Wilson, Briscoe, Vautier all getting deserved finishing runs to IndyCar season

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Tuesday’s news that Justin Wilson will be with Andretti Autosport for the final five races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season brings the total of drivers who didn’t have a ride initially this year but are poised to finish it out with one up to three.

The others are Ryan Briscoe and Tristan Vautier, of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing, respectively.

In recent years, the in-season replacement or part-time ride hasn’t been something we’ve seen very regularly.

In 2012, there were just two fill-in drives: Giorgio Pantano subbed for Charlie Kimball at Mid-Ohio and Bruno Junqueira deputized for Josef Newgarden in Baltimore.

Last year, the only part-time drivers were Oriol Servia and Luca Filippi, who each drove four races apiece in a second Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car.

While not under ideal circumstances in any case, opportunities have arisen to allow Wilson, Briscoe and Vautier to compete in races that they otherwise might not have, and once again showcase their talent to the rest of the IndyCar paddock.

Wilson’s saga all offseason was “will he, won’t he” join Andretti Autosport. When he finally was announced, it was at St. Petersburg, but with no races slated until the month of May.

Briscoe and Vautier had to wait longer than that for their shots.

Briscoe’s came via adverse circumstances, following James Hinchcliffe’s injuries sustained in his practice crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and with a midweek call up. He’s done well at the three oval races he’s driven thus far, running in the top-five in two of them even though he hasn’t yet delivered a top-five result.

Vautier had the strangest odyssey back to a seat after a year-plus hiatus. Originally drafted in only to qualify James Davison’s car for the Indianapolis 500, Vautier then wound up racing teammate Carlos Huertas’ car instead, and has since moved to Dale Coyne’s trademark No. 19 car that he’s wound up driving ever since.

The fact it took unusual and/or unfortunate conditions for each of these three – and for others such as Conor Daly, Pippa Mann and Sebastian Saavedra to also get extended looks this year – is more symptomatic of the issues at play in the sport itself regarding sponsorship funding than it is a critique of any of these drivers’ respective abilities.

As ever, without the volume of teams or fully paying seats in 2015 as there have been in the past means there are fewer opportunities available.

It’s good to see though when drivers have a chance to finish strong, and by default, have the opportunity to showcase themselves once more when the next round of silly season talks and finding a ride begins in the next couple months.

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.”