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Castroneves pushing on amid uncertain IndyCar future

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Despite being the Verizon IndyCar Series most recent winner and only trailing championship leader Scott Dixon by eight points heading into Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3:00 p.m. ET, CNBC), Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves faces a very uncertain future.

With the recent confirmation of Penske’s IMSA DPi program with Acura, Castroneves’ name has been tossed around as one of its potential drivers. However, a move to IMSA would mean the 42-year-old’s career as a full-time IndyCar driver would likely come to an end.

Even though moving to sports cars is a natural progression for open wheel drivers, Castroneves’ strong form, especially in the 2017 season, indicates he still has plenty of life left in his IndyCar career.

Nonetheless, Castroneves’ future remains unknown. However, as he explained in a press conference on Saturday in Toronto, he isn’t letting it distract him.

“To be honest, if you start thinking about the future, that’s where it starts being distracting to be honest, right at this point. The only future that I’m thinking about is the race, which is Toronto, which is only one day from now,” he asserted.

While Castroneves admits he would love to be a part of the new IMSA program in any capacity, the ultimate decision on drivers for those entries, along with his driving status for 2018 and beyond, is far from finalized.

“It’s difficult to assume, and right now there is a lot of speculation for sure, and even between when we have some conversations, we’re just still on the same page,” Castroneves added.

“I mean, the team is going to make a sports car team, and we all here would love to drive. I mean, no question about it. We would like to drive whatever they have an opportunity, like you have in the past. But at the moment, there is no commitment, no official decision, and I’m just focused — in my case, I’m just focusing on doing my best for the race here and the championship.”

Along with his victory at Iowa, Castroneves has two additional podiums this year and has finished in the top ten in every race except the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he finished 20th following an early race crash.

The discussion of his future this morning followed a funnier earlier intro period in the press conference among Castroneves and his three IndyCar teammates, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“Let me introduce here José Nuevo Jardín. That’s Josef Newgarden. We’ll just start with the new times,” Castroneves laughed.

“What can I say about the mumba power? As you can see — actually I never understood why they say Three Musketeers but they have four guys. Have you seen that movie?

“Yeah. They say Three Musketeers but they have four guys. There’s always an odd man out. Ha, ha, very funny.”

Asked who the odd man out was, Castroneves replied, “It’s pretty obvious who’s the odd man out.”

For his own future, he’ll be hoping it’s not him in IndyCar.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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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.”