Oreca 07 Gibson at Monterey. Photo: Getty Images

Team Penske enters Petit Le Mans following months of buildup

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Team Penske will make its return to sports car racing in Motul Petit Le Mans next week, as the trio of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will be in action in a one-off Oreca 07 Gibson.

The run in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale comes as preparation and following months of discussion ahead of the team’s full-time bow next year with its Acura ARX-05 DPi. That car has tested so far but was not going to be the one utilized next week.

This will be Penske’s first sports car race since its GRAND-AM Rolex Series season in 2009, and the team last ran Petit Le Mans in 2008.

BRASELTON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves (C) drivers the #5 LMP2 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder celebrate with second place team mates Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas (L) and third place Sascha Maassen, Emmanuel Collard and Patrick Long (R) after winning the LMP2 Class during the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans on October 4, 2008 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Somewhat surprisingly this will be Montoya’s Petit Le Mans debut, while Castroneves is a past winner in a Penske Porsche RS Spyder in 2008 (above) and Pagenaud has a wealth of experience in the race in Acura and HPD prototypes, and raced last year with Whelen Engineering Racing and co-drivers Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the Action Express Racing team’s Corvette DP.

This run comes after Castroneves sustained an accident last week in testing at Road Atlanta, and meant the team’s chassis got rebuilt.

“We’ve had this race on our radar for some time, but we wanted to wait until we were able to get our drivers some testing at Road Atlanta prior to committing, as it is a very fast track and these cars are very different to drive from an IndyCar,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric.

“Unfortunately, we confirmed this the hard way as we have had to totally rebuild our car after an incident during testing last week.  ORECA have bent over backwards to be sure we receive everything we need as they understand the importance of this race as our team prepares for the debut of our Acura ARX-05s at the Daytona 24.

“Juan has participated in the majority of our prototype tests since we announced him as one of our full-time Acura drivers. We would also like to involve our other drivers in the program whenever possible.  Helio and Simon have good experience in prototypes at Road Atlanta, so they seem like a natural fit to participate in the Petit for us.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.