Helio, TK, head down new paths of racing in different series

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The two kids from Brazil who barely spoke a word of English when they arrived in North America in 1995, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, have raced alongside each other in the same series for 22 straight years.

After two years in Indy Lights as teammates, they were both part of the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fabric for the last 20 from 1998 through 2017, and were celebrated for that earlier this year.

Yet for the first time since arriving on these shores, in 2018, there won’t be the “Helio and TK” dynamic as both of their new ventures have been officially confirmed last week.

HELIO’S NEW PATH

For Castroneves, his continuation with Team Penske now shifts to sports cars. Despite his incredible resume in IndyCar – easily the best driver of his generation to have not won a championship – he’ll take up residence in an Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) full-time next season.

The first “Penske and Castroneves as full-time sports car participants” weekend is complete, with Motul Petit Le Mans in the books.

Castroneves was immediately on pace. He scored the pole position, had the measure of teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud all weekend, and helped lead a rebound to a podium finish in the team’s first race.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Castroneves, Team Penske president Tim Cindric and Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr were present Friday to look ahead to what’s to come.

“Being part of Team Penske obviously is an amazing opportunity to join this,” Castroneves said. “When Cindric and Roger talked to me about it a while ago, we waited for the manufacturer to officially happen, and it happened. For me it’s a great opportunity to continue driving for as long as I want, and continue pushing to the limit.

“I really want to find the best out about our team. It’s great. I’m looking forward to learning a lot. Run with a lot of traffic. Along the way I’ll make some new friends… and I’ll make some enemies too. That’s not the goal! But the goal is understand as smooth as possible the strategy and way of racing. It might be a bit different. There’s a learning process to that, and I’m up for the challenge.”

Castroneves and Cindric were playfully bantering during their press conference as the two joked about how hilarious their driver changes were looking in practice.

“It should be a reality show, with bloopers,” Cindric deadpanned.

But after a wealth of preparation, including a 6:30 a.m. wakeup call on race day, they were all good to go as Castroneves, Montoya and Pagenaud cycled through their four changes well. Castroneves started before turning over to Montoya, with Pagenaud third in, and then back to the other two for the rest of the race.

At race’s end, with the team having overcome Castroneves getting hit in the first hour and losing a lap, then also having the car briefly shut off, he reflected on his first race back as a full-time sports car driver, and thanked IMSA for the welcome.

“It was impressive. I never stay ‘behind the scenes,’ This is the first time watching Tim Cindric, Jonathan Diuguid doing strategy,” Castroneves said. “I knew before, but now I was seeing it from the stand. Myself, Juan Pablo and Simon worked well together. It was a great learning curve and it’ll create a great foundation for 2018.

“It’s been such a warm welcome. It reminds me of when we went Champ Car to IRL. I’m sure we will have ups and downs. I’m so happy IMSA is receiving us with open arms, not only myself but also Team Penske.”

TK KEEPS GOING IN INDYCAR, NOW WITH FOYT

Photo: A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Kanaan, meanwhile, will continue in IndyCar for the full season for the next chapter of his career, with Castroneves only joining in at the two month of May races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a fourth Team Penske entry.

The two will have their first opportunity to see each other at the same race weekend at Long Beach next April, Kanaan in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet in IndyCar with Castroneves in one of the two Acura Team Penske ARX-05s.

Kanaan focused primarily on his own announcement with Foyt last week, but did take the time to reflect on the end of an era with Castroneves being in the same paddock.

“Well, he’s definitely going to be missed. I think he was a big name in IndyCar, like I am,” Kanaan said. “We started together back in ’98, so obviously he chose to pursue another career as far as racing, go to another series, so I wish him the best, and obviously I think, like I said, he will be missed.”

Since both drivers have been active for 20 years in IndyCar, Kanaan spoke to the success both have achieved throughout that time that have kept them there.

“Yeah, I guess the only good people are the only ones that last, and I guess I’m the last man standing, so I’m pretty proud of my career,” he said. “Of course if I would go back 20 years ago and would have said that I was going to be here for this long, I don’t think I could predict that, but obviously year in, year out, people keep saying, the old guys here and there, but we keep delivering, so I think it doesn’t matter what age you are. If you’re winning races, I don’t think people care. All we care is about winning. I still think I can win, and I’m glad that I’m still around so we can keep the tradition of the old timers, that we can still do it. We’ll be here to represent.”

Might Kanaan, who got to race at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans this year in a Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, be open to returning to the sports car endurance race scene? If he does, it could mean they’ll be back on the same grid but with different machinery.

“Yeah, I think I would say — obviously we just signed a multiyear deal here, so I’m not really thinking about it, but obviously there is no secret that I would love to do the endurance races. A.J. won all of them, so I’ve got to catch up with him!

“I have (won) Daytona — I have the 24 hours but I don’t have a Le Mans, so I’ve got to try to do that. If it doesn’t conflict with our program in IndyCar and it doesn’t hurt the program, I would love to do it, and in the future obviously that would be something that I’m interested, but right now, it’s definitely not going to be something that is going to be going through my head to do full-time.”

IndyCar 2018 will be weird without both of them on the same grid, but with their new chapters now officially underway in the last week, their stories of starring in North American racing will continue.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”