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Penske confirms JPM for Indy GP; all but confirms sports car effort

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Team Penske’s planned expansion into sports car racing, rumored for well over a year, is set to be formally confirmed later this year, Roger Penske said Saturday at St. Petersburg.

Additionally, one of the drivers who may be part of that program – Juan Pablo Montoya – has been confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis in a fifth Team Penske car, ahead of the Indianapolis 500 where he’d already been announced.

“We’re looking at doing some sports car work… we’d like to put all the pieces together and hopefully will have something by mid-summer if we’re going to go for next year,” Penske told a small group of assembled reporters on Saturday.

“I don’t want to wait another year, to be honest with you. We’ve waited a year now. There’s a couple of options.”

“For Juan, I’ll run him in the G.P., and we want to get him a race with our mechanics before the ‘500. We’ll run him for both the Grand Prix and the ‘500.

“If we run a sports car program he’s on the top of the list of those to drive for us. That was part of the discussion. When we talked about wanting to run him this, when we talked about doing this, he’d be at the top of the list.”

For the fifth car at the ‘500 and the Grand Prix, Team Penske believes it will be a number of existing crew members already from the team in addition to possible extra members set to be hired for the upcoming sports car program.

Right now, Montoya is the only extra ‘500 car addition also confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also working hard from a commercial standpoint to see Oriol Servia run the GP before the ‘500 as well.

Penske wouldn’t be pressed on the number of sports cars he’d run, but did say “it won’t be three.” He also said Helio Castroneves would be in the frame for a Penske sports car seat.

The likely if not formally confirmed Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform would be a car in the top class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Prototype class. This new platform made its race debut at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A couple key IMSA officials are on site in St. Petersburg today and were spotted at the Team Penske transporter area this afternoon.

Penske would love to do Le Mans, but until the DPi platform would be integrated into the regulations and be eligible to run at Le Mans – there are distinct powerplant and electronics differences between the manufacturer DPis in IMSA and the spec-LMP2 chassis in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Le Mans – a DPi is yet be eligible to do so.

“I wish Ganassi would loan me a couple cars,” he joked, in reference to Chip Ganassi’s four-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program.

“I think (DPi) is great. It’s a good series and one we’re looking at. The thing is with Balance of Performance, you’ve got multiple chassis and engines, and it’s difficult to get it right. We did it once, had gear and rpm changes, and that makes it tough.”

Hamilton, Red Bull teammates both go to NASA before USGP

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
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One of the more intriguing United States Grand Prix adventures occurred on Wednesday, as both Lewis Hamilton and the pair of Red Bull Racing teammates, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, all went to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – in separate sessions – before heading onto Austin.

Hamilton posted on his Instagram story on Wednesday that he’d “quit his day job in a second” to work at NASA and become an astronaut, and the unbridled enthusiasm spoke to the three-time Formula 1 World Champion’s love of different life aspects entirely outside of racing.

“(I) had an incredible day yesterday, having a bit of a comedown today,” Hamilton said today at the FIA Press Conference. “I was just buzzed all day yesterday because it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. It’s always something I’ve been fascinated about, space and space travel particularly.

“So to actually go there… and I had a million questions. I’m sure the guy got fed up with me. I asked a lot of questions and I got to see a lot of great things, some of the new technology they are working on and yeah, I want to go back.”

The Mercedes AMG Petronas team posted a gallery of Hamilton’s adventure on its website, linked here, and a few samples are below.

As for the Red Bull pair, the young duo of Ricciardo and Verstappen were equally awestruck by the experience.

“There really are a lot of similarities between this and F1, just the technology alone,” Ricciardo said. “I had a guest come to a race last year, when they got into the garage they were like: ‘this is like a space station’. We went to mission control here and it’s really like what we have in the Ops Room in Milton Keynes. Even the safety technology is similar. The astronauts go through the same measurements, a similar kind of HANS device etc. It’s really cool.”

Verstappen added, “There are quite a lot of comparisons, if you really want to talk about it we could go on for an hour! The control center looks pretty similar to ours. We share a lot of the same technology. It was really interesting for us to see that and I bet it would be the same if they could see ours.”

Here’s a link to Red Bull’s gallery and some teaser shots below.