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Throwback cars giving 100th Indianapolis 500 retro look

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis 500 fans might feel like they’re traveling through a time warp this month.

Scott Dixon’s traditional red-and-white Target Chip Ganassi car has brought back the yellow lightning bolt. At Team Penske, Helio Castroneves is driving the “yellow submarine” while teammate Simon Pagenaud climbs into the trademark neon yellow car former team owner John Menard used in the 1990s. And the paint scheme on the No. 35 of A.J. Foyt Enterprises rekindles memories of the cars he drove late in his storied career.

They’re winning every popularity contest in Gasoline Alley.

“The yellow submarine has always been a sharp looking car,” said Robert Arnold, a 58-year-old fan from Indianapolis. “But the Menard’s day-glow paint schemes, I enjoy those very much. That really brings me back to the ’90s. I just really like all of the throwback paint schemes. I think they should bring these back, no matter the occasion.”

Throwback days have become popular events in much of the sports world.

Teams in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all have donned uniforms from previous years. Last year, when NASCAR put Darlington back on its traditional September date, Sprint Cup teams celebrated by turning back the clock with old color schemes on the cars.

But the sudden penchant for going retro at Indianapolis Motor Speedway seems much more fitting given the circumstances – the May 29 race will be the 100th running of the 500.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

“I think this year there was more of an emphasis on the throwback,” said Dixon, the 2008 race winner. “The only question I had about the lightning bolt was why it took so long to get it back on the car because I think it looks fantastic.”

The lightning bolt first appeared on the team’s cars in 1995 and the decal remained there through 2001, a span in which Ganassi’s drivers combined to win four series titles and Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

Penske’s team drew raves when it initially brought back the canary yellow car in 2014 with the same colors Rick Mears popularized by driving to 500 wins in 1982 and 1984. Now Castroneves is hoping his seventh attempt to join Mears, Foyt and Al Unser Sr. as the only members of the four-time 500 winners club will come with just as much luck as Mears had in the ’80s.

“I’m super hungry,” Castroneves said. “I’ve been close, I’ve been fast, I’ve been competitive, but – and we don’t want to use that word but – we haven’t won it yet.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud’s uniquely bright car is still adding chapters to Menard’s storied reputation.

From 1995-2000, Menard’s team won three poles. Pagenaud did it again last weekend by taking the No. 1 qualifying spot for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then did something Menard’s teams never could by winning at Indy. With back-to-back pole wins and three straight race wins, Pagenaud heads into this weekend’s qualifying as one of the pole favorites in a car people still embrace.

“The only way the Menard’s car would be better is if Tony Stewart was behind the wheel,” said 27-year-old Justin Whitaker, who lives in Indy. “And being the 100th running, I’m glad to see Penske pay homage to their storied past.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

But the history of Foyt’s car is not just imbedded in paint.

Canadian Alex Tagliani, the pole winner in 2011, will drive the Alfe Heat Treating car with a number that signifies two parts of Foyt’s incredible legacy: He was born in 1935 and he started a record 35 consecutive races at Indy.

For Alfe, this is the third straight year it’s sponsored a retro-look car and fans are hoping it won’t be the last.

“This will be my 20th (500), so I like seeing those throwbacks because I remember seeing them (as a kid),” said Evan Rauch, a 27-year-old fan from Indy. “It’s great for the sport, but it especially adds even more to this historic race.”

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.”