Owen at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Will Owen preparing for Toyota Racing Series appearance

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Pro Mazda will have another driver head to New Zealand over the winter to get some running and continue his open-wheel growth and development, in the form of 20-year-old Will Owen.

Owen follows fellow Mazda Road to Indy standout Neil Alberico as young Americans going overseas to compete in the Toyota Racing Series, a five-round championship which kicks off January 16 in Ruapana, Christchurch.

Owen, originally from Colorado who now resides in Ft. Worth, Texas and studies at TCU, just completed his first season in Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing. He finished seventh in the championship with three podium finishes, including two runner-up results.

Now, the Speed Group driver will follow in the footsteps of both Alberico and fellow Speed Group young rising talent Alfonso Celis Jr., a GP3 driver, who have previously raced in the championship.

“Speed Group had a client – Alfonso Celis – did it last year or two years ago, and had some contacts,” Owen told MotorSportsTalk.

“We were looking for some winter experience, and some more racing experience, and it’s what I need to improve the most – the race craft and wheel-to-wheel action.

“To prepare for next year in Pro Mazda, what’s the right move and how to train? You can’t really practice that unless you’re actually racing.

“This was a cool option, super competitive, like Pro Mazda. I talked to Neil about this, and he did the series and he highly recommended it.”

The preparation should help Owen, who will return for a second season with Juncos next season, move into championship contention – as most series sophomores tend to do in their second year.

There will be some differences between the Pro Mazda chassis and the TRS chassis, which has a base 1.8-liter in-line, four-cylinder engine paired with a typical carbon fiber monocoque.

“It’s similar to more of a Formula 3 car,” Owen explained. “It’s obviously a Toyota engine, with slightly less power but more downforce, and a bit lighter. It should be similar in straights, likely faster in corners, so not a huge difference from Pro Mazda. It’s European style, rather than American style.

“I’m not expecting it to be completely different. At 200 hp, it’s a 1.8-liter Toyota. So a little less powerful than the Mazda. It’s paddle shift instead of sequential. That will be something to adjust to. Michelin tires, 480 kg… so 1,058 pounds. Considerably lighter. Judging by the look, there’s quite a bit of downforce. It’s different, but similar pace.”

For Owen, who balances his studies with racing full-time – although as he noted he’s itching to get back in a car since the Pro Mazda season concluded last month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – it will also mark his first international racing appearance.

“It’s my first international experience… I’ve never done anything like this,” he said.

“I haven’t been there. But that’s what’s so cool. I’ve heard New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and cleanest.

“I’m looking forward to the racing, since I’m not gonna have an opportunity to study abroad with racing. This will do the trick!”

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.”