‘I still have a lot of fire in me’: Helio Castroneves determined to race 2021

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Helio Castroneves will race Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month for the 20th consecutive year, and he hopes to leave with a guarantee to return with a new IndyCar team in 2021.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is looking for a new ride as Team Penske puts its sports car program on pause because of a split with Acura in the premier IMSA DPi class after this season.

Castroneves told Jeff Olson of the IMSA Wire Service this will be his final Indy 500 start with Penske, but he is hoping to land a full-time ride in the NTT IndyCar Series next year.

DAILY INDY 500 SCHEDULEClick here for all on-track activity in August at Indy

INDY IS EVERYTHING: Castroneves’ love for the Brickyard

“Hopefully with the experience I have — not only in IndyCar, but in sports cars — I’ll be able to find myself in a good position and will be able to help a team, whether it’s an experienced team or a young team,” Castroneves, who has raced for Penske since 2000, told Olson. “I’m open to a conversation. I’m ready to keep it going.”

The Brazilian has three Indy 500 victories in 2001-02 and ’09 and also finished second at the Brickyard in 2003, ’14 and ’17 with Penske. But even those impressive results might not rank with the drive he pulled off Sunday at Road America.

With 5 minutes remaining, Castroneves deftly steered his No. 7 Acura into the lead through a torrential downpour at Road America and then hung on for his first DPi victory in more than two years with co-driver Ricky Taylor.

“There hasn’t been one like this,” Castroneves told Olson. “It was managing traffic, managing attacks from other competitors, and then dealing with such difficult conditions. All of this was in one race. In IndyCar, you have one or the other. You don’t have all three at once. For me, it ranks right up there, no question.”

Helio Castroneves new IndyCar team
Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor celebrate their victory Sunday at Road America (IMSA).

Taylor told Olson that it was “a special performance. … He dug down pretty deep for that one. He wanted it really badly. You could really see it just by how he was driving. I was thinking he was going to have to pull out some magic, and that was really some magic.”

It also should provide a timely boost to Castroneves’ value, answering questions about whether the Brazilian, who turned 45 in May, still has the verve to be world class.

“This is exactly why I love racing so much,” Castroneves said. “You reinvent yourself. You learn. You prove to yourself that you’re still capable of doing things. I still have a lot of fire in me. There’s a lot of fuel to burn. It was great to be able to show what this group of people can do. There was a lot of risk, but with risk comes great reward.”

When he moved full time to IMSA in 2018 (and became a spot starter for Penske at Indy), Castroneves made no secret he wanted to continue racing (preferably in IndyCar at the time), and a conversation with Mario Andretti before last year’s Indy 500 confirmed that his racing dream was worth chasing well into his 40s.

I said, ‘Mario, why did you stop racing?’” Castroneves told Olson. “I could see in his eyes that he never wanted to retire. He was 54 when he stopped. Age is just a number. He still had that sentimental feeling. If guys as incredible as Mario can do it, why can’t I? As long as you have the desire, the work ethic and the love for the sport, you can keep racing.”

Castroneves will begin preparing for a run at a fourth Indy 500 victory Aug. 12 when IMS opens with a nine-hour practice at 9 a.m. (NBC Sports Gold).

The 104th Indy 500 will be held Aug. 23 (1 p.m. ET, NBC).

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.