Papis to focus solely on Watkins Glen as Stewart fill-in

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Max Papis has started 35 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and ran the gamut of other racing series in his career (Formula One, CART/IndyCar and sports cars). But he’s never quite had an opportunity like this.

The 43-year-old Italian steps into one of NASCAR’s highest profile rides as the guy that fills in for Tony Stewart after a 521-race long consecutive start streak. For Papis, the chance is a blessing and one he intends to take full advantage of.

“I look at this as a great opportunity in terrible circumstances,” he said Wednesday in a media conference call. “The fact that I’m even considered is amazing; hundreds can drive this car but I always say, it’s not about the money, it’s about the story you write.”

Papis would have been able to remain committed to his GRAND-AM Rolex Series obligations at Elkhart Lake’s Road America this weekend if he wanted, but his GRAND-AM team boss Remo Ferri of the R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari team told him to focus solely on his NASCAR opportunity.

“I need to say thanks to Remo, he’s a longtime friend and we spoke about how we would do this,” Papis said. “I was ready to do both; we had everything in place to run the GRAND-AM race. I told him I’d be at the track for Thursday testing, back to Watkins Glen on Friday and Saturday, and fly back with Boris (Said) or someone for the race. They told me it was better to stay focused in the Watkins Glen in these difficult circumstances.”

Papis won the last GRAND-AM race in the GT class co-driving with Jeff Segal in the No. 61 F458 Italia at Indianapolis last month. An announcement on his replacement driver is expected later Wednesday or Thursday, and will be a familiar name to sports car racing observers.


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.”