‘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).

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”