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Penske ready for Petit Le Mans challenge in sports car return

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As a tune-up ahead of its full-time return in 2018, Team Penske will return to sports car racing at this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, using an Oreca 07 Gibson while they continue to develop the Acura ARX-05 DPi for its 2018 debut.

As the team confirmed last week, Penske stalwarts Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud will share the driving duties in Penske’s first sports car event since 2009, and its first Petit Le Mans since 2008.

Team Penske ran Petit Le Mans with its Porsche RS Spyders three times in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – and won in the LMP2 class all three times.

Their late entry this year comes on the heels of a test with the Oreca chassis, which Team Penske president Tim Cindric explained was needed before the team could commit to an entry.

“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,” Cindric explained.

As noted above, while it has been nearly a decade since they’ve contested the 10-hour enduro, their last appearance was most certainly a memorable one.

Drivers Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, entered in a third Porsche RS Spyder for Penske, claimed victory in the LMP2 class, leading a Penske sweep of the LMP2 podium.

BRASELTON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Helio Castroneves driver of the #5 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder celebrates after winning the LMP2 Class at the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans on October 4, 2008 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Castroneves highlighted as much when discussing his optimism ahead of the weekend, in the first race of what may well be the beginning of a full-time sports car program with the team.

“The car is a blast to drive as it has lots of power and an incredible amount of downforce. The last time I ran at Petit, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the winning team in our class. It was one of the highlights of my career. Now, I’m looking forward to that challenge again and I’m sure it will be fun racing with these guys in this setting.”

Pagenaud, too, has experienced success at Petit Le Mans, securing an LMP2 class win of his own in 2010 with what was then called Patrón Highcroft Racing. He finished fourth in this race last year with Action Express Racing, sharing the Whelen Engineering Corvette DP with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran.

“It’s a bit of a homecoming to get back into a prototype car,” said Pagenaud of his latest return to sports car racing. “They are great cars to drive and to be paired with Juan and Helio in an endurance event is going to be a lot of fun. This is a chance for me to help Team Penske prepare for next year, while seeing what things we can learn and where we can improve right now.”

Montoya and Dane Cameron have been confirmed for Penske’s Acura DPi program next year, Castroneves was confirmed earlier Wednesday and Ricky Taylor has been strongly linked to the second car as well.

Follow @KyleMLavigne

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.