five or six-month period without IndyCar racing.
MRTI’S OFFSEASON PLANS
We’ll have more on this separately, but the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires also has a bit to look forward to this offseason. The two key items are the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test, the traditional event that takes place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course October 20-22, and the delivery and debut for teams with the new Tatuus PM-18 chassis in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series. Some teams have taken delivery of those now in anticipation of running next month.
Driver movement will also be afoot there as the next generation of IndyCar drivers seek to position themselves for 2019 and beyond.
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NEWGARDEN SPENDS WEEKEND AS A WEDDING OFFICIANT
Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, meanwhile, had a wedding of his own to attend to this weekend – one he was a part of in an entirely different manner.
Newgarden’s longtime friends Nicholas Jordon Love and Katie Donnar got married this weekend in Indianapolis and Newgarden, who had arrived in the city a couple days earlier as part of his championship media tour, was the wedding officiant/celebrant.
So if you’re a night owl or early riser, you can watch all the Malaysian Grand Prix sessions live via NBCSN and/or the NBC Sports App. On NBCSN, free practice two is on Friday, Sept. 29, at 3 a.m. ET, qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 5 a.m. ET and pre-race coverage Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2 a.m. leading into lights out at 3 a.m. ET. Free practices one and three are on the NBC Sports App.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas team has, surprisingly, won only once in Malaysia in its history when Lewis Hamilton won in 2014. That’s also Hamilton’s only win here. But this was the site of his first podium for Mercedes, third in 2013 behind the Red Bull pairing of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, Vettel having prevailed that day in the infamous “Multi 21” team orders controversy.
A devastating engine failure for Hamilton this race last year was the death knell in his title hopes for the season, and opened the door for Daniel Ricciardo to take a surprise win for Red Bull Racing.
Vettel, who is now on the back foot in this year’s championship fight after he, teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen all collided on the run to the first turn in Singapore, is the active wins leader at Malaysia with four triumphs (2015 with Ferrari; 2010, 2011, 2013 with Red Bull).
Hamilton leads Vettel by 28 points with six races remaining as a result of Hamilton’s win and Vettel’s DNF in Singapore.
Raikkonen is twice a winner in Malaysia, having taken his maiden Grand Prix win here in 2003 with McLaren Mercedes and adding a second triumph with Ferrari in 2008.
Fernando Alonso, who became F1’s youngest polesitter at the time in that 2003 race, is the other active winner in the field, having won three times for three different teams (2005 with Renault, 2007 with McLaren and 2012 with Ferrari).
Ricciardo’s win here last year was a Red Bull 1-2 over Verstappen – the team’s most recent 1-2 finish.
Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:
Practice 1: Thursday, Sept. 28, 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
Practice 2: Friday, Sept. 29, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Practice 2 (Replay): Friday, Sept. 29, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Practice 3: Saturday, Sept. 30, 2 a.m.-3 a.m. ET (Streaming)
Qualifying: Saturday, Sept. 30, 5 a.m.-6:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 1, 2 a.m.-3 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Race: Sunday, Oct. 1, 3 a.m.-5 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 1, 5 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 1, 9 p.m.-11 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Race (Replay): Monday, Oct. 2, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
The next race is the Japanese Grand Prix, on October 8.