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IMSA: Helio Castroneves eager for first race ever at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

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It’s rare to find a racetrack that Helio Castroneves has not raced upon in his illustrious career.

But the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will do just that in this weekend’s Mobil 1 Sportscar Grand Prix IMSA race in his first-ever visit to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – otherwise known as CTMP (and formerly known as Mosport) – in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s an amazing track,” Castroneves told the IMSA Wire Service of CTMP. “It’s a very fast track, which they say suits my style, so I love that.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know the track. I haven’t been there before. I’ve watched the races on TV, of course. I can’t wait to race there.”

After 20 years as a full-time driver in the CART, Champ Car World Series and IndyCar series, the 43-year-old Brazilian native is in his first full season on the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Series.

In the first six races of the season, Castroneves and Taylor have one win, two podiums and one pole. They come into Sunday’s race in sixth place, 20 points out of first place, while teammates Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya are in third place, 13 points out of first.

This is both Castroneves’ and Team Penske’s first full season effort in the IMSA series. Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron have proven to be formidable contenders in the team’s rookie season.

Taylor and Castroneves are teammates in the No. 7 Acura DPi, while Montoya and Cameron are in the identical No. 6 Acura DPi.

And now comes CTMP, a nearly 2.5-mile, 10-turn track that hosts the two hour, 40-minute race this weekend. Taylor, last season’s WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion, has one win already at CTMP back in 2015 and also has twice sat on the pole there, including last year’s event.

In addition, Cameron, the 2016 WeatherTech series champ, is also the two-time defending Prototype winner at CTMP. Meanwhile, like Castroneves, Montoya will also be making his first career start at the road course west of Toronto.

“Ricky and I, Juan Pablo and Dane are really working all together,” Castroneves said. “So, this program with Acura Team Penske will be as successful as possible.”

Castroneves earned his second career IMSA win in May at Mid-Ohio, adding to the standalone win he earned in 2008 at Petit Le Mans.

With each race – six races have been contested, with four more to go to decide the championship – Castroneves is becoming more comfortable and successful in his “rookie” season.

“The car is great,” he said. “The car is very similar to an open-wheel car. Different tires, and I’m still learning a little bit, not only how to manage that with the tires but also manage the traffic.

“There’s so many cars around. Sometimes you have a big gap and that big gap can go away in, like, three corners.

“It’s fun. I have to say it’s very intense, a little more intense than IndyCar, plus you have so many buttons in the car. I’m still learning and understanding. I’m really, really happy to be around, for sure, now let’s continue to have some fun. Hopefully we can have the result that we want.”

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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.”