Photo courtesy of IMSA

Penske, Acura relish 1-2 triumph at Mid-Ohio

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Given that Acura was the title sponsor of this past weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was always going to be a pivotal weekend for their teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to showcase themselves.

And maybe no team had more pressure on it than the Acura Team Penske group, which had displayed a lot of speed with the Oreca 07-based ARX-05, but has suffered a number of needling problems with reliability and strategy that prevented them from battling for victories in the opening races of the 2018 season.

However, this past weekend at Mid-Ohio was nothing short of a dream for Acura and Penske. Both cars ran 1-2 in every practice, with Helio Castroneves putting the No. 7 on the pole on Saturday and Dane Cameron flanking him on the front row in the No. 6.

And to describe their race day as dominant would be an understatement. The No. 7, in the hands of Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, led from start to finish, while the No. 6, in the hands of Cameron and Juan Montoya, ran steady in second after an early battle with Mazda Team Joest.

In all, it was simply a perfect weekend for team and manufacturer.

“That was great,” said a jubilant Castroneves of the victory. “It started from the beginning, actually the front row, the No. 7 and the No. 6 were right there. Dane was really strong and put a lot of pressure on me, but in the end, it was a long race. I was taking it easy and making sure we made the numbers that we needed to make, and then I left it to my teammate here, Ricky, and what an incredible job he did.”

The victory is also a milestone for Taylor and Penske, with Taylor becoming the 50th different driver to win a race under the Penske banner.

Said an equally elated Taylor, “I’m driving with one of the best organizations in the world, and one of the best manufacturers in the world. We visited Acura’s factory for the NSX on Thursday and really got to see all that goes into these beautiful cars, and it really gives you a good sense of pride. On top of that, to win for the first time back for Mr. Penske is outstanding and to start the month of May off for Helio with a win is awesome. There was so much pressure to get the car from him in the lead. He did an awesome job, so I had to fight to make his efforts worth it.”

Steve Eriksen, Vice President and COO of Honda Performance Development (HPD) added that the victory coming at Mid-Ohio, not far from a number of HPD facilities, combined with a strong run from the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s – Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente finished second in GT Daytona, while Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach finished fifth – made it all the sweeter.

“Mid-Ohio is our second ‘home’, with all of our nearby facilities and thousands of associates. So it is especially gratifying to take our first win in the Acura ARX-05 here,” Eriksen asserted. “Our NSX GT3 program did not disappoint either, as the Meyer Shank Racing #86 waged an exciting battle all the way to the checkers, coupled with a strong run for the #93 car. Congratulations to all of our associates at HPD, Acura Team Penske and Meyer Shank Racing on an almost perfect weekend.”

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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.”