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Kyle Novak eager to begin new season as IndyCar race director

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It may have come as a surprise to some that Kyle Novak was hired as race director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, replacing the outgoing Brian Barnhart, now the president of Harding Racing.

A fixture in the IMSA paddock with a history as race director for several series under IMSA sanction — such as the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA — Novak’s name may have been unfamiliar to those who follow IndyCar.

However, as INDYCAR president of competition and operations Jay Frye explained, the series couldn’t help but circle back to him as they sought a replacement for Barnhart.

“We looked far and wide and did a lot of research, did a lot of different things, and Kyle’s name just continued to come up, so at some point we figured his name has come up enough, so this must be a really good kid,” Frye quipped during a press conference at last weekend’s open test at ISM Raceway.

Though his most recent experience was found with sports cars in IMSA, Novak is very familiar with open wheel racing through previous exploits with CART and the Champ Car World Series.

“My first thrust really into the professional racing side was street course construction, street course design and construction during the Champ Car days,” Novak said of his time working with CART and Champ Car. “So I had the opportunity to build the Cleveland event, Houston, Denver, and consulted on several more design aspects for many more.

“And that’s really what gave me the first knowledge of the operational aspects of what it takes to put race control together, and really the nuts and bolts of what it takes to put these courses together and get them up and running and up and running efficiently, especially.”

Novak also noted that his time with IMSA has in no way negated any open wheel knowledge he accrued. In fact, he emphasized that the two disciplines are more similar than they are different and that the role of race director involves constant communication, no matter the discipline.

“The one thing about running a race, running every session, is the core people and the core roles and the core responsibilities are largely the same,” Novak explained. “I think one of the common misconceptions about being a race director is you’re up there by yourself with one radio, kind of running, pointing and being a dictator up there.

“It’s really just as much about almost a mission control type scenario where you’re managing the room, managing the information flow, just as much as you’re managing the particular sporting aspects of the series.”

He did acknowledge, though, that directing oval races will be a different animal, and that he’ll lean on the team around him to help adjust.

“The ovals will certainly be new to me,” Novak admitted. “I’ve never called a race on an oval before. But we have such a great support and great operational structure here at INDYCAR, and just hundreds of years and thousands of races of experience that will really help me through that transition.”

That core group, which includes Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis, was also instrumental in bringing Novak on board, as Frye detailed.

“There’s a really great group of people in race control that are around a long time, and when this all happened, they were the first people that I called, asking them the best race directors you’ve ever worked with,” Frye added. “They’ve worked with all kinds of different series. Who’s the best ones ever, not just current ones; just give me a list. So we come up with this list. And again, Kyle’s name was on everybody’s list.”

The overall look and process is expected to remain the same under Novak – he’ll be in charge of the event while the panel of race stewards will be in charge of reviewing incidents on track and recommending any penalties – though they will remain open to new ideas and technology that can help officiate events cleanly.

“The bottom line is we officiate just like any other sport. We’re no different,” Novak asserted. “We officiate with the resources we have and what we can see, and we’re always looking at ways to improve that, but I’m pretty sure we have as much covered as we really can at this time.”

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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.”