Penske back to three full-time IndyCars after Castroneves shift

Getty Images

Confirmation of Helio Castroneves’ move to Team Penske’s Acura ARX-05 sports car program, announced Wednesday, means the team will not replace him in its IndyCar lineup.

The three-car lineup will feature three of the series’ four most recent champions in Josef Newgarden (2017), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Will Power (2014, with Castroneves joining in a fourth car for the month of May at both the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Juan Pablo Montoya, who was added in a fifth car for those two races this year, will not be back with Penske’s IndyCar program next year while he has a full-time role in the other Acura.

The last time Penske ran three cars only was in 2014, with Power, Castroneves and Montoya. Pagenaud was added as a brand new fourth car for 2015, and the team ran at that level for three years – Newgarden having replaced Montoya going into this year.

“To me, this gives Helio a longer future in his racing career,” Roger Penske said Wednesday in a teleconference. “He’s been with us as the longest tenured driver, and I think the fact that he gets to go back to the Indy 500 again in 2018 and also will run in the road race the weekend before gives him the chance to stay with one foot in INDYCAR, but also a chance to bring our Acura sports car team into championships hopefully as we go forward over the next however many years.

“A great opportunity for him, and along with this, many don’t know that Helio became a business partner of mine in a major automobile dealership in Pennsylvania, and I think as I look to him and help him build his future career, I think when you put these all together, he’s in the right place.

“We are only going to run four cars next year (in May), which would be the three regulars, then we’d add Helio as a fourth car. Last year, of course, with four drivers and the deal I made with Juan was to run him in 2017.”

Montoya will be free to race for another team at the Indianapolis 500 if he can secure another seat.

“If he wants to run for another team, that would be his decision,” Penske said. “There would be nothing that we would say not to.”

Because of this, it leaves Chevrolet with seven cars retained from the 2017 season – three at Penske and two apiece at Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises – with the capacity to add more. Honda has confirmed all five of its teams from 2017 will continue with the manufacturer into 2018.

What this inadvertently means is that Team Penske, which has won 16 Indianapolis 500 races – most all-time – will enter the 2018 season without any of its full-time drivers having one on his resume, and that’s something each of them will seek to correct. The last time this happened was in 2001, with Castroneves and Gil de Ferran not yet on the board before Castroneves won each of the next two ‘500s and de Ferran won his first and only in 2003.

Penske will also shift some of its IndyCar personnel to the Acura sports car program, many of whom are on site in Braselton, Ga. this weekend for Motul Petit Le Mans as the team makes its sports car return with an Oreca 07 Gibson.

“The good news is there’s quite a bit to be able to transition, the full team that ‑‑ as we looked really across the whole Indy team, and we picked a group of individuals that would have been capable of running a fourth car, and they transitioned over,” Penske explained.

“Then we had some other people within our organization that we activated, had been on the sports car program before, and then we’ve reached out and we’ve added, over the last probably 60 or 90 days, people who had shown interest and put their hands up when they heard we were going into the sports car world, and I think we’ve added some very good people.

“Plus we had individuals that worked on Juan’s car at Indianapolis, so some engineering people, and to me that’s going to help us build, I think, a good organization.

“But I guess overall you’d probably have to say there are maybe 10 or 15 people that we’ll add before the season starts.”

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.