IndyCar: What’s Honda’s next move, driver-wise?

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A trying 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season featured one major highlight for Honda: the Indianapolis 500 triumph with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

But that was about it in a year that was arguably one of the toughest for the stalwart stakeholders of IndyCar.

In the Manufacturer’s Championship, Chevrolet defeated Honda 2293-1889, and that was with Chevrolet losing 100 points at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway for various penalties. In only six of 18 races did Honda outscore Chevrolet under the new Manufacturer’s Championship points.

It marks the third straight Manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet since General Motors rejoined the championship in 2012.

On the driver front, Honda has lost two of its marquee drivers. Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) and Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) are now aligned with Chevrolet teams; Newgarden doesn’t switch teams, but the merged CFH squad takes the Chevrolets run by Ed Carpenter Racing rather than the Hondas utilized by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Meanwhile Pagenaud, a longtime Honda driver, saddles up with Chevrolet at Team Penske.

It leaves Honda in a bit of a quandary on the driver front, as well as the team front.

As it stands now, Chevrolet has at least 12 cars – four apiece from Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, and two apiece from CFH and KV Racing (or whatever KV’s second team name will be known as).

Andretti Autosport leads Honda’s contingent with four cars of their own, with at least three of their drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz) confirmed for 2015. Then there’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing with two cars apiece, and single cars from A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.

The next likely domino to fall is James Hinchcliffe, who could well become the face of Honda assuming he stays with the manufacturer. Hinchcliffe is a potential replacement for Pagenaud at SPM if he doesn’t re-sign with Andretti.

Justin Wilson is also a flagship member of Honda’s lineup, and it would behoove the manufacturer to ensure Wilson has a quality ride with either Andretti or SPM as his Coyne tenure could well be at an end.

There remain the big last names – Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal both are Honda drivers for 2015 – that Honda can utilize if they become regular race winners and title contenders.

The goal now for Honda, ideally, would be to keep Hinch and Wilson on board besides RHR.

It’s just the items like this (Pagenaud and Newgarden in a cornfield, Pagenaud in an Acura commercial) that are being left behind.

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.”