Defending Red Bull GRC champion Joni Wiman adjusts to “target on his back”

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So what can defending Red Bull Global Rallycross champion Joni Wiman expect for his second year in the championship?

An understanding of the words “target on his back,” to start.

“Yes, you can say I have a target on my back,” the Olsbergs MSE driver told MotorSportsTalk at Red Bull GRC media day in Long Beach.

“But everyone will take me more seriously this year at the start of the season.”

Indeed Wiman needed to get his feet wet when he first entered the series.

MORE from MST: Wiman discusses run to 2014 title; what’s next in 2015

He only began the year with one podium from the first six races, but ended on a tear with four in a row to end the season.

Heading into Sunday’s season opener at Ft. Lauderdale (LIVE, 3 p.m. ET, NBC), the team has concluded testing for the preseason at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week. Wiman looks forward to seeing how the 2015 package for OMSE and the Red Bull/Bluebeam Ford Fiesta handles.

“Of course it is a lot easier to have more experience about the car,” he said. “We have kind of a new car. Updated engine. So we should be even more competitive this year than last year.”

This year will be Wiman’s third racing in North America. He won the GRC Lites title in 2013 before being promoted up to GRC Supercars last year, where he doubled up on the championship.

While he enjoys rally courses in his native Finland, he is still comfortable racing in the U.S. and has acclimatized well.

“It’s so much different than in Europe, or Scandinavia,” he said. “This will be my third year. It’s so much easier to get around here. From the airport to customs, we don’t have that over there. Now it is just like going to Sweden, my neighboring country.”

Wiman will have a rookie teammate this year in the form of a driver from his neighboring country, in Sebastian Eriksson. Eriksson will look to emulate Wiman as a rookie GRC champion.

Austin Cindric and Oliver Eriksson will be in OMSE’s two GRC Lites cars.

Meanwhile Wiman knows repeating will be difficult given the depth of field, and is unsure how 2015 will play out.

“Of course it is exciting and it is a new thing, I have never won a (main) championship, so I don’t know what to expect.

“But I think it’s awesome that big names and teams are starting to find the sport. That’s what all of us want, to build it up.”

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.”