Photo courtesy of United Autosports

Rolex 24 newcomer United Autosports are rookies in name only

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To become a champion, you have to start at the beginning as a rookie.

That is so true this weekend for United Autosports. Not only is the Great Britain-based team making its first-ever appearance in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, six of its seven drivers are Rolex rookies, as well.

But that doesn’t mean they’re rookies in total.

The two-car Ligier LMP2 entry features an impressive driver lineup, led by two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who has long sought to drive in the Rolex and is finally getting that chance this weekend.

Also on the team is former Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) champion Paul Di Resta, reigning 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion Phil Hanson, reigning FIA Formula 3 European Champion Lando Norris, ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna plus Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen.

Only Senna, nephew of the late F1 champion Ayrton Senna, has experience in the Rolex, having made his first appearance in the 24-hour endurance last year.

Alonso (from Spain) will spearhead the team in Car No. 23, along with Hanson and Norris (both from Great Britain), while Senna (Brazil)will lead the way in the No. 32 along with Sadeleer, Di Resta and Will Owen.

United Autosports will be making its second appearance in a 24-hour event, having finished fifth overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, as well as winning the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship.

While it may be new to Daytona, United Autosports has high goals for the Rolex 24.

“We’re heading to Daytona aiming for a top-five finish,” team owner and chairman Zak Brown said. “It’s a very long and very hard race with a quality 50-car entry.

“Most teams have many years of Rolex and Daytona race experience to help them. We’ll need everything aligned to achieve that kind of result.

“And while we’ve quickly achieved success in Europe, Richard (team owner and Managing Director Richard Dean) and I are under no illusion it’s going to be a very tough weekend.

“But that’s what all of us at United thrive on and we’re all very excited to be racing the Rolex this weekend.”

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”