Vautier settles in at Schmidt

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The only confirmed rookie for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series, Tristan Vautier, tested at Sebring International Raceway last week with less pressure than his first IndyCar outing.

The 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion made his IndyCar test debut in December also at Sebring, in what was an audition for several teams.

Since that point, Vautier raced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race in a Mazda6 and got his IndyCar contract signed, sealed and delivered with the renamed Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Vautier’s teammate is his French countryman and 2012 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year, Simon Pagenaud.

“It’s a good start, but I have a lot to improve,” Vautier told RACER.com after the test. “There are many new factors once you get to the races. It’s two good tests at one track, so you have to be careful to think it has a bigger meaning.”

Vautier is the second straight Indy Lights champion to advance into IndyCar the next year after Josef Newgarden, and fourth in the last five years (Raphael Matos in 2009, and JR Hildebrand made his debut in 2010).

The expectations shouldn’t be too high for Vautier this season, as he gathers experience and laps. But he’s already proven quick out of the gate in his formative years in the American open-wheel ladder system, and has championships in back-to-back years.

No rookie has won an IndyCar Series race since Justin Wilson at Detroit in 2008. That’s a technicality as Wilson was classified as a rookie in the merged IndyCar series due to minimal oval experience, but he had four prior years in the Champ Car series.

Robert Doornbos (Champ Car, 2007) and Marco Andretti (IndyCar, 2006) were the last first-year drivers to win a race in their rookie seasons.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”